In the midst of a lot of bad science news (though to be fair there’s some good news, too) comes some great news: in the UK, students taking A-level math and science has gone way up. There’s been a 40% jump in math, and 20% each in physics and chemistry over the past 5 years.
Why? No doubt it’s at least partly because employers need people highly-trained in sciences — our new technology won’t invent itself, folks (the T-1000 notwithstanding).
Brian is a scientist, a speaker, a science popularizer, and has hosted several TV shows, including the wildly popular "Wonders of the Solar System" and "Wonders of the Universe". Brian used to be in a rock band, and has the sort of Beatles-esque look, charm, and talent that makes his work very compelling.
Full disclosure: Brian and his wife, Gia, are friends of mine. I’ve done a few things with Brian in the past (a podcast taped at the Large Hadron Collider, for example — that picture here is the two of us deep inside the LHC — and a fun bit on NASA’s Deep Impact mission for a BBC show). But that’s not why I’m supporting him here; in fact, it’s the reverse: I like him because he’s a good guy doing good work.
It’s not hard to see why The Guardian — and the people interviewed in that article — might say Brian is behind this recent jump in sciencophilia. His impact on the culture of science in the UK is both wide and deep. It’s probably not possible to know the exact influence he’s had, but when you look at how many people were drawn into science by Carl Sagan 30 years ago, it’s not out of the question that Brian really has taken up that mantle. As have many others, as I’m sure my
Hive Overmind Discover Magazine co-blogger and science writer Carl Zimmer would agree, too.
There are times I despair for my own country because of the copious and pernicious attacks on science, but if what The Guardian says is true, it means science popularization may be stemming that tide, or at least holding it back a bit. Making science understandable, comprehensible, even fun, is having a more profound and very real impact on individuals. It may even be inspiring an interest in math and science, and causing people to study these fields further.
And that, my friends, is exactly the whole point.
Libel is a serious issue in the UK: the laws are seemingly right out of the Dark Ages, making it easy for antiscience cranks to sue journalists when unflattering pieces are written about their crankery. That’s why the Libel Reform campaign was started, and that’s why they’re trying to raise money. And what better way to popularize this serious issue than to make a decidedly unserious geek calendar?
I love that picture; it’s of my friends Gia Milinovich and her husband Brian Cox. If you’re from the UK he needs no introduction, but if you’re American, he’s a scientist and TV presenter and becoming quite the media darling — not the least reason for which is that he speaks his mind when it comes to nonsense.
Brian and Gia are just one page of the Geek Calendar, which you get purchase online. Lots of other photogenic geeks are pictures as well, including
The Hive Overmind’s Discover Magazine’s own Ed Yong.
And while I do like that picture of Brian and Gia, I think I may still like the one I took of them better when I was visiting them in London. I can’t prove it, and they wouldn’t admit it at the time, but I’m pretty sure when I snapped this shot they were texting each other.
Oh– I also totally believe he would jam a screwdriver into a toaster to try to fix it. And I know it would be up to Gia to actually get it working again.