“You truly have emerged as a personal hero for me,” Julia Roberts tells Dr. Anthony Fauci in an interview broadcast on YouTube. Calling the U.S. infectious disease expert “maybe the coolest man on the planet,” the Oscar-winning actress is clearly star-struck during their conversation, part of an initiative by an advocacy group to raise the profile of medics, scientists, and experts.
Before the Covid-19 pandemic emerged, scientists weren’t cool. They were invisible at best. A 2018 survey by Research!America, an alliance that advocates for science, found that 80% of people surveyed could not name a single living scientist.
But this may be scientists’ time.
Fauci has gained a huge following in the U.S. In England, chief medical officer Dr. Chris Whitty is commanding respect, even seeing an appreciation society spring up in his honor. In Greece, Dr. Sotiris Tsiodras, an infectious disease expert, has been described as the country’s “man of the moment” and named in a poll as the most popular person in the country. Germany’s Dr. Christian Drosten, long recognized in science circles as one of the world’s foremost experts on coronaviruses is now one of the most sought-after guests on the nation’s TV shows while his weekly podcast is the most popular in the country, with more than 1 million downloads. In Sweden, state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell has become so popular that some Swedes have had tattoos of his face inked onto their bodies.
Scientists and academics haven’t always been respected or admired. In fact, they have often been distrusted and had to battle for recognition. In 2016, during the campaign on whether Great Britain should stay in the European Union, British Cabinet Minister Michael Gove famously said that Britain has had enough of experts. Even in the current climate, they’ve often had to battle to make their voices heard: Fauci has had to tread a fine line between communicating facts about Covid-19 and contradicting disinformation from his president.
I’m delighted to see mainstream culture recognizing this. Witness the “Saturday Night Live” sketch satirizing Fauci’s predicament. In popular culture, scientists have for too long historically been portrayed as geeks or villains — just think how often the word “mad” comes before scientist — yet now they are seen as cool enough to be played by Brad Pitt on a popular U.S. television show.
The challenge will be to maintain this level of respect when Covid-19 has become part of the new normal.
Prizes can play an important role. While the public tends to think of the Nobel Prize, which unquestionably remains preeminent, it no longer stands alone. There’s an overflowing trophy cabinet of international prizes: the A.M. Turing Award in the U.S., the Queen Elizabeth Prize in the U.K.; the Abel Prize in Norway; the Asahi and the Kyoto prizes in Japan; and the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences — a joint enterprise by tech superstars including Google cofounder Sergey Brin and Facebook cofounder Mark Zuckerberg — to name just a few.
As the chair of Technology Academy Finland, which awards the Millennium Technology Prize, one of the world’s largest prizes for science-based innovations, my hope is that this newfound respect for scientists will mean wider mainstream reporting of the winners of science prizes beyond the Nobel winners. Even with their new-found appreciation, scientists are rarely celebrated as cultural figures, running well behind musicians, actors, and sports stars. Those responsible for discovering stem cells or new ways in which the body can absorb drugs are seldom given the public recognition they deserve.
Prizes can start much-needed conversations within countries about the state of science and its impact on society. When a scientist from a country wins a prize, it gives the whole of science — from the school laboratory upward — a powerful boost. It can inspire the next generation of young adults to consider science as a career, particularly women who remain underrepresented in the profession. Prizes also provide a way for countries to benchmark themselves against their competitors. If, for instance, a country goes decades without winning a Nobel Prize, it is a healthy source of concern and should prompt some digging into why that is happening.
We need scientific experts today more than ever. In the face of President Trump advocating injecting disinfectant to treat Covid-19, or claims that Bill Gates engineered the pandemic, scientists need the status they have attained to counter such misinformation.
Of course, science prizes are nowhere near as important as world-class, well-funded universities and research facilities in promoting science and innovation. But they do have an important role in focusing the attention of investors, corporations, educators, and politicians on the cutting edge of science — and they can keep scientists in the public eye.
Marja Makarow is the director of Biocenter Finland and chair of Technology Academy Finland, which awards the Millennium Technology Prize for groundbreaking innovations supporting sustainable development and increasing peoples’ quality of life.
A review of all the comments regarding “hero-izing “ (my word) scientists indicates that common sense realities win out and the idea should be scrapped, fast! Hopefully this waste of an article is just the fantasy of one scientist and not the majority.
Science is heroic in its pursuits and sometimes its products but the players are not heroes.
Hero worship is slavish and idiotic, particularly when you label an entire group of individuals “heroes”. Right now we are being told by various sources that nurses, doctors, scientists, garbage men, police officers, delivery drivers, and even journalists are heroes (if only to themselves). The only thing they all have in common is that they are all fallible human beings. Some individuals from each group are awful, some are fantastic, most are average, few if any are heroes. They are all paid to perform a service. Throwing that word around carelessly cheapens it. Applying it wholesale to huge swaths of society based solely on what they choose to do for a living renders the word meaningless. If everyone is a hero, nobody is.
It’s another homespun image of what never was. “Science” is now just another Orwellian twist to protect fringe political advocacy under another acceptable label for the naive, willful or otherwise.
Economic academic culture propaganda, then on to law, humanities, and ultimately “science”. Climate junk science, Greenshirts in general and now the Wuhan exploitation narrative for the single party globalist order.
It’s just word destruction for the low information consumer and educational propaganda machine. If you believe in actual science please critically think about what you are being sold and why.
Anthony Fauci was previously most memorable for his bumbling, homophobic response to the HIV/AIDS emergence. Since he has failed forward in government with a track record of consistently being wrong on every major emerging medical issue culminating in his ignorant, hubristic response to SARS-CoV-2. He has earned an exile of scorn and derision following termination of employment.
Anecdotally, he is nearly universally referred to in terms mocking his intelligence and conclusions within doctor’s lounges, excepting administration who agree with him only out of political expediency.
The skrewed this up so bad it will be a miracle if anyone would take their advice on what facial tissue to buy. All they needed to do was implement social distancing and masks and let states like NJ and NY tighten where they saw the need. The destroyed our economy for nothing. The left did that.
I respect science, but the term science has been stolen by liberal politics and now used in place of what we used to call pseudo-science.
Fauci is actually a problem, a very big problem. In fact, it is time for Fauci to retire. One of the main reasons the U.S. public are confused, Fauci. The media’s fascination, labeling Fauci an idol has not served us well.
Scientists have not served us well during this event.
There is as much evidence for the theory that COVID-19 was man made (by Scientists) as there is against it.
As late as Jan 21, Scientists were saying it was no big deal.
As late as Feb 29, Scientists were saying there was no need for lock downs, social distancing, and wearing masks was counter productive.
Scientists were initially against suspension of flights from infected areas.
this very thing makes scientists like professional football coaches… expensive, needing to ‘win’ & outperform…
besides, which fauci deserves the hype: the AIDS fauci who claimed that it was as deadly to the hetero community (he was wrong), the Ebola fauci who said it would spread massively (wrong again), the fauci who has been wrong about covid with a mortality rate far below his ever changing broken temperature gage…
no, no, no..
even if scientists have to go back to simply being scientists again & not heros to the lap dog media who define heroes as knee takers and Antifa, etc…
It is fine to have scientists for heroes, but to this layman trying to follow this all carefully, the evidence seems to be everyone in the US government, and a lot of people overseas who are lauded, have screwed up very badly.
I respect that Fauci is risking getting infected, which is very dangerous at his age, to try to fight the epidemic. But I think he made a lot of serious mistakes early on, and it is not clear, I know it is rejected as a conspiracy theory – but not proven to me he did not actually help start the epidemic.
1. HIs advice not to use face masks seems to have been a bit dishonest – if you watched foreign scientists in Asia, on say 60 Minutes Australia = they were clear that face masks were very important- but CDC and WHO did not push for them – in the case of CDC and Dr. Fauci, the primary reasons seems to have been that telling the public to use masks would have meant that the doctors and nurses would not have enough. Quite a quandary what to do, but since even cotton masks like a T shirt can cut down virus spreading a great deal, it seems kind of criminal to tell us not to use them. I think it was in a Fox News broadcast where I first saw anyone say we need masks, and told Fauci et all to stop lying about it. And it was not very long after that the recommendations changed.
2. Gain of Function research – I realize we are told the claim the virus escaped from the Wuhan Virology Institute is a conspiracy theory – and the institute’s scientists deny it originated there – but, turns out that is exactly what I would say too, if I had opened up the Pandora’s Box of the most damaging pandemic in 100 years.
But, if you look it up online, it appears Dr. Fauci pushed through Gain of Function research for zoonotic viruses, to see how they mutate to become more infectious or pathologic in humans. There was opposition to it by other scientists, but they lost – and then won and the research was suspended.
Fauci admitted the research was very dangerous – the other scientists said we might make a superbug – and it is not clear to me we did not, at Wuhan, and it got away – precisely what those opposed to the research had feared. I am well aware we are told this is a conspiracy theory and the head of the Wuhan lab has denied they had the virus in the lab – but anyone might deny it after such a monstrous debacle – or, even if the lab wanted to be honest about it, the Chinese government will kill them if they tell the truth. It is not absolutely clear to me some of the scientists in the lab have not been “disappeared” already – not because that is a conspiracy theory – but I saw a video online of an outspoken woman who was in charge – she seems to be retracting her previous statements – but in the video doing that, she is wearing a face mask the entire time – WHY? The implication is, Covid 19, but no one needs to be outside in public to make a short PSA type video – but if they are using an actress who looks like her, it is a lot easier to make that fly if you wear a mask.
I realize this is a bit off topic, but I think it is too early for a lot of adulation. Every system run by scientists to protect us seems to have done a less than optimal job.
Looking at Sweden’s Fauci like figure, it appears his approach has been, not as bad as his critics feared, but sacrificing many thousands. I am not sure why someone got a tattoo of his face – to me it seems like a more conservative approach would have been better.
Because they are not scientists I will not
Not go into too much about the other purported heroes of the pandemic, except to say we see Andrew Cuomo touted as a hero, but his bellicose attitudes towards masks and shutdowns seems to have caused great harm, but he is now a hero. ???
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