Can You Promote Science Without Losing Respect?

Young academic scientists who want to do their bit for the cause of science by presenting its concepts to nonscientific audiences face a serious dilemma. If they turn out to be effective popularizers, they might find that their peers regard them as shallow scientists. Senior members of the scientific establishment are trying to persuade their juniors that they can popularize without jeopardizing their careers. But those efforts are only slowly bearing fruit. Doubts remain whether one can truly

Peter Gwynne
Jul 20, 1997

Young academic scientists who want to do their bit for the cause of science by presenting its concepts to nonscientific audiences face a serious dilemma. If they turn out to be effective popularizers, they might find that their peers regard them as shallow scientists.

Senior members of the scientific establishment are trying to persuade their juniors that they can popularize without jeopardizing their careers. But those efforts are only slowly bearing fruit. Doubts remain whether one can truly dazzle a lay audience without giving up at least some professional respectability.


TRAILBLAZER: Carl Sagan's flamboyant style was viewed with disbain by some scientist.
The exemplar was Carl Sagan, the astronomer who became the founding father of effective popularization of science. Sagan, who died of pneumonia last December at the age of 62, was probably the best-known scientist of his era. His appearances on the "Tonight Show"; his "Cosmos" series on public...

Interested in reading more?

Become a Member of

Receive full access to digital editions of The Scientist, as well as TS Digest, feature stories, more than 35 years of archives, and much more!
Already a member?