Miss USA 2011, "A Huge Science Geek"

By The Intersection | June 20, 2011 11:12 am

This is a guest post by Jamie L. Vernon, Ph.D.

Last night, the unlikely happened in Las Vegas, Nevada when Miss California Alyssa Campenella, a self-professed “huge science geek,” was selected to be the next Miss USA. The pageant appeared on my radar Friday afternoon when Bora Zivkovic tweeted that the Miss USA pageant contestants had been asked a science-related question, “Should evolution be taught in schools?”

Subsequently, much of the internet chatter focused on the contestants from states known for their anti-evolution policies such as Kansas, Texas and Kentucky. I decided to go the other route and find out which of these women supported the teaching of evolution. I was disheartened to find that only a few of them really understood the issue. Many were apparently unaware that evolution is currently taught in schools. And, most of them thought creationism or “the other side” should be taught, as well.

The pre-pageant interviews revealed how much work remains to be done in order to improve science literacy in America. However, Campanella’s answer demonstrated that she possesses a respectable appreciation and understanding of science.

The evolution issue is addressed in the second question in the video:

Her forthright and honest, not to mention scientifically accurate, answer established her geek status even before the pageant. She reinforced her geek credentials during the pageant by deftly answering a question about whether the U.S. should legalize the use of marijuana:

“Well, I understand why that question would be asked, especially with today’s economy, but I also understand that medical marijuana is very important to help those who need it medically,” she said.

“I’m not sure if it should be legalized, if it would really affect, with the drug war,” she said. “I mean, it’s abused today, unfortunately, so that’s the only reason why I would kind of be a little bit against it, but medically it’s OK.”

I believe in Campanella we will have a science ambassador representing us in the Miss Universe pageant come September and you better believe I’ll be supporting her. My only hope is that someone will get her to talk about science a little more so the next generation will know that beauty and intelligence are one and the same.

Comments (23)

  1. I agree, Jamie! I love the concept: A Miss USA winner serving as a “science ambassador.” See:
    http://scienceblogs.com/deanscorner/2011/06/2011_miss_usa_huge_science_gee.php

  2. Erin

    She didn’t really show that she has any understanding of evolution. She knows that humans evolved and progressed through time (which, granted, is way more than most people know about evolution), but I expected a “Huge Science Geek” to give a little more explanation (maybe there was more, but it was cut off in the video). Just because you know the definition of something doesn’t mean you understand it. Also, the Big Bang =/= evolution.

  3. abadidea

    Wonderful to see someone in a pageant NOT make a fool of herself… but the real question is, what does she think of maps, and locating things on them? :)

  4. Brett

    Right…because if you believe in ID, you must be a dunce…incapable of comprehending universally agreed truths… I believe we should teach the scientific method and then provide, if necessary, competing theories for how all of this got here…

  5. BeccaGo

    Erin: It’s Miss USA. These are pageant standards. Baby steps. :)

  6. The Intersection

    Thanks for the comments. I would like to explore her knowledge more thoroughly. She may not be an expert, but she clearly appreciates science. She will have an impact on many young women. That she is a friend of science is promising. A good science journalist would be all over the much-needed follow-up interview, and NSF should step up and become her science coach.

  7. Cam

    I’ve got no problem at all with teaching “ID” in our schools. One major condition though.
    We also teach the kids about biblical criticism. You know, how most of the “bible” is actually made up BS. Guaranteed that most of these kids will then get it. Complete nonsense of course.

  8. I agree with Erin. I mean the big bang theory is a pretty basic concept that anyone curious about the show could look up what it really is on wikipedia, and evolution by definition is progression over time. While i do agree that her answer showed a little more knowledge than most over pageant contestants i wouldn’t go as far as to call her a ‘huge science nerd’ but rather an ‘attentive science student in highschool’

  9. John

    @3-Brett

    Yes you are a dunce if you believe in ID, it is nothing but a new way to say creationism, which has no merit as we base some of our sciences on the fact that we evolved, its a predicting model.
    The fact that humans are seperate from animals is discussed in every Abrahamic religion.
    That just isn’t true, ID is completely illogical.

  10. Liked this re-cap, in case you haven’t seen it: http://bit.ly/jgFAq8

  11. ps

    Wait, this article is not a joke? You seriously think she’s going to be a science ambassador? She won’t even be in the news next week. Good luck.

  12. Thorne

    Um, Brett, if it were a ‘universally understood truth’, you wouldn’t have to convince anyone of it…
    That’s what universally understood means…

    Like, gravity pulls us all down, or the moon goes around the Earth, or the sun will come up tomorrow…

    Independent Design, Evolution, Biblical Creationism; none of them are ‘Universally Understood Truths’

  13. The Intersection

    @10 ps
    She may not be in the news, but she’ll be doing her job, which involves talking to people. Through these exchanges, she will influence people. If empowered with/for science, she could have a positive impact.

  14. It’s worth noting that Penn Jillete, an avowed atheist, was one of the judges. I suspect that had something to do with the win.

  15. I’m not sure that she actually implied that the Big Bang was part of evolution, but I’ll defend that idea. Several years ago, I had a semester-long course on evolution–just evolution–that was team-taught by a biologist and a mathematician. The course worked its way from the big bang and cosmology up through molecular genetics. Evolution, in that context, was construed as an answer to the question of how we and everything around us got here. It’s a perspective that goes beyond the standard _Origin of species_ talk to embrace the continuity between animate and inanimate, and this perspective is crucial when considering the origins of life. In a nutshell, if you want to discuss how the first organism came into being (from elements to amino acids to cell membranes), then you need to deal with the fact that organisms are ultimately chemical/mechanical systems, emerging from and governed by the same laws of physics that have been in place since the big bang.

  16. Priscellie

    My roommate was watching the pageant. When Campenella was asked about her collection of history books, she said, “I’m a huge history buff! I always watch ‘A Game of Thrones,’ ‘Camelot,’ ‘The Tudors’…” I facepalmed.

    Oh well. Her heart is certainly in the right place. I’m glad we have a Miss USA who considers herself a geek, and I hope she can continue to educate herself as she inspires other young women to take an interest in science.

  17. Jim Roberts

    @ 17, It’s not as though she’d get more accurate information if she watched The History Channel instead – at least the shows she watches are entertaining and biased.

    To those who say that she’s not going to be relevant after elected, she’s just not going to be relevant to the media at large – Miss USA spends a lot of time, and I mean a lot, going into schools and speaking to students, which is exactly where you want someone like this.

  18. Carsten

    Nice try, to give a positive spin t this story. I find it really hard to find a positive angle. The creationist have won, at least in America, the war is over. There is a very small number (may be 5 out of … 50?) of these women role models who actually think that evolution is right. ALL (and I mean ALL) the others think it it is a question of belief and free choice and put it exactly on the same level as religious explanations. The overwhelming reply is that we should teach everything, and the kids can choose what the want to believe. Lets teach them that pi=3.14, but lets make sure to also teach them that it is 3. Given enough choice, I am sure they will select what they want to believe.

  19. clancy

    Pageant organizers asked the contestants, “Should evolution be taught in schools?” Of the 51 woman, 24 answered “yes,” two said “no,” 24 said both evolution and creation or “all perspectives” should be taught, and one chose not to answer.

    The winner, Miss California Alyssa Campanella, was one of two contestants who said specifically that they “believe” in evolution.

    “I was taught evolution in my high school growing up. And I do believe in it. I mean, I’m a huge science geek, so I like to believe in, like, the Big Bang theory and, you know, the evolution of humans, you know, throughout, you know, time,” she said.1

    “Campanella’s answer demonstrated that she possesses a respectable appreciation and understanding of science.”

    Additionally, she favored the legalization of medical marijuana and said that she would agree to a “tasteful” nude photo shoot as long as it presented her body in a way in which she would be respected.

    Just as many respondents who favored evolution had favored academic freedom, and many contestants acknowledged the faith required to accept evolution. As Dr. Vernon commented, the new Miss USA does indeed possess “a respectable appreciation and understanding of science,” as demonstrated by her implicit acknowledgment that support for evolution is a matter of belief.

  20. That girl has a lot of faith. She believes single cells, with all their complex mechanisms randomly came to life by chance… and randomly evolved into more complex organisms. The very way she states “I believe in it… ” tells me that evolution is just another belief system. The 24 contestants that said both ideologies should be taught, are more open minded than Dr. Vernon, who seems to believe that only those who espouse evolution are the only ones qualified as science ambassadors.

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