1 January 2015

Scientists as celebrities: Bad for science or good for society?

The author explores the reasons why scientists such as Albert Einstein, Richard Feynman, Carl Sagan, Stephen Hawking, and Neil deGrasse Tyson became celebrities, as well as sharing his own experience. He describes how public acclaim is often uncorrelated to scientific accomplishment and depends more on communication skills and personality traits. Nevertheless, he argues that the entire scientific community benefits when credible scientists gain a wider audience, and that celebrity is an opportunity that should not be squandered. Scientists who become recognizable have a chance and perhaps even a responsibility, which they have often exploited, to promote science literacy, combat scientific nonsense, motivate young people, and steer public policy discussions toward sound decision making.