Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Famous Scientist

What makes a scientist famous?

Rae Goodell (Later known as Simpson), in her dissertation-turned-book, "The Visible Scientists" studied the visible scientists of the seventies (Sagan, Skinner, Mead, etc.). Her book summarizes the essentials of being a famous scientist.

  • The hardest to achieve is a credible reputation. The visible scientist is an authority. A well-known institution is a must (Harvard/Stanford/Any IV League university).
  • A "Hot Topic". Back in the seventies people talked about the population explosion and aliens, today evolution and/or global warming will do the job.
  • Be Controversial. Professor Dawkins is doing it right.
  • Have a colorful image (don't be dull). Paul Ehrlich, for example, had a sterilization operation.
  • Be Articulate. Be quotable ("Give your child an IUD to take to 'Show and Tell'"- Paul Ehrlich).
The most important factor of being a visible scientist in the seventies was, of course, appearing in Johnny Carson's "Tonight" show. Once a scientist was featured in that show, the way to become an "Anything Authority", as Arthur Herzog put it in the The B.S. Factor, was short.

Goodell, R. (1977). The visible scientists. Boston : Little, Brown ISBN: 0316320005


  1. Oh, the rules for being famous are pretty much the same for everyone, scientist or not (except for the IV league university part).