I’m a celebrity scientist – get me out of here

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.

About Austin

Middle-aged grouchy white male. Hair greying but hasn't all fallen out yet. Spreading waistline ill-concealed by baggy jumper.Semi-extinguished physiology researcher turned teacher. Known for never shutting up. Father of two children (aged 6 and 2) who try to out-talk him. Some would call that Karmic Revenge.
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10 Responses to I’m a celebrity scientist – get me out of here

  1. Stephen says:

    If this idea ever comes to fruition, I may be able to steer you towards a tattooed senior scientist of my acquaintance…

  2. Eva says:

    I can’t find a working video online, but there was something on TV a few years ago, as a joke, that was called “Biochemistry with the Celebrity Stars”. It had celebrities do some cloning and PCR, and was really funny. Here it is on my old blog but the video doesn’t work anymore.

  3. Kausik Datta says:

    Ooh, ooh! I have a GREAT idea, along the same lines (Don’t worry, I’ll cut you in the commission). How about putting together Andrew Wakefield, Jenny McCarthy, Mike Adams, JB Handley, Orly Taitz, along with Brian Josephson, John Benneth and that weird Kaviraj person that haunts Andy Lewis’s blog, in a house on a deserted island in the middle of some ocean?

    We can occasionally throw in – strictly for fireworks – guest appearances from Prof. Colquhoun, Andy Lewis (in his black duck suit), you, Harriet Hall, David Gorski, perhaps even Ben Goldacre?

    If everything works out well, perhaps we can even forget about the island?

    Just kidding about the last part! But then again…

  4. Austin says:

    I like your thinking, Kausik. Brian Josephson would definitely fulfil the “lost-touch-with-reality-Nobelist” quota, Jenny McCarthy has certain assets programmers always like to include, and I guess Wakefield is searching for some kind of rehabilitation.

    And I reckon Benneth would easily fill the role of the guy even the other weird guests find weird.

    I’m not sure if Mike Adams would leave a non-extraditable jurisdiction, but I guess as he is supposed to be broadcasting from a jungle retreat in Bolivia maybe he could provide the jungle..

    Not sure you’d get me there, though. Even as a guest star.

  5. cromercrox says:

    There are quite a few scientists I can think of to fill most of these slots, without trouble, but if I told you who they were, Id have to kill you.

  6. Kausik Datta says:

    Id have to kill you

    Don’t worry, Austin. Henry’s ego and superego superego and superiorego won’t allow that.

    Either that, or the rate of Henry’s expansion has overwhelmed his contractions.

  7. cromercrox says:

    ‘the rate of Henry’s expansion has overwhelmed his contractions’

    That’s right, baby – I’m not just a star, but a red giant about to go supernova.

  8. Cath@VWXYNot? says:

    ‘They’ll all be full professors, then’

    I can’t comment either, but I can laugh uproariously!


  9. Tideliar says:

    “Ooh, ooh! I have a GREAT idea, along the same lines (Don’t worry, I’ll cut you in the commission). How about putting together Andrew Wakefield, Jenny McCarthy, Mike Adams, JB Handley, Orly Taitz, along with Brian Josephson, John Benneth and that weird Kaviraj person that haunts Andy Lewis’s blog, in a house on a deserted island in the middle of some ocean?”

    How about after the first part of Kausik’s idea, we just send the USAF over head with a couple of MOABs or Daisy Cutters?

  10. Austin says:

    Oh dear. You’re going to get me into trouble saying stuff like that, Tideliar. Not very Politically Correct…

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