Street Corner Science with Leon Lederman

By Sean Carroll | August 26, 2008 11:05 am

ScienCentral is an interesting organization. They are a production company that focuses, unsurprisingly, on science. The kind of thing they will do is to haunt the hallways of a big science conference, and snag interviews with scientists, and then turn them into short news stories that can play on local TV stations around the country (and be seen by millions of people in the process). And of course they do longer-form pieces as well.

And now they have been upgrading their web presence, and the site has a lot of goodies (including a nascent blog). Here is a fun clip featuring Leon Lederman sitting on the sidewalk and answering science questions from passers-by. (This doesn’t usually happen.)

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Internet, Science and the Media
  • Freiddie

    Neat idea there.

    I doubt I have the courage to handle questions like that from people who I don’t even know.

  • Pingback: Sidewalk Science()

  • TomC

    It’s totally unfair of me to criticize Lederman’s performance (which, as #1 points out, took a lot of guts), but I’m going to anyway: He totally ducked the first questioner’s follow-up, namely “Where does it (the strong force) come from?” There’s a concise and correct answer to this question, and while it would inevitably lead to further difficult questions (“gluons?”), that’s not a valid reason for avoiding it.

  • Thomas

    It’s great that Lederman agreed to do this I wish we had street corner science in France..I’ll submit the idea at my lab.

    One question though:

    I’ve heard several physicists (including Witten, and now Lederman in this video) explaining something like: “It makes no sense to ask what was before the Big bang, because one cannot define time at this sigularity and thus the very notion of “before” is meaningless.”

    Very well. This sounds right.

    So does this mean that it makes no sense either to ask what was after the big bang either? Suddenly this does not sound ok at all.

  • Sean

    Thomas, the oft-heard statement that “it makes no sense to ask what was before the Big Bang” is not at all true, as far as we know; see here:

  • Thomas


    Thanks for the answer and the link!

  • Luis Sanchez

    Wow! This is such a cool idea, it seems so surreal (and exciting) that you can just walk by and find a nobel prize physicist ready to answer your questions, this seems to me just the right kind of outreach, since other things (like publishing in scientific american) seem to be aimed at people that is already interested in science.

    Kudos to Lederman for his courageous attempt! I will try to suggest something similar to my mexican colleages (although I fear it won’t have a warm reception).

  • Tom_Fishman

    [Disclosure: I helped produce this segment, and work for ScienCentral.]

    TomC- I totally understand where you’re coming from regarding the depth of Dr. Lederman’s response. This was an experimental project for us, and one of the ways we’ll try to improve it moving forward is to give the scientists more time to formulate their responses, and maybe to feature fewer, more in-depth interactions in each piece. In the end though, it will be up to the participating scientist to decide how deep an answer he or she feels is appropriate.

    Sean’s comment on being able to sensibly ask about what was before the big bang also raises an interesting issue for us: how will we handle it when a scientist says something that is not agreed upon by the community? For now, I’m going to include Sean’s comment and link in the comments to that post on our site, but we’ll have to deal with it more directly in the future.

    Thanks for the feedback!

  • Aramael

    That was beautiful. In Australia — where I have not lived for a decade, but this is what I remember — we have this radio show where Dr Karl answers random science questions from people who call in.

    Karl is a smart guy, but here’s the thing: a lot of people could answer the same questions, anybody with a good education in fact. I think it’s incumbent on anybody in the reality side of the equation to be prepared to do that. Not just on a radio show, but in real life.

    I recently made a colleague of mine rethink his position on the legalisation of drugs. That’s lovely, but I would be even more satisfied to turn a creationist.

    Aramael “non-sequiteur” Musitello.

  • TomC

    Tom_Fishman – Understood. And that was a small, uncharitable nit-pick; I think the project is great.

  • Pingback: Street Corner Science with Leon Lederman - Part 2 | ScienCentral()

  • Pingback: Street Corner Science with Leon Lederman Pt.1 | ScienCentral()


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

Cosmic Variance

Random samplings from a universe of ideas.

About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] .


See More

Collapse bottom bar