Celebrity Scientists: Idea Brief

Design Brief

Goal: For my design fiction process, I’m interested in making people think about what we value as a society and what we find interesting and “important” to know. I want people to think about the concept of “general knowledge” and what it is today, versus what it should be or could be.

Idea: What if society idolized scientists and engineers rather than actors and musicians? Problem: In society today, we focus and obsess over celebrities to an absurd degree. The paparazzi follow these people everywhere, in a career where they are essentially being paid to stalk and harass people, yet somehow this is okay because they’re famous. We constantly talk and see headlines about what so-and-so is wearing on their way to the gym, or speculations on the state of this person’s relationship. We obsess so much over people in entertainment, but why do we neglect the people and figures who are driving us to the future? Why do most people only know about the famous scientists from history, but not the ones of today? There’s already a subculture of people interested in current technology and innovations, but what if this became the pervasive general culture?

Audience: This project will be aimed towards the general public- people who know more about the latest life update of celebrities than about the latest scientific or technical innovation.

Approach: To present my design fiction, one of my ideas is to create a fake tabloid like People Magazine (or Cosmo? haha) but with the articles all focused on different current scientists and engineers.

Challenges&Unknowns: I need to pick what context to focus on in this new imagined future. There are multiple different tangents I could focus on, including “pseudoscientists”, backlash in the science community against celebrity scientists (which already occurs to some degree), backlash from scientists and engineers against all of this attention, or I could focus on the impact this would have on children growing up and their career aspirations. Also, would this new fixation mean that the “Science Gap” is being closed or narrowed?


Science Heroes: Why Science Needs A Celebrity Spokesperson

  • TedX Talk (Jorge Cham): The Science Gap. Basically the process of getting an idea out from the researcher out to public is convoluted and long and uncertain.
  • Higgs Boson animation that circulated virally after the particle was detected that explained in the scientists’ words to video animation what it was (narrowing the process to directly from scientist to generalr public) 
  • PhD comics popular among academia, show them as normal people VS Big Bang Theory which perpetuates stereotypes -> implications on discouraging young minds to pursue science and research

Outreach: Meet The Press

  • Many fear “The Sagan Effect” where increased relations with media and public causes an inverse in their reputation among the scientifi community
  • In contrary, French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) found that popularizing researchers may not necessarily be the best scientists, but they are among the most productive
  • Scientists/Researchers don’t know how to communicate their ideas to the general public in a way that’s correct but also not misleading and appeases media

Will 2013 Be the Year of the Scientist?

Will the Next Celebrity Scientist Please Stand Up?

The Impact Celebrities Have On Our Lives

Smart Celebrities (Quora)

Dr. Mayim Bialik 

Mayim Bialik has not only made a name for herself in the entertainment business, she is also a trained neuroscientist in real life and uses her role in the Big Bang Theory to break down stereotypes that many people (especially young students) may have about scientists.

“The show — with its two main female characters featured as working scientists (portrayed by me, and actress Melissa Rauch as Dr. Bernadette Rostenkowski — goes a long way to promote the idea that science is not a male-only pursuit,” says Mayim. “I also like that Big Bang Theory depicts scientists not just as stereotypical nerds but as funny, entertaining people who actually have lives outside of their work. They function as normal human beings who are successful,” she adds.

This is an interesting insight since the characters in Big Bang Theory are decidedly not “normal” and the joke is often that they don’t know how to function as normal human beings? 

Interview with Mayim Bailik 

Do you worry that the show reinforces scientist stereotypes?

From working in science, I know people who are like all of the characters. But it’s entertainment, and it needs to be entertaining.


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