The Sciences

Martin Robbins: "Science Is Cool, You Idiot! Wait, Wait, Don't Walk Away..."

The IntersectionBy Chris MooneyNov 24, 2010 11:55 AM


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The award has now come in for the most off base and, frankly, elitist response to the Rock S.O.S. campaign. It goes to science blogger Martin Robbins of the Guardian, who doesn’t even understand what the campaign is, and so acts as if everything he objects to is something done by GQ magazine rather than by the Geoffrey Beene Gives Back® Rock Stars of Science™ campaign, which ran a PSA in GQ. Robbins isn't merely unaware of what he’s criticizing; he’s also apparently clueless about the U.S. public and how it regards science. His basic argument seems to be that people should already knowthat scientists, not rock stars, are the really cool ones. (Even though many Americans can't even name a scientist.) Rock stars should kneel at the feet of scientists, rather than vice versa. And if you don’t get it…well, just look at this picture of science from the archives that Robbins has to show you!

It’s a NASA moonscape shot. More specifically, it’s billed as "Pete Conrad inspects Surveyor 3. Conrad's own spaceship, the Intrepid, can be seen 200 yards away in the background." Yes, it’s very cool; no, it’s not currently running in GQ’s “Men of the Year” issue. Magazines like new photos, not photos from the bygone days when Americans actually paid attention to science. Robbins adds this gloss:

This is a picture of two spacecraft on the moon at the same time, taken by astronauts who have walked from one to the other. If you don't understand why this is one of the coolest things you will ever see, then you really aren't cool, in fact you're the opposite of cool. You are to cool what Dan Brown is to literature.

To which the American public responds “!#$@^ you, I liked The Da Vinci Code” and returns to watching Dancing With the Stars. In general, most Americans don’t think science is cool. It isn’t even on the radar. You can tell them they’re wrong, and that they're the ones who don't understand cool--but in this case you’re a British blogger occupying a media niche that few Americans will find themselves visiting. Meanwhile, you're bashing a campaign that has a far better chance of reaching them. You also won't reach them by...making fun of hip-hop artists like B.O.B., whom Robbins calls “a child rapper named Bob”:

'Bob' is apparently notable for his breakout hit Haterz Everywhere, which is clearly a clever satire on conspicuous consumption, making a powerful statement about the ability of successful capitalists to act above the law and oppress the common man…

Much of the time Robbins is at least a funny writer. Not here. Not remotely. It’s a kitchen sink attack, so Robbins also criticizes some overly technical language

on the Rock Stars website (not GQ’s website), which admittedly could have been better written. The funny thing about this critique, though, is that Robbins starts off his first sentence by denouncing the "isochronal cavalcade" of the Rock Stars campaign. Clearly, here's a man who understands the pitfalls of jargon.

The critique then closes with the incomprehensible. Robbins provides a mysterious image that he seems to think is cooler than the Rock Stars campaign and writes:

…here's a picture of the Sun. Taken at night. Throughthe Earth (explanation here).


Yes science can do many marvelous things. But you'll notice that Robbins' image explanation. As it happens, it involves neutrinos, which--I'm quite certain--most Americans do not know about or understand. Now compare the image below, and decide which the American public is more likely to respond to:

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