Science Outreach News

A few items on the science outreach front:

  • The Oscars of Science were held Saturday night in Hollywood, with a long list of A-listers in attendance, led by Kim Kardashian. More here, here and here.

    You’ll be able to watch the whole thing on Youtube starting April 21.

  • The World Science Festival will have some live programs here in New York May 30 – June 2. One of the programs will feature the physicists responsible for the Wormhole Publicity Stunt explaining how

    we may be able to create wormholes—tunnels through spacetime—in the laboratory.

  • Stringking42069 is back on Twitter with his outreach efforts for the string theory community.
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27 Responses to Science Outreach News

  1. Mike says:

    To state the obvious anyone who thinks Kim Kardashian adds to the glamour of science doesn’t understand the psychology of why science is exciting to scientists. It’s vomit inducing. Rather than celebrating science the superficial appeal to celebrity taints it.

  2. Z Y says:

    @Mike I could replace the KK name by any of the royals that give prizes and the meaning of your sentence wouldnt change muc, but i dont see many people complaining of that 🙂

  3. Interested Amateur says:

    I find the science awards ceremony to be patronizing and cringe: the good looking Chads and Stacies give out prizes to the not-so-good looking nerdy introverts. Growing up as a kid interested in science and maths, my hero was Spock and not captain Kirk.

  4. tulpoeid says:

    @ Z Y
    Let’s keep some standards. I also don’t like monarchy, but you can’t equate any prize-giving royal, and actually most of the celebrities that attended this show, to Kim Kardashian. Not everyone is as bad as everyone else. Even swamps have a bottom. Let’s keep the level of our proverbial bar in mind.

  5. ateixeira says:

    ZY you are totally right. Also the presenters and A-list celebrities present are not there for the scientists. They are there for the masses. The rationale apparently is that the masses will see the A-list celebrities getting along with the scientists and will be more attracted and conscientious of science.

  6. If the King of Sweden is the one physically shaking the Nobel laureates’ hands, I view the process as really one run by the various academic societies. The Breakthrough Prizes seem more to me to be like a explicit stunt by Yuri Milner to try to attach Hollywood glam to scientists and mathematicians. No one talks about the King of Sweden as somehow making the Nobel Prize more socially desirable and “cool”, or pretends that’s the case.

  7. Steve Huntsman says:

    God, how awful. Where’s Perelman when you need him?

  8. Z Y says:

    @David Roberts About your last sentence, I dont think the Breakthrought Prize is considered by the public at large more socially desirable or cool that the other prizes just because all those celebs are at the ceremony. However I do have seen references in the general public that a royal giving a prize adds to the importance of that prize and you can really see all the panache that is devoted to the royals presence at those ceremonies, even in some of the winners speeches you hear paying respects to them. Having said that, I do have a high regard for the Nobel’s committee and winners (nothing is perfect) but Milner’s prize is not that bad, it does bring awareness to some of the recent discoveries of science at large that the Nobel cannot afford to recognize

  9. Peter Shor says:

    The celebrities do not determine who wins the Breakthrough Prizes — a committee of scientists including many of the previous prizewinners do. The unfortunate thing for the Physics prize is that many of the first prizewinners were string theorists, but I don’t think you can blame this on the non-scientists involved.

  10. Diogenes says:

    I am pleased to note that I don’t think I recognize any of these names winning the Breakthrough Prize. That is some progress in directing the funds where they may start to be useful.

  11. The idea of the World Science Festival is great, and while I question the overall emphasis, if the topics rotate over the years through different disciplines, that’s fine. The claim about actually producing wormholes in the lab (by using a quantum computer) is still anger-inducing, though.

  12. Gavin says:

    Glad to see you’re pointing people to StringKing again so they can find content like this:

    More seriously, I want to object again to you giving this troll any visibility on your platform.

  13. smitchmor says:

    Unfortunately, the full World Science festival format seems to be one of the casualties of the pandemic.

    In years past the festival was centered around NYC’s Washington Square Park. There was a science themed street fair (ideally coinciding with a beautiful spring day) with most events held at nearby NYU facilities.

    A wide range of academic disciplines were represented; always had it’s share of WOO! physics, but didn’t dominate.

    Speaking of celebrity, one annually recurring event was called the Flame Challenge, hosted by Alan Alda. The challenge involved encouraging clear cogent communication on seemingly simple questions such as “What is flame?… is color?… is sound?” to grade school students. It was a clinic in encouraging genuine interest in physical science, sans hype. Likely that health issues will prevent a repeat, but his genuine enthusiasm will be missed.

    I can honestly say that I looked forward to the festival each spring and hope they it can be built back to something resembling it’s previous incarnation.

  14. Rainy Sunday Afternoon Theoretical Physicist Drop Out says:

    This is a total off-topic, but reading that the Perimeter Institute is now directed by a string theorist makes me weep.

    Is this the institute that Les Smolin “created” in Toronto, to work on alternative theories in fundamental physics/unification, excluding string theory and other mainstream approaches?

    The sense of defeat is… (I don’t have the right word).

    P.S. Now, I have an image: it makes me think of the ending of the 1978 version of The Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

  15. Amitabh Lath says:

    I am a little uncomfortable with the Kim Kardashian bashing. I probably share your general distaste for the lifestyle but what are we saying to young people? That you cannot be someone that follows the Kardashians and hope to be accepted in the physics and math world? Now look around your departments and note the homogeneity and wonder where it comes from.

    KK herself does seem to have an innate understanding of the highly complex system that is American Celebrity culture. She also navigated a marriage (with kids) to an apparently neurodivergent man with increasingly erratic behaviors. I do not believe she is dumb. I know we would all have preferred say, Michelle Obama, but if KK is bringing her millions of followers, let’s not stick our noses in the air and shoo them away.

  16. Peter Woit says:

    Amitabh Lath,
    I agree that criticizing Kim Kardashian personally isn’t a great idea, and it’s completely besides the point. The little that I know about her is confirmed by Wikipedia, that she’s “famous for being famous”.

    From the beginning, Milner explained clearly that he felt a big problem with science was that it was not enough part of the celebrity culture and he wanted to do something about that. For him (and many other people), the problem with science is that scientists do not get the attention and respect that people like Kim Kardashian get. If this is what you believe, funding a Hollywood “Oscars of Science” and having Kim Kardashian show up to applaud scientists accepting multi-million dollar prizes makes perfectly good sense.

    For myself, the problems with science I see are very different, and in the particular case of fundamental particle theory, more celebrity culture will make the problems worse, not better.

  17. Mike says:

    For what it’s worth I wasn’t bashing Kim Kardashian in my initial comment, just lamenting what I regard as the misguided idea that science should be made more “cool” by association with celebrities. It would be nice if people thought that figuring out the fundamental laws of physics, proving langlands conjectures, understanding how biological cells work and creating more efficient solar cells is awesome without the need for celebrity endorsement. But of course that wish is hopelessly naive and idealistic.

  18. Peter Woit says:

    I don’t know about “cool”, but I don’t understand at all the belief that scientists are not respected, even less the idea that the way to deal with this is endorsement from reality tv stars. According to this
    the profession of scientist is at the top of the list. What’s at the bottom? Reality TV star.

    According to this data, associating scientists with Kim Kardashian is the single most effective thing you could do to make them less respected by the public.

  19. Mike says:

    Peter, I’m overreaching myself with regards to actual knowledge here but my conjecture is that a decent percentage of people acknowledge that being a scientist is a noble calling (even if the practical reality is often somewhat corrupted by the usual social/economic phenomena) while being a “celebrity” a la Kim Kardashian is far less honerable. So its not so much an issue of respect for the scientific professions (although the dumb commentary around climate change, Covid etc do seem to have increased anti-science sentiment). However, in practice most people are far more interested in the personal lives of celebrities, both those with meaningful accomplishments and those without, than they are about the actual content of science textbooks, research papers etc. I’d guess that this is approximately the reasoning behind the inclusion of celebrities into the promotion of the prizes: if people respect the scientific profession and are fascinated by the lives of these celebrities, if we bring them together maybe they’ll get more into the science? I’m not at all convinced.

  20. Amitabh Lath says:

    Mike and Peter, about a million kids who would not have paid any attention to science happened to catch a glimpse, however brief, because of Kim Kardashian. I do not care about her, but I do want to attract the 0.5% of those kids whose interest might be piqued by physics and math. They will help us expand and diversify (and man do we need it). One good way to get these kids to go rushing towards engineering or computer science rather than physics is to indicate that their love of pop/celebrity culture is somehow loathsome; you must be lovers of classical music and opera and jazz to succeed in our rarefied world.

  21. Amitabh Lath says:

    Look, let me give you a concrete example. We are just finishing up our application round for our summer physics program for high school students (Quarknet). They discover cosmic rays, measure muon lifetimes, analyze data from neutrino and collider experiments, have informal chats with graduate students, lab visits, it’s a blast. We try desperately to get a broad range of students in terms of gender, background, socioeconomic status, etc. Now some of these students, mostly female, POC, might be Kardashian fans. If we instructors come in with the sort of disdain you exhibit we will lose these students. They will clam up and not engage.

  22. Mike says:

    Amitabh Lath,
    I want more diversity in science, I hope the breakthrough prize gambit works, and if it does I’ll be the first to celebrate.

    I take your point though, it’s probably not productive for me to complain about the methodology on the internet, kids are impressionable and if its effective that’s the most important thing. However, as touchingly naive as it may be, I’d just rather live in a world where the science speaks for itself.
    Best of luck with the summer program, sounds epic.

  23. @Peter Shor

    I’m under no illusion that the celebrities pick the winners. But with eg the Nobel or the Abel, it’s not the previous winners that pick the prize, but the independent and long-running academic bodies, which lends the weight to the prize.

    I’d much rather see some really, really good science communicators (of which there are plenty on YouTube) be given decent space at the Breakthrough Prizes along with the Hollywood glitterati, say even equal billing. I tried watching the show live, once, when I happened to be in the US at the time. It was awkward. Actors can act, but they do not usually act as ‘talking science’ that well. Morgan Freeman reading off an autocue about mathematics and physics is much less enjoyable than someone who can speak extemporaneously and enthusiastically on the same topic, at least to me (of course, Freeman’s voice is wonderful to listen to, in any case).

    But all of this is my own bias, and, as others have intimated, people like Tom Crawford or Ayliean or Tai-Danae Bradley that connect with the public in a way I sure never can, are good for the field; they show that maths isn’t just about stuffy old white men with beards (I resemble some of those adjectives, at least, and probably on the way to the others at some point).

  24. S says:


    You say that people are far more interested in the personal lives of celebrities than the writings of scientists, notwithstanding the difference in respect accorded each. That may be true, but it seems to me that this kind of thing is *at most* likely to get the public interested in the personal lives of scientists as well — still not their writings. That would seem no kind of improvement

  25. Peter Shor says:

    @David Roberts says:

    But with eg the Nobel or the Abel, it’s not the previous winners that pick the prize, but the independent and long-running academic bodies, which lends the weight to the prize.

    The Dirac Medal, which I assume is chosen the standard way, is still giving prizes to string theorists, while the Breakthrough Awards (at least for this year) seem to have stopped this practice.

  26. @Peter Shor there’s probably something to be said about sufficient and/or necessary conditions, here. Let us see how the Breakthrough prizes turn out after a few decades. 🙂

  27. That correlation has a high p-value says:

    I don’t follow the argumet that KK, or similar actors, may increase, on net, the diversity of the math community. As a members of a minority group, fleeing away a shallow mass culture was a great apeal towards an intellectual life. To be sure, I am not arguing the merits of KK, just that her presence probably have zero net effect on diversity. My reading is that Milner just likes to hang out with scientists and mass culture actors (god knows why). The younger me would see KK and the string theory guys and secide to go work on avant garde movies instead, with its cooler and more diverse crowd that look down on KK.

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