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From the Editor: Is science this generation’s latest fad?

October 1, 2009

Facebook Link“Ground control to major bullshit!” Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert exclaimed on the September 16, 2009 episode of The Colbert Report.  He was speaking about a newly discovered species of spider which has – thank you, pop culture – been named after David Bowie.

October cover art by Caitlin Militello

October cover art by Caitlin Militello

Science was in the news a lot in September: the discovery of frogs with teeth, plus 39 other new species, in Papua New Guinea; 850 new subterranean species discovered in Australia; and the ongoing study of swine flu, its vaccines, and an investigation into the death of a British girl from the HPV vaccine.  Science is a star!

Our generation well understands that this is an era in which science and the technologies it has created are almost inseperable from daily life (we’ve even had a few moments at The Talking Twenties where it was difficult to decide whether articles should be classified as cultural pieces or land under Science & Technology).  But does everybody think like this?  And when did science get so hot?

I often think of my sister’s former professor, who informed the class that chemistry and physics were the only real sciences.  I wonder what he and people like him think of the ever-growing franchise of CSI, shows like Numb3rs and new species named after guys married to former super models, and fake newsmen.  The sciences, which have long been viewed as a specialized, separate entity in education as well as in society, are suddenly in the pop-culture spotlight in an unprecedented way.

It’s like when the first moonwalk took place and every American family with a TV was said to be glued to their televisions—only way more pervasive, and happening every day, around the clock.  Today, companies like Hollywood Math & Science Film Consulting are available for hire so that television producers can get real, working science professionals to review their scripts for accuracy.  People proudly get the latest technology from Apple and gush about their computers.  They admit they were excited to see the latest Star Trek movie.  They buy librarian-esque (okay, nerdy) eyeglasses with thick frames because they’re now considered sexy!

We may be a technologically saavy generation, but we’re also a generation that still remembers Revenge of the Nerds, and a bygone era in which enjoying science fiction was a social liability.  Scientists were niche characters, and dorky ones; with the exception of Val Kilmer in the 1985 film Real Genius, scientists, and science, were hopelessly uncool.  Now scientists are the stars, in the news and on television and movie screens.

While some might argue that science is pandering to the masses, I’m happy for science, and I hope all the closet science-lovers from the ’80’s are finally enjoying their freedom.  But I could also argue that science has become a fad, and its time in the trendy limelight may eventually come to an end.  But for now, as long as people have cool iPhone applications to play with, read blozgines (!) and check Twitter every 5 minutes, science reigns supreme.  Still a little nerdy, but supreme.


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