Senator Mazie Hirono (Hawaii) introduced a bill to create a “Science Laureate” position in the US, similar to the “Poet Laureate” (except for one obvious difference).
This new honorary position would be appointed by the President from nominees recommended by the National Academy of Sciences and serve for a term of 1-2 years. Using this national platform, the Science Laureate would be empowered to speak to Americans on the importance of science broadly and scientific issues of the day. Like the Poet Laureate, the Science Laureate would be an unpaid, honorary post. The scientist would also be encouraged to continue their important scientific work.
I think this is a great idea, and I’m happy to see that it is supported by AAAS and other science organizations. Unofficial science laureates like Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Carl Sagan have inspired many people to go into the sciences. One could argue that an official science laureate position is unnecessary with social networking tools that make scientists more accessible. However, science literacy in the US is poor, and many Americans view belief in science as optional. An official science laureate would add a layer of credibility that, sadly, might be needed for optimal outreach.
Science, engineering, and technology fields are often lumped together under the STEM umbrella. My only concern is that a science laureate position would mainly benefit physical and life sciences. I’m selfish – I’d want OR, CS, math, and engineering to get some exposure, and these fields really could use a laureate. It would be hard to justify awarding, say, a computer scientist with this role when climate change is still so controversial. Data science could also use some more organized and targeted exposure, since even to those of us in STEM fields are still defining what constitutes data science [Link] and big data [Link to JF Puget, Link to me].
We already have a few excellent STEM ambassadors who are not science laureates. In the past year, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and others teamed up for computer science education through the non-profit code.org (see their video below). I’ve written before about how will.i.am bought airtime to broadcast a science and technology special on ABC [Link]. Some people in OR have done a wonderful job of publicizing their work. Anna Nagurney and Sheldon Jacobson come to mind, but there are many others.
What do you think about a science laureate?
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