Last night, the unlikely happened in Las Vegas, Nevada when Miss California Alyssa Campenella, a self-professed "huge science geek," was selected to be the next Miss USA. The pageant appeared on my radar Friday afternoon when Bora Zivkovic tweeted that the Miss USA pageant contestants had been asked a science-related question, "Should evolution be taught in schools?" Subsequently, much of the internet chatter focused on the contestants from states known for their anti-evolution policies such as Kansas, Texas and Kentucky. I decided to go the other route and find out which of these women supported the teaching of evolution. I was disheartened to find that only a few of them really understood the issue. Many were apparently unaware that evolution is currently taught in schools. And, most of them thought creationism or "the other side" should be taught, as well. The pre-pageant interviews revealed how much work remains to be done in order to improve science literacy in America. However, Campanella’s answer demonstrated that she possesses a respectable appreciation and understanding of science. The evolution issue is addressed in the second question in the video: Her forthright and honest, not to mention scientifically accurate, answer established her geek status even before the pageant. She reinforced her geek credentials during the pageant by deftly answering a question about whether the U.S. should legalize the use of marijuana:
This is a guest post by Jamie L. Vernon, Ph.D.
"Well, I understand why that question would be asked, especially with today's economy, but I also understand that medical marijuana is very important to help those who need it medically," she said. "I'm not sure if it should be legalized, if it would really affect, with the drug war," she said. "I mean, it's abused today, unfortunately, so that's the only reason why I would kind of be a little bit against it, but medically it's OK."
I believe in Campanella we will have a science ambassador representing us in the Miss Universe pageant come September and you better believe I'll be supporting her. My only hope is that someone will get her to talk about science a little more so the next generation will know that beauty and intelligence are one and the same.