Posted by: Dan | July 28, 2006

Other Rock-star Scientists

Following my post on David Baltimore, others have chimed in with their own rock-stars (and not just scientists who literally became rock-stars, or vice versa):

Genetics and Health – Hsien Lei lists three: Craig Venter, Francis Collins, and James Watson

Blog Around the Clock – Coturnix isn’t quite sure there are any anymore.

Afarensis suggests several according to Coturnix’s definition of rock-star, including Richard Leakey, Donald Johanson, Timothy White, Lewis Binford, and Michael Schiffer.

Archaeoastronomy – Alun gives us a long list, with Simon Schama, David Starkey, and the Time Team at the top of the list.

Uncertain Principles – Chad considers Stephen Hawking and Brian Greene as hard-rockin’ physicists.

Dynamics of Cats – Steinn reminds us that Brian May of Queen had some astronomical aspirations before joining Queen.

Discovering Biology in a Digital World – Sandra is surprised to not have heard the names Jane Goodall and Jack Horner among the suggested rock-star scientists.

Gene Expression – Razib goes for the thug scientist category, nominating Bruce Lahn, an evolutionary genomicist at the University of Chicago.

Evolgen – RPM doesn’t go for my offering of David Baltimore, instead suggesting David Suzuki, Stephen Hawking, and Paul Serano.

As Coturnix points out though, as well-known as all of these high-profile scientists are, none of them are household names. Science is still considered by many to be elitist, and the scientific shortcomings of a wide array of government policies are largely ignored.



  1. Yup, that is the problem – we may know them, but mos people do not. See also Alun Salt’s response.

  2. I guess Pons and Fleischmann are close to being household names…

  3. I would guess even Fred Sanger is not that well-known outside the world of science.

  4. Jared Diamond is reasonably well-known for the books he has written.

  5. Maybe – I’m not even too familiar with some of these, however, much less the general public. And I thought Diamond was a writer/journalist, as opposed to a scientist…

  6. Diamond is definitely an active scientist: physiology and ecology.

    A couple of other people chimed in – I added an update with links to my post.

  7. jesu christi, and not a one of you could think of a woman to put on the list? How about Jane Freakin’ Goodall, WHO IS A HOUSEHOLD NAME?????? Or MARIE CURIE???


    I am so tired of male-bias blinkers.

  8. Zuska is absolutely right! Plus there’s Mary-Claire King, Dian Fossey, Nancy Wexler, Elaine Ostrander, Linda Buck, Barbara Trask, Deborah Nickerson, and many, many more.

    But, my vote, other than Jane Goodall, goes elsewhere.

  9. Or MARIE CURIE???

    I thought she was still dead.

    Barbara MClintock is still dead, and Lise Meitner too.

  10. If being currently alive is not a prerequisite, Victor Frankenstein is about as well-known as any scientist.

  11. Barbara Forrest is a philosopher of science rather than a scientist, but I’m willing to cut her some slack for her performance at Kitzmiller.

  12. This one is regional:
    Lucy Jones.

    After natural disasters, an anxious public wants to see that someone understands the catastrophe. For California quakes, seismologist Lucy Jones does the job

  13. All good – but still, few (if any) of them fit the standard of “rock-star” scientist that Coturnix has desribed, and I agree with – they’re not household names, that the average joe will recognize as someone worth listening to. Some of the best suggestions I’ve heard so far are Stephen Hawking, James Watson, and maybe Jane Goodall.

    Granted, the Manhattan Project gave many of the top physicists of the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s near mythiic status, and there’s little nowadays to propel the popularity of scientists to such heights. Hawking as a leader in the tradition of Einstein in theoretical physics, Watson (and Ventner, maybe) for DNA-related discoveries over the past 50 years, and maybe a few that have been spotlighted in blockbuster movies (Dian Fossey, Jack Horner), or written popular books (Jared Diamond), …

    For my own suggestion, maybe I was stretching it with Baltimore, but by how much?

  14. I asked my kids. They said it’s “Bill Nye” the science guy.


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