Henry Gee’s recent post on Dancing With the Scientists, bemoaning the lack of scientists in the currently ubiquitous celebrity reality shows, reminded me that a few years ago I had written a piece about exactly this, which I promised I would dig out and re-post.
Anyway, after a fumble through the archives I have managed to track it down. I have updated one or two of the references, but otherwise have left it unchanged. So without further ado:
Science is often accused of being inaccessible to the general public. Scientists counter that this is because scientists don’t get enough media exposure. This includes both real scientists, and people playing scientists in TV dramas. We can all agree that there are less TV shows with scientists in them than shows about policemen, or doctors.
But I think I have come up with a solution. Since the public’s appetite for reality TV seems to be insatiable, let’s give them what they want, AND get ourselves some much-needed exposure.
I give you:
Celebrity Scientist Big Brother
The beauty of this is that this idea can be franchised; you could have different versions for different scientific disciplines, or one for just your own Department, or a national all-star version, or an international one. The possibilities are endless.
There are, however, some easy rules to enable you to select the contestants for maximum viewing figures. The people inhabiting the house/jungle/island should include:
• at least one person recently dramatically publicly disgraced and in search of rehabilitation [judging from the plethora of recent scientific misconduct scandals, no shortage of these folk]
• a person who has undergone extensive cosmetic surgery or dental work
• a minor member of the British aristocracy, or a Lord, Sir or Right Hon
• one person who is faking the whole thing
• one or more relentless self-publicists
• one or more people who are extensively tattoo-ed, and/or pierced in improbable places [May be a tad difficult to fill this role with more senior scientists, but you never know]
• one monosyllabic youth person given to grunting and mumbling ‘Wicked, dude” or “Way cool” at random intervals [male PhD students are the obvious candidates here]
• one or more people who are pathologically argumentative
• one person teetering on the edge of a public mini-nervous breakdown [Given the current cuts to science budgets, especially in the UK, any head of Department or Faculty Dean should be a good bet]
• at least one person who even the other contestants find weird and unsettling
• one person who you thought would never be seen dead on a show like this. For maximum effect this person should subsequently storm out in a cloud of invective and denunciations [Think Germaine Greer or Johnny Rotten, for UK-based readers. Nobel Prizewinners might be a starting point in looking for scientific candidates.]
• several people who used to be vaguely well-known, typically for having once appeared on television, but have now largely faded from view.
This mix should ensure plenty of good reality TV, including shouting, swearing arguments, tears and perhaps even a fight or two.
Of course, some contestants may fulfil several of the above criteria at the same time. If so, so much the better.
Finally, all the participants need to share some basic personality traits. They should be able to talk tirelessly about themselves and their work until the small hours, and should believe unquestioningly that their merest utterance is deeply fascinating and demands the rapt attention of all those listening.
‘They’ll all be full professors, then’ commented one of my friends on hearing this.
You might think that.
I couldn’t possibly comment.