Posted by: Democratic Thinker | February 28, 2015

Commentary: How science celebrities often hurt science


Czech physicist Luboš Motl, at the Reference Frame, offers a perspective on celebrity scientists.


So I have mentioned that the “positive roles” attributed to the science pop stars don’t depend on their research quality or, more generally, on their knowledge of and relationship to the cutting-edge science. While this fact makes it possible for many people – including mediocre men such as Neil deGrasse Tyson – to play these roles, it also leads to a general problem.

The Reference Frame—Our stringy Universe from a conservative viewpoint.

saturday, february ‎28, ‎2015 …

How science celebrities often hurt science

Backreaction responded to Lawrence Krauss’ essay which argued that celebrity scientists such as Einstein, Feynman, Sagan, and Tyson are generally good for science and the society because they motivate young people, help to fight scientific nonsense, promote scientific literacy, and improve decision making.

Sabine Hossenfelder says that the celebrity status is just very weakly correlated with one’s being a great scientist, she instinctively avoids fandoms, those celebrities do influence what scientists discuss and study, but she believes that they don’t hurt, after all. In her perspective, the most serious related problem is that the vast majority of quality science gets unnoticed by the public; I agree with this comment. And she promotes science blogs as windows into the real science. Well, my reactions to this comment are mixed.

Before I write a few remarks about the general science pop star issue, allow me to reply to Hossenfelder’s revelation that she never liked Feynman’s writing. Well, while I have never been a worshiper, I always did like Feynman’s writing. A few months after the Velvet Revolution, I borrowed (the Czech translation of) “Surely You’re Joking, Mr Feynman” from a friend of mine.

I couldn’t resist reading it during the German language class (which replaced Russian for a year). When my teacher saw it, she confiscated the book. It was a problem because the copy wasn’t even mine. So I was following her and when she sat next to the principal in the school canteen to have a lunch, and after she left to bring some tea, I asked the principal whether I could simply take the book, because I was allowed, blah blah blah, I pretended that I understood his answer as “Yes”, thanked him, and took the book back.

She was a bit upset when she came to the classroom but she forgave me the fair unstealing of the book, thanks to my pretty eyes. ;-)

But back to Feynman’s writing. The popular book was a lot of fun and meant a huge compensation for the very serious texts by Einstein that I was spending lots of time with at home up to that moment. More generally, I like (and almost certainly share) various idiosyncrasies of Feynman’s writing. His native tongue was really “basic English” which I prefer over “English”. And when he explains something, he always thinks about the context and when he says that something works in this way or another way, he also implicitly or explicitly says that it doesn’t work in this different way, or yet another way – he sees all the relevant silly mistakes related to the issue that people like to do.

Many other thinkers and explainers avoid this “dichotomy” or they even think that it is not important, or it should be omitted because it is creating controversies and they’re no good. But you will almost certainly agree that I am a canonical living example of the attitude I have attributed to Feynman. Every meaningful proposition not only sufficiently clearly says what is right; it also comprehensibly enough says (with some examples that must exist) what is not right. This is needed for balanced logic.

But back to the celebrities.

I weakly agree that celebrities considered to be scientists may

Read entire article at The Reference Frame.


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