The Sciences

Rock S.O.S.™ Link Dump 3--What About Love?

The IntersectionBy Chris MooneyNov 23, 2010 1:06 PM

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I continue to monitor the blogosphere reactions to the Rock S.O.S.™ campaign. I have to say, I do find some of it baffling. Like this from Martin Robbins, pretty much ripping the campaign over at The Guardian because, didn't you already know that scientists are way cooler than rock stars? No, Martin, I am America and I didn't know that. I may have more to say about this. Meanwhile, over at the website of Gibson--the guitar maker--the campaign draws attention because of the inclusion of Brett Michaels. That's kind of the point, Martin. The people who buy Gibson guitars don't necessarily know already, in the way that you do, how intensely cool science is. The campaign is also covered in print in the Washington Post today, in the "Science Scan" column. "Kudos to the campaign for including women and minorities in this year's crop," says Rachel Saslow. Here's a post that epitomizes a common response we're getting: "Rock Stars of Science Has No Physicist." The blogger has a very good articulation of the point:

...there seemed to be an over-emphasis on medicine and medical research! Who do they think made many of the instruments, equipment, and understood the physics of those things, that these medical researchers use?

That's a great argument for why you need to support all branches of science--and believe me, we don't disagree. The focus on medical scientists springs from the campaign's history and origins, it's not meant as a slight to other branches of science. At ScienceCheerleader, David Wescott includes Rock Stars in a roundup, writing: "A lot of bloggers are talking about a new campaign called Rock Stars of Science that is rolling out in GQ Magazine; it brings top scientists and top musicians together for some glam photo shoots. While I don’t think people work toward a Nobel Prize so they have the opportunity to meet Bret Michaels or Jay Sean, it does sound kinda fun."

The California Institute of Regenerative Medicine (yes, they have a blog, good for them) also discusses the campaign with a focus on Catriona Jamieson, one of their funded researchers (pictured at left with numerous others and rapper Jay Sean). The post also emphasizes the central theme of the importance of science communication. Tell me about it. I'm pleased to learn something I didn't know before, which is that CIRM is part of the new wave of sci comm emphasis out there today:

CIRM held a media training at our annual grantee meeting last year in an effort to help grantees talk about their work. With all the misinformation about stem cells — regarding their origins and their therapeutic power — we need as many scientists as possible able to talk effectively about their findings. Those rock stars of science communication might never have the name or image recognition as Debbie Harry or Bret Michaels, but we do hope they can be part of an effort to help people understand the power of science to create new therapies or technologies that improve our world and our lives. And to explain that science is just plain cool.

Out of all of this, though, by far the most enriching post comes from Kevin Zelnio of Deep Sea News. Zelnio uses the campaign and the recent popular Science Cheerleaders video as a springboard for delving deeply into what science outreach is all about, and how you quantify its effectiveness (it's hard!). In the process, he also delivers a pretty strong rebuttal to the kind of thinking epitomized by Martin Robbins:

There is much discussion on the internet about the value of this initiative [Rock Stars]. Who is the audience? Why are they posed awkwardly? Does the image portrayed reflect upon the cult nature of science? The list goes on and there is much support for it too, just google Rockstars of Science. I just want you to recognize that it is there and follow the links for good discussions on the initiative. What Science Cheerleaders and Rockstars of Science do share however is their marketing to a specific niche. In each case there are naysayers who grumble and supporters who defend. They are each attempting to display the field and its cultists to a crowd that would have little exposure to it in the first place. While disagreement can be instructive as long as it’s constructive, flat out rejecting each initiative fails to recognize that is may be worthwhile, just not to you personally. The little girl at the end of the Science Cheerleader’s promo above was very clearly stoked about it and wants to be doctor. That is a win in my book! Even if she is 1 in 1000 affected by the program, that is at least 3,000 inspired children in the USA. Likewise for Rockstars of Science, which probably reaches another sector of the public unaffected by Science Cheerleaders. I think a couple tens of thousands of inspired youth is worth the time and effort of these initiatives. Now, what if we consider other initiatives that aren’t in the science blogger’s eye? There are hundreds of after-school programs, community efforts, individuals acting alone, small scale local efforts, large scale national efforts and much more. I don’t have the data, but I would be willing to opine the combined effort has great potential.

Read Kevin's whole post (and by the way, he's a musician!). More from me soon on all the discussion the campaign has generated....

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