Monday, August 27, 2012

Science Is Not Cool

Another entertaining article by Adam Ruben. This time, he is insisting that Science should not be cool, or "cool".

First of all, the word “cool” sells science short. Science is wonderful. Science is vital, science is fascinating, science is awe-inspiring, and science is praiseworthy. You know what’s been called “cool?” Parachute pants, slap bracelets, pogs, the Macarena, and Hypercolor shirts. (Maybe I’m unfairly picking on the early ’90s, but holy hell, what an awful lot of crap we liked.) Fist-pumping over science’s newfound coolness implies, it seems to me, that “cool” is a higher aspiration for science, and it isn’t.

Second, even when CNN said “cool,” it didn’t mean “cool.” The nomenclature gets tricky here, but they meant “cool-in-quotation-marks.” Without the quotation marks, the word means something completely different. It means Miles Davis and Johnny Cash in a ’76 Mustang. “Cool-in-quotation-marks” has a much broader connotation, as in, “Hey, that paper clip is shaped kind of cool.”

Third, are we supposed to be grateful that the world has once more seen fit to approve of what we do? Should we spin in ecstasy, shouting, “Cool again! We’re cool again! Put the little sunglasses on the Einstein doll, and let’s bop our heads to Moxy Früvous’s entropy song! Break out the Whole Foods sodas!”

But mostly, I don’t want science to be cool, or even “cool,” because cool is transient. People have to ask “What’s cool right now?” because trends constantly change. Is Gwen Stefani still cool? Is Facebook cool? Is Japan cool, or are we done with that?
I generally agree with that sentiment. Science should not be those things. Unfortunately, we live in an environment where (i) we need funding from politicians to accomplish what we need to do which (ii) requires popular support from the general public (iii) we have to appeal to an attention-deficit public that quickly move from one "cool" thing to another. When something is in the news, that's what is "cool" at a given time and for better or for worse, that's how you capture the public's imagination and maybe, support.

It shouldn't be that way, but unfortunately, that is how the game has to be played sometime.


1 comment:

Cool Physics said...

I am in agreement. Along with our advancement through the atomic age post “Sputnik moment,” there has been an attention deficit noticeably spread among the population. Our secondary education is affected by inane standardized tests that point to nowhere measuring [not] anything of global competitive importance; all STEM careers must be “fun” to compete with Xbox, Play Station, You Tube, Facebook, Twitter and “the Google.” A picture of the Apollo landing and an astronaut next to the lunar module is captioned: “This was done with a slide rule. Your eight grader has more computing power in his cell phone, and still can’t pass math because he won’t do more than fifteen minutes of homework. Where do you think HE’LL be going?” Alas, it is the technology birthed of a lot of science behind their genesis that is our undoing. Two good reads: the first Neil Postman's "Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business." Even though he was referring to the news media in the advent of cable television (written in the early eighties), it is easy to extrapolate to the current technology and its effects on the populace. The second is “The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Our Youth and Jeopardizes Our Future (Or, Don’t Trust Anyone Under 30),” by Mark Bauerlein.