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December 3, 2012

Carl Sagan Made Science Sexy

Or so asserts Ira Flatow, host of NPR's popular radio show Science Friday. Flatow spoke to an audience of several hundred today at the annual fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco's Moscone Center. He first showed the classic picture of Albert Einstein with his softly wild white hair and textured, wizened face. Not sexy, claimed Flatow. But Sagan, on the other hand, with his red turtleneck and confident, charming smile...

Flatow spent most of his talk showing how science can be considered sexy, and claiming that the public likes science and wants more of it. Sagan's show "Cosmos" was the most popular program on TV for a long time, he pointed out. Right now, CBS's most popular show after news programming is "The Big Bang Theory." He also showed a plot of how often various subjects appear in the media, and whether poll respondents thought there was enough coverage of each. Sports accounted for the majority of media coverage, with only 6 percent of respondents saying there wasn't enough. Science ranked last in percentage of coverage, with almost half of respondents saying there should be more. More talk of science, technology and discoveries! Oh, and his ultimate indication that science is hot: The 2010 Barbie, created by popular vote. She's wearing a shirt with a sort of techie design, carries a laptop, and sports pink glasses. Flatow adds, "But, the most telling feature for me: The sensible shoes." Barbie is wearing pink flats.

There is such a thing as too sexy, as Flatow demonstrated by comparing two videos aimed toward women in science. Check them out for yourself: The EU's "Science: It's a Girl Thing" video received quiet groans from the audience.

In case you watch it and aren't sure why it would receive groans, head to this short, amusing commentary on Jezebel. I just realized how creepy it is, too, that the dude at the beginning appears to be significantly older than the girls.

A clip from a scientist-made video about evolution and lab work, however, received a roaring applause. Kudos to these lab ladies.

Flatow also made a general call for scientists to put themselves into the public arena. Learn how to speak in plain language, he said. Say there is certainty, if there is. Speak out. Don't wait for people to come to you but rather go to where they are, organizing a science in art event or visiting an invention fair. Or, my favorite, take a politician to lunch. Flatow's message is not new. Any science communicator I've heard speak says the same thing. But it can't hurt to say it again, especially when it's said well.

The talk ended with another set of photographs of the beloved Albert Einstein. There he is sticking his tongue out, looking goofy, again with his crazy hair and wrinkled face. But there he is young, so young, a slightly blurred image of an Einstein in his 20s, with dark, slightly wavy hair and a casual suit, looking nothing like the Einstein we're used to. "Look at those penetrating eyes," said Flatow. We're talking about science being sexy again, he says. Science was already sexy back then.

Posted by beth at December 3, 2012 11:32 PM

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