Many polls and studies have been done to assess how science is doing in society. Most show a disappointing view of the success of science education, the perception of scientists, and commonly held beliefs about the ethical uses of science in technology. But in recent years, many pop cultural phenomena have gone a long way to improve the esteem and coolness-factor of science and the people who do it. Here are my favorite ways that Pop Culture has Saved Science:
1. T.V. The Big Bang Theory. This TV show is hotly debated, but in my view it does a lot to support science and to popularize scientists as interesting people. This group of physicists and engineers bring humor and humanity to the life of a scientist. Bonus: guest appearances by real-life geeks and scientists.
2. Music. 'Science' is 'popping up' in many band names, song names, and album names.... just a few: Coldplay - the Scientist, We Are Scientists (band), Incubus - S.C.I.E.N.C.E., They Might be Giants -Here Comes Science. It can't be a bad thing, science as pop culture meme.
3. The movies. OK, Hollywood does get it all wrong a lot of the time, but I think the mere fact that science and scientists are portrayed in blockbuster or indie films is doing a lot for this field of work. One of my recent favorites was the searching-for-a- medical-cure storyline of Extraordinary Measures. But I'm also a sucker for the big science dreams of movies like Inception orEternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. At least they get us thinking, and maybe they even ignite a passion for science in today's youth.
4. Art. The intersection of science and art has long fascinated me (of note, see my list of links to the left of this post). Recently, several museum exhibits have taken the idea of science as art-form to a whole new level. (Case in point, the DNA gel as art image above)
5. Food and Cooking. Nerd-chefs are the new it-chefs, and geeky cookbooks are the new best-sellers. See my partial list of nerdy cookbooks here, and read about nerdy chef extraordinaire, Heston Blumenthal, here.
These five topics are just the tip of the pop-culture iceberg, as it were. Magazines like Geek, Seed, and other media outlets are also spreading the science-is-cool message. The possibilities are limitless for changing the perception of science and scientists as socially awkward, unethical, and uninteresting.