Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Celebrity scientists

Earlier this year, I blogged about why scientists should not necessarily be treated like footballers. It's here. The basic argument is that scientists probably do not want to be treated like footballers.

A similar conversation came up again in my twitter feed, this time from the SMH. "Australians can aspire to finer role models." This article rose out of the recent media frenzy around a few stupid things being done by footballers. The questions raised is, Why is Todd Carney a household name and not Brian Schmidt, or Elizabeth Blackburn for example, great question!

This falls nicely into the categories (following on) of name recognition and role models, and with a special request of ticker tape parades as a celebration of both!

Our very own household name, celebrity
 role model scientist, Dr Karl. Apparently
 he gets stopped an average of 2 times
per grocery shop for a question or autograph.

Name recognition
These days, when it comes to name recognition in the media cycle, I don't think that means much. Sure I can name the guy who wee'd into his own mouth now, but gimme two weeks or so and I'll have forgotten it. This works for the scientists as well. During their brief time, scientists could probably be named in households, but only for that brief time. To claim that Todd Carney is a household name and scientists aren't is quite simply not true. That's not how the media works.

To be honest, I'm pretty sure scientists wouldn't want to be household names, if the criteria for being a household name was disgracing yourself and your family. Think of all the household names in the media cycle at the moment, Todd Carney, Rolf Harris, Andrew Coulson.

There was a fantastic documentary series from the BBC called Howard Goodall's Story of Music. In it, the presenter, Howard Goodall, made the point that we know about artists like Beethoven and Chopin, Vivaldi and Wagner for a reason, they were brilliant and did something that no one else did. I think the same can be said for sportspeople like Maradonna or Michael Jordan, and scientists like Marie Curie, Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton. Granted, John O'Sullivan, Brian Schmidt and Rosalind Franklin aren't household names, but Wi-Fi, Dark energy and DNA are!

Role Models
The role of a role model I think is not understood by the role models very well. There are plenty of examples of poor role models that really should know better. The fact that people look up to you and therefore will listen to what you say and watch what you do, should inform some actions. Of course that isn't the case all the time. I think that if people can't handle that, they really shouldn't be role models anymore, and should get out of that position.

A great sporting role model for me was John "Nobody" Eales. After a game of rugby for his country he'd hit the showers, get into a suit and go and delivery a keynote address at a dinner somewhere. Imagine some of the thugs that play football these days doing that!! Being a role model is a responsibility. People like Katie Perry must know that what they do is watched (and copied) by millions around the world.

But due to the above argument about our short attention span for name recognition, even if todd Carney is a role model, how probably won't be for very long. Again, those that are, like (for me) my father, Dr Karl, ex-bosses of mine Pete Mascini and Rachel Dash to name a few, are still role models for me because they've done something different or brilliant etc.

Having been a teacher, which is effectively a role model in many ways, I can tell you that my actions were heavily modified. I was aware that many actions were being watched and acted accordingly. I think that is responsible. Todd Carney must know he is a role model of sorts. People watch what he does because of who he is. No amount of drunkenness can remove that fact that people watch, are informed by, and in some cases, imitate what he does.

As always, there are two sides to the story. We could do better at what we produce in the news and media cycle, we could choose our role models better, we could train them to be better role models. But we should also expect more of our media to provide us with news that is news, and not just shocking "entertainment." And we should certainly expect more from our role models. It is a responsibility to behave morally and correctly (whatever that is!) as a role model. Children look up to you. If you don't think children should witness you doing something...don't do it.

Ticker Tape parades
I've never been to a ticker tape parade. I would probably never go to a ticker tape parade for a sportsperson, but probably would've been there for the Mercury and Apollo astronauts in their day. And I would certainly go to a similar science based celebration like a lecture by Brian Schmidt (and I'd still get chuffed when he remembers my name!). I still really love going to the Eureka Science prize award night, The Oscars for Science! That is a wonderful and huge and shameless pat ourselves on the back event for only us! I love it!

I hope this hasn't gone into rant territory. I'm still happy to keep the conversation going, like I said in the previous post, there's more in it!

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