Who would have thought that a ragtag group of entertainers could have an impact on the biggest social and political questions of the day? And yet not once, but twice, this has happened: LiveAid in 1985 and Live8 in 2005.

This clout is not something to which we in the research community can hope (or need) to aspire to. But we should aspire to a higher profile than we currently enjoy. Consider these data points:

A recent poll of the Top 100 Americans1 included just four scientists, Einstein, Sagan, Salk, and Tesla (although this could be increased to seven if we include Edison, Bell, and Franklin). A similar BBC project2 yielded a healthier 12 scientist in the list of "100 Great British Heroes." Before you get too excited, however, what was striking about that is that only one – Stephen Hawking – is alive. It seems that scientists...

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