ACS says we need science superheroes

From the American Chemical Society, a call for science superheros. I suppose this means the Goreacle is not in the running.

Remedies for science’s shortage of superheroes

DENVER, Aug. 28, 2011 — One of the most serious personnel shortages in the global science and engineering workforce — numbering more than 20 million in the United States alone — involves a scarcity of real-life versions of Superman, Superwoman and other superheroes and superheroines with charm, charisma, people skills and communication skills.

That’s the premise behind an unusual symposium occurring here today at the 242nd National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS), the world largest scientific society. Entitled “Empowering Tomorrow’s Science Super Heroes,” it opens a discussion on how to give scientists a touch of the panache of the stock comic book and Hollywood characters who worked for the public good.

“We are seeking ways to equip scientists to better communicate and connect with the rest of society,” said Donna J. Nelson, Ph.D., an organizer of the session. It is among events at the meeting, which includes more than 7,500 scientific presentations, initiated by Nancy B. Jackson, Ph.D., ACS president. “The well-equipped superhero and superheroine has the communications skills to explain their work and the wonder and importance of science in an understandable way,” Nelson explained. “They have an awareness of public policy, how science connects with societal issues and even the ability to use a bit of humor.”

Nelson, who is with the University of Oklahoma and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), said those skills add up to super-hero-level leaders who can inspire students, build public support for science and engage in key public policy decisions. Three of her models for science superheroes are the late Richard E. Smaley, Ph.D.; Harold Kroto, Ph.D.; and Robert F. Curl, Ph.D., who shared the 2005 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. “All three have been great organizers and leaders with superb social skills and just the kind of people to get kids interested in a career in science,” Nelson said.

Nelson also praised the Ig Nobel Prize, a parody of the Nobel Prizes, presented each year just before the real Nobels, but for 10 unusual or trivial “achievements” in scientific research. The self- proclaimed aim of the prizes is to “first make people laugh, and then make them think.”

In addition to a presentation on the Ig Nobel Prize, the superheroes event will include speakers from NOVA’s public scientific information outreach, science cafes, science festivals and other projects that accomplish the superhero mission.

Presentations in the superheroes symposium with summaries of the presentations include:

  • Science outreach: Demonstrating the value of science. Jennifer Larese, NOVA Outreach Coordinator. As individuals, people learn in slightly different manners and at different rates of speed. As informal science educators, scientists have a unique opportunity to use a variety of formats, experiences and media to engage and excite their audiences. Today there are countless new electronic media tools being created, almost daily. This presentation will briefly cover science outreach as a transmedia opportunity to connect with the public.
  • Infusing moving media into instruction. Janet English, Instructor, El Toro High School, Mission Viejo, Calif. The main job for movie and TV superheroes is to save the world, and this is why many consider scientists superheroes. There are numerous ways that chemists and other scientists can affect children’s learning and help promote a love of science. The media also can play a pivotal role in students’ learning, and teachers can discuss how the media is used (or not used) in a thought-provoking way in the classroom. Scientists also can contribute to improving the mass media and how they can be role models for children.
  • Creative engagement at science cafes. John Cohen., M.D., University of Colorado School of Medicine, Department of Immunology, Denver. A Café Scientifique brings a scientist to talk directly with the public in pleasant relaxed surroundings. PowerPoint is banned to encourage dialog, rather than a lecture. There is no moderator, so the conversation finds its correct level without imposed dumbing-down. Speakers frequently say that talking at the Café Sci was one of the best experiences of their career. So do audiences and organizers.
  • Here come the Science Festivals! Kishore Hari, Director, Bay Area Science Festival. There are many ways that science festivals are raising awareness about a tremendous grassroots movement to celebrate and elevate science. Science festivals hope to rally whole communities to celebrate science as alive and local. Festivals aim to inspire youth to consider science studies and careers, and adults to cultivate a life-long interest in science and technology.
  • The Ig Nobel Prize: Never dull, never boring awards in chemistry. Marc Abrahams, Editor, Annals of Improbable Research. The Ig Nobel Prizes honor achievements that first make people laugh, then make them think. Every year since 1991, 10 new prizes have been awarded in chemistry, physics and other fields. The winners journey to Harvard University for the gala ceremony in which genuine Nobel laureates shake their hands and hand them their prizes. The “Igs” have spawned live shows worldwide and video features. They celebrate the unusual, honor the imaginative — and spur people’s interest in science, medicine and technology.

The American Chemical Society is a non-profit organization chartered by the U.S. Congress. With more than 163,000 members, ACS is the world’s largest scientific society and a global leader in providing access to chemistry-related research through its multiple databases, peer-reviewed journals and scientific conferences. Its main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.


I think Josh’s take on Joe Romm as Super Chicken is a good start. Just put a “S” in a crest on him and you’re done.

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August 28, 2011 12:46 pm

Maybe they should bring back real chemistry sets.
I’m still upset about Friday Funny – science safety run amok
Anyone remember the DuPont Chemical Magic Show before the word “chemical” became a four letter word? Even Science News Magazine uses “molecule” where chemical is a better fit.
That’s an especially sore point. When I was a kid I used to fantasize that if I ingested the exact right number of molecules of some chemical I’d develop my own set of superpowers. Hey, made as much sense as a bite from a radioactive spider.

Dave Springer
August 28, 2011 12:53 pm

Idiots. They can’t even name a science super-hero.
Reed Richards, leader of the Fantastic Four?
Hello? Earth to climate boffins.
Beam me up, Scotty. There’s no intelligent life here.

Dave Springer
August 28, 2011 12:57 pm

What they’re really looking for is a real-life Victor Von Doom a.k.a. Dr. Doom the genius inventor who also appeared in Marvel Comics as an enemy of The Fantastic Four.
Teh climate boffins already got the “doom” part down pat and they’re good at invention like “water vapor amplification”. All they’re really missing is the genius part.

August 28, 2011 1:00 pm

I see a word missing from the ACS article. Probably just an oversight. TRUTH.

Chris F
August 28, 2011 1:05 pm

Hmm, all of a sudden they see a need for science to become more popular in the eyes of the public. I wonder what that need could be.

August 28, 2011 1:12 pm

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s SUPERGREENIE! Faster than a speeding press release. More powerful than a sewage plant upwind. Able to leap the decline in a single bound …

August 28, 2011 1:23 pm

…about a tremendous grassroots movement…
Grass roots? Someone needs a dictionary.

John Whitman
August 28, 2011 1:26 pm

For someone without integrity those with it just look superhuman. But those with integrity are just normal human.
Personal Note: I was disappointed to learn that the ACS was chartered by a government body. Politics?

August 28, 2011 1:27 pm

They are simply looking for someone who can lie convincingly.
And with a straight face.

August 28, 2011 1:27 pm

The self- proclaimed aim of the prizes is to “first make people laugh, and then make them think.
These days, “. . . make them think.” is generally a euphemism for injected leftist political commentary. Which was is the reason I stopped subscribing to JIR many years ago.

August 28, 2011 1:27 pm

So what does “Chartered by the US Congress” mean, exactly?

August 28, 2011 1:32 pm

I was enjoying myself as a certified senior salt in an elective course on short narratives by Hispanic writers on a Semester at Sea summer session: one day the very pleasant professor asked a slouching girl in the front row an easy question which she refused to answer. When the professor looked a little sad the student said aggressively—”Look, I am a chemistry major, I don’t have to do this stuff” to the amazement of all the adults in the room but not, apparently, to most of the younger students. Would this attitude have anything to do with the ACS’ felt need for ‘superheroes’?

chris y
August 28, 2011 1:40 pm

Recent history has several science ‘superheroes’ that effectively connected with the public and had important sciencey or technology things to contribute.
Einstein, Feynman, Cousteau, Heddy Lamarr, Edison
Then there are those who are effective public speakers, but have a list of erroneous contributions, or no significant contributions.
Paul Ehrlich, Carl Sagan, John Holdren, David Suzuki

August 28, 2011 1:42 pm

I can nominate three such men, all chemical engineers, all personal acquaintances and friends. The photo at the link below is from a dinner meeting of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, Los Angeles Chapter, on May 27, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. Each of us spoke that night about our respective patents or patent pending, and experience with the US patent process.
From left to right, Peter A. Nick, Hatem Harraz, Arthur Krugler, and Roger Sowell.
Pete Nick is co-inventor on a US utility patent 7,452,392 on a waste-to-energy process, whereby a city’s garbage is converted to syngas and from there to electricity. There are four other co-inventors on the patent. Their patented process diverts the garbage from landfills, and qualifies as a “green” process because all emissions are from bio-waste. They are seeking investors to build their first plant. It also can process bio-waste such as hazardous biomedical waste from hospitals and laboratories.
Hatem Harraz has a patent pending, which is nearly ready to issue, on a novel form of cellulose. His invention is a form of non-crystalline cellulose that can be converted to bio-ethanol. Or, it can be eaten as food. This invention is huge,with world-wide implications. His process takes waste plant matter, such as corn stalks or shrubbery trimmings, and converts it to ethanol for fuel, or for a food additive. The food is suitable for humans or herbivorous animals such as cattle.
Art Krugler is a prolific inventor, with three patents from the 1970s and several more pending. He is a world-class expert in geothermal power plants, vortex separation systems, and bio-diesel processes. Art is also 86 years young! And, he still works a full day every day.
The fourth guy is some attorney-chemical engineer that took up space. I have filed one US utility patent application several years ago that was denied due to substantially similar prior art. I also performed patent searches on dozens of other ideas for others and myself, and advise clients on various aspects of their intellectual property portfolios.
Many chemical engineers are also members of American Chemical Society.

Retired Engineer
August 28, 2011 1:43 pm

Perhaps this applies to science. In engineering, we need common sense and practical skills. When I had to hire people, I got kids right out of college. From good schools. Good theory, good attitude, zero experience. I thought lab courses were supposed to teach at least a little of that. Took six months to a year before any useful output. This was 20 years ago. I didn’t need superperson, just someone who could produce. Today it doesn’t matter as much, we’ve farmed out all design to the Indian subcontinent. With most managers totally hostile to engineering. (at least that has been my experience.) I had a good run, but I wouldn’t direct a young person to engineering today. Well, perhaps software, but we called that ‘programming’, not engineering. (full disclosure: I started as a programmer in ’67)

August 28, 2011 1:47 pm

This is a real sore point with me. I don’t object to a formal education but often a formal education teaches you to only think in one way and is hard for a creative person to conform to. Professional standards are designed to eliminate those who don’t meet this rigid idea of what a good professional should be. If they want to improved their ranks they need to evaluate people on their abilities instead of selecting only people who can get through their educational maze. The best example of this would be Thomas Edison,. He would have never made it into any of the professional societies but he is responsible for much of our modern life.

Jeff Alberts
August 28, 2011 2:06 pm

Don’t these people realize that superheroes are make-believe?

R. Gates
August 28, 2011 2:10 pm

Perhaps this is all a reaction to the general dumbing down of America. With the Chinese now submitting more patents and graduating far more scientists and engineers, anything to spark some interest in the sciences for Americans should be welcomed.

Theo Goodwin
August 28, 2011 2:22 pm

In climate science, there are several superheroes. Most recently and maybe most important are Svensmark and Kirkby. Their science is rock solid and they explain it in a way that makes it clear to the ordinary person. In addition, they show the humility demanded by science. Now that is the stuff of superheroes.
Some that have been around longer are Roger Pielke, Sr., (No snub to Pielke, Jr., but I have not kept up with him) Willis Eschenbach, Dr, Roy Spencer and some others.
What we should call those who claim to practice their science through the use of supercomputers only and who cannot explain or will not explain their science to the ordinary person or the ordinary Phd? Whatever we call them, there is a long list. I know how we should describe them. They are self-destructively arrogant or they are liars.

Theo Goodwin
August 28, 2011 2:26 pm

Dena says:
August 28, 2011 at 1:47 pm
“This is a real sore point with me. I don’t object to a formal education but often a formal education teaches you to only think in one way and is hard for a creative person to conform to.”
Very true. There are some people who do not travel the beaten path. However, if you can get into a first rate graduate school, you might find that your problems are solved. How do you do that without an undergraduate degree? Take a course taught by a professor of the graduate school that is open to graduates and undergraduates. Sometimes you do not have to graduate to be accepted to graduate school.

August 28, 2011 2:30 pm

@Jeff Alberts All dreams are make-believe until someone makes them real – that’s what we need real-life superheroes for, scientific or otherwise. Why do football players, wrestlers and golfers get more respect than prominent scientists in North American society?

August 28, 2011 2:33 pm

Gates: why don’t you pack your belongings and move to Beijing where you can keep Maurice Strong company?

August 28, 2011 2:34 pm

to give scientists a touch of the panache of the stock comic book and Hollywood characters who worked for the public good
we are handing out way too many liberal arts degrees…………………….

August 28, 2011 2:36 pm

I can think of quite a few comic Supers in the science game. Lex Luthor used to be a fine mad scientist until he turned into an entrepreneur. Dr. Solar was one of the good guys. And Dr. Manhattan? Somewhere in the middle of the triangle with good, evil, and indifferent at its vertices.
The only comic Mad Scientist I’d want in the neighborhood is Dr. Atomic.

Don Horne
August 28, 2011 2:39 pm

If scientists would just start telling truth about their research and quit hyping it to extreme levels of unbelievability, maybe the public would again start putting some trust back into science and scientists.
I’m a retired biochemist who grew up with parents and educators who would have given me an extremely hard time if I had started lying and cheating like the so-called “superstars” of “climate science” do today.
Ethics is not something one learns in a graduate course on ethics. It is something one must start learning from early childhood and never stop learning.

Dan Lee
August 28, 2011 2:39 pm

Are there no adults left in these institutions? Is marketing down to a wider audience more important than seeking the kind of audience that will work and study to master scientific self-discipline?
Or have the real scientists gone “on strike”, a la Atlas Shrugged, and are staying out of it while these sundry self-serving societies self-destruct on their own?

August 28, 2011 2:44 pm

May I nominate Syun-Ichi Akasofu, author of “Two Natural Components of the Recent Climate Change” (April 30, 2009. International Arctic Research Center, University of Alaska, Fairbanks), at

R. Shearer
August 28, 2011 3:01 pm

I’m an ACS member, closing in on 30 years, and almost resigned a couple of times because of ACS’s stance on AGW (alarmist as one might ressuppose). I plan to make 30 years and then perhaps my resignation letter might be taken as more impactful.
In any case, Rudy Baum, editor of ACS C&ENews is like the Joker of AGW and carbon dioxide is on his axis of evil molecules.

August 28, 2011 3:26 pm

Dan Lee says:
August 28, 2011 at 2:39 pm
Are there no adults left in these institutions?
Dan you’re exactly right….
It’s the no one fails, everyone can become a scientist.
It used to be that only the best really made it…That’s also
why there’s so much junk science being cranked out.

August 28, 2011 3:26 pm

Let’s go over all those great “scientists” who made the major contributions to society during the 19th and early 20th century..
First was the inventor of the telegraph! Samuel B. Morse. Whoops, sorry, he was a potrait artist.
OK, ok, then let’s cite…the man who invented the:
1. Phonograph
2. Motion Picture camera
3. Electric Light Bulb
4. Useable Microphone and Earpiece for telephony,
Thomas Alva Edison, Whoops sorry, home schooled, no earned degrees, no credentials as a “scientist”.
Well, DANG IT, I can do better than that. How about the great academic Langley? Calculated you
might be able to “fly” using ground effect with a steam power heavier than air aircraft.
Whoops, sorry, died in a crash trying. Done in by two BICYCLE mechanics from Ohio, Orville and Wilber Wright. Again, no scientific credentials.
Come on, I can do it somewhere. Let’s try…RADIO! Hey, the foundation laid by Micheal Faraday.
Whoops, once again, NO formal training. Gosh darn, we do have to admit that James Clerk Maxell creeps in here, and he DID have a formal background. What was that little paper, 1858, “On Faraday’s Lines of Force”. Alas, died before he could DO anything with it.
Then along came Hierick Hertz. DID do real experements, was a real “scientist”. We have to give him the benefit of the doubt. Died young.
So that torche went to Giliano Marconi, who DID develop a PRACTICAL method of “radio” transmission and detection. Whoops, TELEGRAPH ENGINER, not technically a SCIENTIST.
Well, that’s the end of TODAY’S lecture on the IMPORTANCE of “science super heroes”.
Next week, we talk about great contributors to the field of Phrenology.

August 28, 2011 3:29 pm

It would probably be a lot easier to find “Science superheroes” if only honesty would return to science, and if politics were removed. Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen as long as the baby-boomers with their warped, toxic, self-serving worldview are running the show.
Return anthropogenic climate disruption to it’s correct classification as a disproved, or at least unproved hypothesis, and more people will welcome “science” back into their daily thought processes.

Gary Pearse
August 28, 2011 3:31 pm

God save us from this – they are asking for a more powerful propaganda machine. Do honest work! Have high standards! Put your computers away for awhile and in the silence that follows, think a lot! Stop pushing out low calorie science by the bushel- the kind that is ripped apart here everyday (count 4 dead polar bears all together in a 2 mile wide band visible from the air across 200miles (400sq mi). Divide the area of the arctic by 400sq mi. and multiply by 4 to get the estimated number of dead bears!!!). Scientists for hundreds of years enjoyed respect and even exaltation. They have lost a lot precisely because of this kind of stuff. You could have knocked me over with feather when I learned that the number of scientific papers released by the Harvard grad who outed the paywalled inventory was 2.5 million!! How do these compare with the work of about a couple of dozen people who’s names grace the physical laws that explain the universe. Look to them for models for your superheroes. Batman didn’t do standup, play the banjo and lead the toastmasters – he was a shy, solitary guy filled with humility who lived in a dark cave-like place and couldn’t stand evil, dishonesty, bullying and that kind of stuff.

Ron Dean
August 28, 2011 3:32 pm

I think the problem is they can’t find a “superhero” who will push the message they want. If Dr. Nelson really wants to have scientists and engineers “engage in key public policy decisions”, then perhaps they can look beyond those who have a preconceived notion of the state of the theory of AGW.
Hell, I’ve only got my Bachelors in electrical engineering, but I’ll volunteer! But I am missing the key requirement of doting faith in the AGW hypothesis . . .

August 28, 2011 3:51 pm

I’m 64 years old now, an ACS member (sigh), and a chemist. I remember that when I was in high school, they had “real chemistry sets”. You could even get more interesting chemicals from your local pharmacist. I always had ambitions to be an “exothermic chemist”. No such luck.

Roger Knights
August 28, 2011 3:52 pm

Maybe there are some science superheros in old Gary Larson cartoons. There surely are plenty of antiheros.

Christian Bultmann
August 28, 2011 4:09 pm

Clearly the folks at ACS didn’t consider that I really don’t want to be saved.
I have it good a lifestyle only afforded to Kings and the Nobility in the past and even they could only dream of the long live I enjoy today.
Todays science has only a shorter more miserable live in store for me with less for me and preferably without me.
No thanks.

August 28, 2011 4:10 pm

Science is moving overseas as American industry and real science is debunked, ridiculed, and people livelihoods threatened by the likes of the mainstream media and anti-science groups such as the Union of Concerned Scientists, the editors of magazines such as Science or Nature, and governmental entities such as the FDA and the EPA, all of which use bogus science as a political weapon.

August 28, 2011 4:14 pm

Dena says:
August 28, 2011 at 1:47 pm
“This is a real sore point with me. I don’t object to a formal education but often a formal education teaches you to only think in one way and is hard for a creative person to conform to.”
Theo Goodwin says:
August 28, 2011 at 2:26 pm
Very true. There are some people who do not travel the beaten path. However, if you can get into a first rate graduate school, you might find that your problems are solved. How do you do that without an undergraduate degree? Take a course taught by a professor of the graduate school that is open to graduates and undergraduates. Sometimes you do not have to graduate to be accepted to graduate school.
Sounds good but in my case I was the first to attend college so my parents couldn’t advise me. My high school adviser put me in Liberal arts instead of Engineering because she didn’t understand my interest and I was never aware that there were resources available and the university that could assist me with issues such as this. Being a bit shy at the time I also didn’t ask or think of questions like this. Think I went to some no name school? This happened to me at Arizona State University. I was lucky that I found Computer Programming and I have been able to support myself with this profession, but the lack of a degree has come into play more than once.
What you suggest is good advice for somebody who already understands the education system but I suspect many students don’t unless they have somebody to help them.

Gary Hladik
August 28, 2011 4:19 pm

“The main job for movie and TV superheroes is to save the world, and this is why many consider scientists superheroes.”
Uhhh, I think we already have quite enough people who want to “save the world” from something…anything. What we really need are scientists who can develop a vaccine against the current epidemic of stupidity.

August 28, 2011 4:25 pm

Hugoson Edison home schooling included R.G.Parker’s scientific textbook Natural and Experimental Philosophy and his mother was a teacher. He was also an alumnus of the Cooper Union and mentored by Franklin Leonard Pope. So while his education was unconventional, it’s not as if he went off into the desert and came back with the lightbulb.

August 28, 2011 4:27 pm

Ditto Goodwin. There are several heroes in the realm of climate. Svensmark and folks like Soon and Baliunas who take a lickin and keep on tickin. Fight for the truth no matter how often the supervillains like Jones and Mann knock them down.
A more direct type of hero is found in agriculture research, where Norman Borlaug and his successors have saved more lives than Superman ever dreamed of. Opposing them, the pork-busting supervillains like Coburn continue to mock and delete useful ag research because it sounds funny to city slickers.

August 28, 2011 4:28 pm

Real Science doesn’t need a superhero, if it’s true science, it’s one already.

August 28, 2011 4:30 pm

Scientists just can’t be superheroes. Insane super-villainy is the way to go.
The scientist is Prof. Tanaka who warns the world that a clam the size of Osaka is going to ravage Tokyo. The hero is the guy who actually believes him, finds out from him how to destroy the monster, and gets off with Prof. T’s beautiful daughter.
The scientist is the nerd in glasses who designs the spaceship. The hero is the guy who flies it out to destroy the killer asteroid, and gets off with the beutiful female co-pilot.
That’s why scientists go mad and become supervillains. They think that if their army of giant robot crabs succeeds in taking over the earth, they might have a chance with Prof. T’s beautiful daughter.

John M
August 28, 2011 4:31 pm

Don’t know about superheroes, but the “non-profit” ACS is home to some super-salaries.
Imagine what they are five years later.

Dr. Dave
August 28, 2011 4:44 pm

They don’t want superheroes, they want rock stars. Ask anybody if they know who Bono or Michael Jordan are. Virtually everyone. Then ask if they know the names Kary Mullis or Norman Borlaug. Have them look up the latter two and decide for themselves who contributed more to mankind.

August 28, 2011 4:45 pm

What happened to the days of Richard Feynman when certain scientists were quasi heroes as a result of their intellect and curiosity?

Richard Abbott
August 28, 2011 4:48 pm

50 years ago my super heroes were,
Test Tube
Bunsen Burner
and their mate

August 28, 2011 4:55 pm

Steve’s just looking for the telephone booth, and Judy’s in Costume.

August 28, 2011 5:10 pm

We already have too many scientists who can’t tell the difference between science and science fiction. Do we really want to use fantasy to recruit reality challenged young people into the sciences?

Kevin Kilty
August 28, 2011 5:10 pm

What the public wants, and what the ACS probably has in mind, are not scientists, but rather celebrities who talk science. I have been to public presentations of people like Feynman, and what made them so interesting is that they were attended by well educated people who would almost interact with the speaker. In other words the entertainment was partly contributed by the audience. What I recall of Feynman is that he was difficult to understand unless one was prepared. Try to produce that with high-school students or with the general public and you’ll soon realize why they are actually hoping for celebrities here.

Kevin Kilty
August 28, 2011 5:18 pm

The whole idea of scientists/engineers as superheroes reminds me of the repairs to Hubble. Everyone credits the astronauts, who in fact did nothing more than just attach a fix that was conceived, designed, and built by engineers at Ball Aerospace, and which just happened to fit and work perfectly on the first try.
Who would the general public rather see and listen to?

Dan Evens
August 28, 2011 5:35 pm

What they want are PR flacks who are “super” at getting grants and baffling people into going along with their little plans. Anything that needs the kind of “super hero” these bozos are talking about should *not* be a decision made by government.

Rational Debate
August 28, 2011 5:46 pm

Well, NASA is getting into the act, they’re now going to ensure that the ‘science’ in Science Fiction is correct. No joke.
NASA Gets Into Sci-Fi Literature Game
By Angela Watercutter Email Author – August 23, 2011 6:12 pm
Former astronaut and NASA associate administrator for education Leland Melvin reads to students in Washington, D.C., in February.
Photo: Carla Cioffi/NASA
Many a science nerd has been born while reading science-fiction novels. As a way to hook those kids early, NASA has partnered with a book publisher to develop sci-fi–themed books.
The line of books, which the space agency is calling “NASA Inspired Works of Fiction,” will be created with Tor-Forge Books. Through the partnership, NASA will pair its space geeks with the publisher’s writers to create books intended to spark interest in engineering, mathematics, technology and science.
“This agreement will benefit the public, as we look for innovative ways to communicate our past and current achievements, while focusing on the needs of the future,” Nona Cheeks, the director of Innovative Partnerships at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, said in a statement. (short article continued online)
NASA Wants Your Science Fiction to Have More Science, Taxpayer Dollars In It
Katherine Mangu-Ward | August 26, 2011
amazing!This new collaboration between NASA and a science fiction publisher sounds pretty awesome, but it’s also more evidence that NASA is a ($19 billion) solution in search of a problem:
NASA will allow existing and new Tor/Forge authors to team up with NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’s (GSFC) Subject Matter Experts (SME) to create scientifically accurate and entertaining novels in a distinctly unique way.
The project is supposed to get kids excited about real science—as opposed to getting kids excited about science and then having them get all sad when they discover that warp drives are made up.
Taxpayers are footing the bill for this little (and to be fair, it is very, very little) boondoggle, which is mildly annoying but certainly not worth getting your jumpsuit in a twist about in teh grand scheme. But then the press release had to go and claim that the benificiaries aren’t some very deserving science fiction authors, but taxpayers…and The Children.
“Ultimately this agreement will benefit taxpayers as we look for innovative ways to train students for the science challenges of the future,” said Nona Cheeks, Chief of GSFC’s IPP Office, which is managing the project’s implementation.
Ah well.
Reason wrote about Tor was a hotbed of libertarians in 2008.
Also, Heinlein!

August 28, 2011 5:57 pm

There’s a reason why I threw all those invitations to join the ACS into the recycle bin.

Rational Debate
August 28, 2011 6:06 pm

re: # Don Horne says: August 28, 2011 at 2:39 pm & Dan Lee says: August 28, 2011 at 2:39 pm
For whatever it’s worth, my father who is a published well respected scientist/engineer and is in his 80’s now, believes that science fields in general were dealt a very harsh blow because of the Vietnam war. That prior to Vietnam, you pretty much just didn’t go into science fields let along get upper level science degrees unless you LOVED SCIENCE – loved the scientific method and how it is such an elegant tool to limit human error thus drastically speeding innovation, learning, advancement. Typically you not only loved science, but you loved the particular branch of science that you chose, and had an intense interest in maintaining it’s integrity, in research, and not so much the persuit of $$$. Otherwise, who would bother to go thru the years of college for careers that, at the time, really didn’t pay all that much compared to all those years in college.
With Vietnam, however, a very large number of people wound up using educational deferments to avoid military service. And so many who didn’t care much about science, were even activists of various sorts (anti-establishment, anti-rules), wound up with their careers and livlihood tied up in a field that they didn’t respect and may even have disliked – but they had to pick something if they were going to manage to stay in school and avoid the military. They didn’t particularly care about maintaining the integrity of the scientific method – may even have seen the rules and rigor required in a rather negative light. As these people got older they’ve wound up in positions of authority by dint of numbers (or possibly even because they were less interested in the science/research aspects and more in the $$ and/or power of management positions). Those who stayed in academia then continue to pass the attitude or lack of rigor down to their students.
It’s an interesting concept.

Rational Debate
August 28, 2011 6:16 pm

re: R. Shearer says: August 28, 2011 at 3:01 pm

I’m an ACS member, closing in on 30 years, and almost resigned a couple of times because of ACS’s stance on AGW (alarmist as one might ressuppose). …

Any idea what the ACS used as justification for their AGW position?
I recall reading that one august body basically deferred to the IPCC, just as the US EPA did… I wish I could recall which academy or society it was and determine if that’s really true or not (maybe NAS? Thanks in advance to anyone who can fill me in on this one). Regardless, it would be interesting to know (& create an online list!) exactly what the various bodies used as justification – and how many actually reviewed the science, including the ‘skeptical’ side of things.

August 28, 2011 6:18 pm

Anyone who has read the hilarious writings of Charles Fort knows that scientists in general are self-important clowns. Their arrogance, egotism, and devotion to wind-bagging make them laughingly predictable on almost every issue. A hundred years hasn’t advanced the group an iota. I grew up around and among scientists, and found them even worse than religious fanatics.
The few heroes of science have never been the orthodox, but the unorthodox; for all the others basking in their glory, there is no hope.

Rational Debate
August 28, 2011 6:20 pm

re: Gary Pearse says: August 28, 2011 at 3:31 pm

….You could have knocked me over with feather when I learned that the number of scientific papers released by the Harvard grad who outed the paywalled inventory was 2.5 million!! ….

Gary, what was this one about? Have any links?

August 28, 2011 6:25 pm

[snip way off topic – Anthony]

August 28, 2011 6:34 pm

world savers again, is it?
why to i get the impression they just want to prance about in tights?

August 28, 2011 6:34 pm

I suspect the ACS has totally missed the point.
Science and Engineering doesn’t need super heroes & heroines.
We need Science educated journalists.
We need science aware editors who will give space to science & engineering (preferably replacing that dumb down ‘celebrity’ gossip that passes for news)
We need an education system that makes sure liberal arts people get enough of an education to realise they don’t need to be frightened of science; and it is ok to use it with out needing to be rubbish it.
We need politicians to stop trying to make out science is something mysterious and beyond normal ken (just because no one bothered to teach them science).
In short the problem is the same massive failure of society that allows the CAGW scam to persist more than a pico-second.

Theo Goodwin
August 28, 2011 6:51 pm

Dena says:
August 28, 2011 at 4:14 pm
“What you suggest is good advice for somebody who already understands the education system but I suspect many students don’t unless they have somebody to help them.”
You are correct. It is very sad. Kudos to you for finding computer programming. You might check out one of the for-profit schools. Their degrees are becoming more acceptable and in your particular situation the sheep skin is exactly what is needed. I do not mean to make a blanket endorsement of those schools, but they can be very flexible.
The number of people who suffer from poor guidance as teenagers is huge. There are people from academic families who attain a degree from an elite university and then discover that they hate – hate – what they are doing.

Dr. Science
August 28, 2011 6:55 pm

What are they talking about?!!! They already have Bill Nye and myself — and one of us has a Master’s Degree…. in Science!
Incidentally, I was a member of ACS. Pretty useless aside from excellent journals.

Theo Goodwin
August 28, 2011 6:56 pm

polistra says:
August 28, 2011 at 4:27 pm
Yes, you are right on the money. Thanks for mentioning more names. They are important scientists.

Douglas DC
August 28, 2011 7:02 pm

Smokey-Good points-and thank you….
The ACS ins wanting Political science not real science.
real science should challenge the status quo…

Theo Goodwin
August 28, 2011 7:06 pm

Rational Debate says:
August 28, 2011 at 6:06 pm
Yes, some of this happened. Also, the universities expanded far too rapidly and, consequently, the quality dropped. And many other things compounded these fundamental problems.
American universities have far too many graduate departments in all areas. Many graduates cannot find positions that are lucrative and many cannot be employed in science. Lots of graduate programs need to be chopped. But if, just if, huge investments in climate research came along…
You know the rest of the story.

Rational Debate
August 28, 2011 7:10 pm

re: Smokey says: August 28, 2011 at 6:25 pm
Hey Smokster,
Yes, I wasn’t trying to imply that all went into science, but far too many did – they had to pick something, anything, to stay in college which also all too often meant going on to grad school. Deferrment was available for any college field, both undergrad and grad school. I’d never looked before, and just took a quick skim of the first paper I hit, but apparently this phenomen has even been studied (link below). It’s interesting to me that you feel the same about this as my Dad, who’s opinion I very much respect. I’ve run across others who do also, and so I tend to give it a fair bit of credence (not having personally experienced it myself so as to form an opinion that way).
It’s a blasted shame what this has done to education.
At the time I became pretty well versed iwith the SwiftBoat Kerry info. Honestly hadn’t realized Gore was another faker, but I’m not surprised. It seems that those who really deserve the approbation are the ones who stay silent about what they’ve done, unlike ‘ol Showboat.
Smokey, how the heck do you manage all those links you come up with?? You sure find some good ones (both serious and humorous), and have given me a grin a number of times.

Fred Allen
August 28, 2011 7:16 pm

JPL researchers…when the sea level rises, it’s “GLOBAL WARMING”. When the sea level drops, it’s caused by excessive rainfall on continents. Brilliant! Is this the best our current crop of scientists can do? Perhaps the jobs are so hard to fill, that institutions are taking used car salespeople.

August 28, 2011 7:17 pm

Sigh….when engineering salaries = doctors….I will believe there is a shortage. Until then…show me the money. Supply and demand ladies and gentlemen.

August 28, 2011 7:52 pm

….. NO… The left always want super heros. Super individuals we can all cling to. The cult of the celebrity….. I want none of that. I want an open atmosphere of enquiry for which the timid and exceptional can thrive….. In which breakthroughs are a matter of course and ideas constantly abound…… Bugger the celebrity cult, lets reduce government funding and put the whole subject of scientific enquiry back into the hands of the competent and out of the hands of the political.

CRS, Dr.P.H.
August 28, 2011 8:10 pm

Quite honestly, it doesn’t require a PhD to be a super-hero of science!
I’d like to nominate none other than Mr. Anthony Watts. His untiring work on this award-winning blog, which gathers obscure but real heroes including Prof. Leif Svalgaard, Willis Eschenbach and others, is inspiring and educational. It’s an amazing effort, and Anthony pushes science unerringly towards a higher standard.
His motto is truly “truth, justice and the American way!”

Mark Reau
August 28, 2011 8:10 pm

@Smokey says:
August 28, 2011 at 6:25 pm
Thanks for your service, guys that survived the tunnels of cu chi and the NVA, Che, Mao were my instructors. All is not lost. Thanks for injecting some humor into otherwise dearth conversations by the way, jokes and pranks still reign supreme as stress relievers.

August 28, 2011 8:11 pm

Science isn’t really done alone any more. Also, many people who in the past labored in anonymity now won’t stand for that. And with the Internet and other publication possibilities they don’t have to. The big guy doesn’t have a stranglehold on the organs of publicity any more.

August 28, 2011 8:43 pm

So instead of seeking truth, justice and the scientific way, they’re looking for some dude in red tights and a silly mask? And they dare label such a creature “Superhero”??
That may work for kids 12 and under, but I doubt they’ll find many takers among adults.

John Trigge
August 28, 2011 8:55 pm

Is it just coincidence that a similar story is in Australia’s newspapers today?

David Ball
August 28, 2011 9:01 pm

Image building and PR is the last thing climate science needs. The thin veneer of hollywood.
My father has been painted as a Captain Bligh. That is cool by me, because if you look closer at that story, Bligh is really the hero.

August 28, 2011 9:09 pm

Hmph. My “science superheroes” – Richard Feynman, Isaac Asimov, James P. Hogan, Robert A. Heinlein, Michael Crichton, Harry Stubbs (Hal Clement), Charles Sheffield, and Arthur C. Clarke (though I damn his politics) – are all dead.
It’s not the people who do the theoretical and experimental work who are necessarily qualified to be “superheroes” but rather the guys who have the skill and the spark to make the sciences appreciable to people – young and old – who do not work in the disciplines under consideration.

August 28, 2011 9:18 pm

paddylol says: “Gates: why don’t you pack your belongings and move to Beijing where you can keep Maurice Strong company?”
Hey, Gates was right. Do we shoot the messenger here?

August 28, 2011 9:35 pm

RockyRoad says:
“So instead of seeking truth, justice and the scientific way, they’re looking for some dude in red tights and a silly mask? And they dare label such a creature ‘Superhero’??”
For a more in-depth article, see here.
[That has to be the best Onion parody EVAH!!☺]

August 28, 2011 9:38 pm

Theo Goodwin, I’d add Steve McIntyre to your list of scientific heroes.

August 28, 2011 10:44 pm

[snip – over the top, and way off topic, Smokey you too – further discussion of this Vietnam swiftboat issue will be deleted – Anthony]

Theo Goodwin
August 29, 2011 7:06 am

Annabelle says:
August 28, 2011 at 9:38 pm
“Theo Goodwin, I’d add Steve McIntyre to your list of scientific heroes.”
Thanks, Annabelle. I did not and do not mean that my list is exhaustive. However, I did overlook some super luminaries such as McIntyre, McKitrick, and Anthony Watts. All those folks who are wondering how scientists can better communicate with the public could do no better than study what Anthony Watts does at WUWT. Successful communication requires genius too.

Bruce Cobb
August 29, 2011 8:16 am

I guess the hope is, since they’re losing the climate science wars, maybe if they had “scientists” they could endow with some super-pseudoscientific powers to better “explain” their Warmist mythology, the common folk would finally “get it”. Good luck with that.
It will take decades before people trust scientists again, thanks to the Warmists. Any “science super heroes” they come up with would be laughed at, and deservedly so.

August 29, 2011 8:47 am

Well, if you read many scientific papers, the language is so obtuse it’s like they’re trying to get people to not understand what they are saying. And if you dumb it down, the reviewers hammer you for dumbing it down.
I have an evolving hypothesis that the problems exists in elementary school math and are magnified in high school, primarily because high school teachers and elementary school teachers who have no science background, teaching science.
If ACS wants to get out the message about science, they have to coordinate with physics and math and start teaching the tools of science at younger grades. I’m 100% certain that derivatives can be taught in 3rd-4th grade, and the Cartesian coordinate system can be taught in 2nd and 3rd grade as well. What’s so hard about turning Rise/Run into dx/dt? Or finding the area under a curve? Why do we have to wait until college to teach it?
Kids have a better grasp of abstraction than adults do, so teach them the abstract tools while they’re young. Then, as they get older, they’ll have a better appreciation for what scientists do.

August 29, 2011 9:23 am

The difference in Rudy Baum’s attitude (ASC C&EN Editor) to CAGW and BPA is interesting. He is very keen to examine the evidence and pooh-pooh catastrophising with respect to BisPhenol A, a polycarbonate monomer and plasticiser, but accepts alarmist CAGW uncritically. It demonstrates to me how insincere many of the scientifically educated CAGW shills must be. They can examine the evidence behind alarmism when they have reason to question it and accept uncritically alarmism when they have reason to to accept it.
I read a Yale article from June with an interesting result – scientifically literate people are more likely to be sceptical about climate change alarmism. If you ignored the scientifically literate with a vested interest in alarmism I am sure the result would be even stronger.

Ben of Houston
August 29, 2011 10:57 am

Even the devil occasionally has a good point. Quick, name one LIVING Scientist who you would swear an oath by. Ie: “By Newton’s Apple” (don’t you wish Bill Nye or Mr. Wizard were still on? I just can’t get the basics to my daughter with Mythbusters).
Einstein – Dead
Curie – Dead
Oppenheimer – Dead
Feynman – Dead
Of the Science superstars, Hawking is the only one left The current generation of physicists have been working to finally make the String Hypothesis a theory since before I was born, and we still don’t have sufficient evidence to do so. Biologists, Chemists, and Engineers have done a lot of practical work, but the core of science hasn’t been shaken for nearly 50 years.

Dave Wendt
August 29, 2011 12:48 pm

Perhaps one reason our educational system is increasingly unable to produce scientific thinkers that are really exceptional is illustrated by this work.
Grade Inflation for Education Majors and Low Standards for Teachers: When Everyone Makes the Grade
The paper shows that university education departments, despite attracting a student demographic that is near the bottom for SAT and ACT scores, hand out grades where nearly everyone gets A or A-. And when they metriculate into the schools, the evaluations they receive are uniformly 10 out of 10 or better. We are entrusting our young skulls full of mush to faculty who have no concept of intellectual rigor or critical thought, although they have been thoroughly indoctrinated with revolutionary consciousness and the evil nature of Western civilization. The prospect of a budding
Feynman emerging from the American education system with his native talents intact, let alone enhanced is incredibly slim.

Rational Debate
August 29, 2011 4:57 pm

re: Tucci78 says: August 28, 2011 at 9:09 pm

Hmph. My “science superheroes” – Richard Feynman, Isaac Asimov, James P. Hogan, Robert A. Heinlein, Michael Crichton, Harry Stubbs (Hal Clement), Charles Sheffield, and Arthur C. Clarke (though I damn his politics) – are all dead.
It’s not the people who do the theoretical and experimental work who are necessarily qualified to be “superheroes” but rather the guys who have the skill and the spark to make the sciences appreciable to people – young and old – who do not work in the disciplines under consideration.

I’m not sure if you are referring to their very popular sci-fi, or something else… but have to assume you are referring to their sci-fi, for all but Feynman at least. I read out an entire branch library’s sci-fi in my early to mid teens, and have always loved it. The thing is, good sci-fi, while it incorporates science and hypothetical advances, is really all about human nature and people, not the science. That’s true of even the very best hard core “science” sci-fi.
Even so, believe me, while I may not be able to name the names of the scientists and engineers responsible, I have always ‘appreciated’ things like air conditioning/heat pumps/furnaces, refridgerators, computers, TV, telephones, being able to drive my car, space exploration, paper, modern medicine, and so on. All things that clearly we wouldn’t have if it weren’t for science, scientists, those who do the experiemenal work, those who turn the theory into practical applications….
All it took was a bit of common sense, probably parents who instilled some of this into me, decent teachers re basic science issues in public schools no less. No superheroes able to make these things appreciable necessary. Just good solid hard working scientists and engineers who actually are responsible for all of the luxuries of modern life – and a little realistic description of our human history too of course, to have something for comparison.

Dave Springer
August 31, 2011 4:18 am

Retired Engineer says:
August 28, 2011 at 1:43 pm
“I had a good run, but I wouldn’t direct a young person to engineering today. Well, perhaps software, but we called that ‘programming’, not engineering. (full disclosure: I started as a programmer in ’67)”
I had a good run that’s still going. Twenty-five years nose to the grindstone, ten years vacay, then started back at it last year.
Nothing wrong with engineering. Some fields hot, some not. Gotta pick the right one. Preferably something you like and also something in demand. I went into computer hardware/software engineering 35 years ago. Good choice at the time. Very lucrative as well as transformational. I got to do a lot of pioneering work in the transition from industrial age to information age.
If I was just starting out today I’d get into bio-engineering. Synthetic biology I believe is the next transformational technology. It’s the next logical step as information technology is prerequiste to synthetic biology. Way too much biological information had to acquired, catalogued, correlated, modeled, and understood to do it without massive information processing infrastructure and a global network.
My generation got the information phase done. The next phase is for youngsters just stepping up to the plate and quite frankly I’m envious because I think the biosynthetic era will be the most transformational in the history of mankind.

Dave Springer
August 31, 2011 4:32 am

Tucci78 says: August 28, 2011 at 9:09 pm
“My “science superheroes” – Richard Feynman, Isaac Asimov, James P. Hogan, Robert A. Heinlein, Michael Crichton, Harry Stubbs (Hal Clement), Charles Sheffield, and Arthur C. Clarke (though I damn his politics) – are all dead.”
I’m very familiar with all of them but Feynman sticks out like a sore thumb unless I somehow missed his contributions to hard sci-fi.
Asimov is overrated IMO and the list should really include the famous “Three Bs of hard science fiction”: Benford, Bear, and Brin all of whom I believe are alive and well.

Brian H
September 4, 2011 7:29 am

Dave S;
Agree on the three B’s;
David B;
Agree about your father. Fearless in speaking truth to power, and is taking the hits for it. His best recommendation is that he is hated by the Weavers, Manns, and Suzukis of the science world.

Brian H
September 4, 2011 7:34 am

Methinks the ACS would have terrible trouble with Feynman if he directed his attention at it. Textbook Cargo Cultism: motions and rituals without substance.

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