Thursday, November 25, 2010

Rock Stars of Science

This poster is from Rock Stars of Science. There are six people in the photo: one of them is a rock star (I'm told) and five of them are famous scientists (I'm told).

Is this a good way to promote science? Martin Robbins doesn't think so: 'Rockstars of Science' should be 'Scientists of Rock'.
I could be wrong. Maybe this is a good way of reaching out to people. Maybe GQ's readers are getting out their dictionaries and picking through those descriptions, stopping occasionally to stare at the blurry, bearded interloper in the background of Bob's photograph. And maybe those readers are now more inspired by science as a result. If so, I'd like to see some evidence of it - maybe a poll of readers?

But I still can't help but feel that if you have to resort to rockstars make science cool, you're really not very good at communicating science. Because science is way cooler than rock stars.
You won't be surprised to learn that Chris Mooney likes this campaign and ERV doesn't. Jerry Coyne doesn't like it either. Does anyone notice a pattern here? ... The one person who isn't a scientist is the one who thinks he knows how to promote science.

So, who's behind this promotion? It's a company called GEOFFREY BEENE that I've never heard of. But don't take that lack of knowledge seriously because I'm a scientist and I'm definitely not cool.

Here's a video put out by the company. Is this mostly about science or is it mostly about the company exploiting their support for medical technology?


  1. Well, if you're trying to market science to non-scientists, someone closer to the actual target audience is the better reference; scientists don't need to be convinced that science is cool 'cause that's why they're scientists.

    I'm not in favour of links to rock stars and the like, but you might be able to see it as akin to the ads for World of Warcraft a while ago, where they took popular stars like Ozzy Osbourne and Mr. T and ran ads with them talking about how they play the game. This is clearly aimed at showing that the games aren't just for nerds who sit in their basement for days playing it; totally normal people can sit in their basement for days playing it [grin].

    World of Warcraft is only the most popular MMO ever created. That's not the only or probably even main reason, but it didn't hurt.

    Ultimately, promoting science has to make it be something that isn't just relevant or interesting to people sitting in a lab, but to people in their every day lives. Having "cool" people who are not scientists interested in it helps break that stereotype.

  2. As far as I can see the most successful promotion of science that has been done in recent years has been through the use of forensic science as a key element in crime dramas - in particular the CSI shows or Dexter.
    These shown promoted a lifestyle (of the forensic scientists on the show) that young people could identify with and aspire towards. It probably isn't particularly accurate (most of their actual workplaces look like designer bars rather than police labs) but it has had the effect of encouraging many young people to go into forensic science.
    Comparing this to the 'stand next to a celebrity' strategy and I know which one is most likely to be seen as lame by young people.

  3. We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces. Carl Sagan

    As Sagan the great populizer of science predicted we (America) are falling behind our world counterparts in science in the classroom because it is not accessable. While it may be interesting to those like myself, there is a terrible job being done by academics to "make smart cool". That being said Drake being in a picture of unprominant scientists in a magazine is not the best way to do that. Perhaps if they held a series of concerts at schools that highlighted science it would be deemed more important work. That being said if we look at Drakes music it is not scientific at all and that may be the fatal flaw of all. The kids are just not into things that are interesting but more of what is popular for the sake of popularity.

    I didn't find the video to be remarkable in any way in regards to Jeffrey Beene being an attention grabbing philanthopist.