Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Where have all the Scientists gone?

I'm currently in a History of Microbiology class where I have the fun opportunity to learn where all the science I have been studying for the last couple of years has come from. One of the most interesting things I have noticed, not that we are studying the later microbiologists is how little is known about them.
Most people have hear of Pasteur and his vaccinations, or John Snow and the Broad Street pump, and if I were to mention Salk or Sabin many people's ears would still perk up. However as time goes forward we no longer see scientists in the forefront. If you were to ask the typical American today to name one famous scientist I bet you they would all mention Einstein... and he lived ages ago, did amazing things, but lived long ago. We forget about the scientists who save our lives every day... take for example Maurice Hilliman, no one's heard of him...but everyone who has been through the American school system has taken at least 6 of his vaccinations. Someone who helped stop deadly diseases like mumps, measles, and hepatitis B has never been mentioned in one substantial news broadcast...

What happened? Louis Pasteur's results were printed in hundreds, if not thousands of newspapers in his day... Sabin and Salk each had prime spots in the Times and News Week for their polio vaccinations... Einstein was a cultural phenomenon and brilliant physicist. Back then the big names in the papers were the scientists just as much as anything else. Their research was destroying some of the terrors of the known world that had killed millions of children.

Why are scientists so forgotten now? Is it because the news prefers terrorists and politicians to scientists who are benefiting mankind with their vaccinations? Is it because the science has become "too complex" for the layman to care for it? Perhaps there have been too many 'false cures,' but for some reason the news latches onto the crackpots and not the reputable scientists. (there are many examples, but the HIV 'vaccination' and cold fusion are some of the first that come to mind) We hear plenty from people against genetically modified crops, never mind the untold billions of lives saved by higher crop yields especially in low income countries. We hear of mad attempts to clone the human genome, but not the scientists who discovered the cause for these genetic diseases. Wonder why little kids are more likely to say they want to be a movie star than a scientist.

How can we make these thinkers the new news bringers instead of the inane droning of the latest celebrity or sports star who was incarcerated? What does this society need to kickstart the thinking to make innovation keep up with the increasing flow of information? I don't know. But I'm thinking that having a few more scientists take the headlines for the research that is saving the world might be a good start. Who needs to hear of 16 insurgents in Nambia when you have the scientist formulating the cure for genetic lymphoma on your own doorstep?


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Science is big in the 21st century, but scientists are small. The size of science itself means that scientists can only function in teams, like bees building a honeycomb. Also: they can't converse with laypeople anymore because science is too arcane, is not entertaining (movies, sports stars), often does not address immediate problems in people's lives (which have been dramatically transformed by science), people are too distracted by myriad other things, and science after its 20th century expansion phase, has set a high bar (scientific 'miracles' were a novelty in 1945; now the expectation is that science produce miracles off the assembly line). As an example of how things warp, the basic science that leads to the applied technology of, say, an Apple Ipod is not celebrated at all; but the designers and marketers of the Ipod are well-known. In a fascinating twist, scientists are poorly paid and cannot grab our attention anymore. The science of Salk and Sabin, with it's "immediate gratification" and "instant results", is, literally and figuratively, history. Ironically, it's partly a consequence of the success of science. Quacks rule the airwaves. Scientists rule the labs.