Daniel Sarewitz on modern scientists

“[S]cientists must work 80 hours a week if they hope to do important research. That doesn't leave much time for developing social skills or shopping for nice clothes.”

- Daniel Sarewitz, writing in Nature

Sarewitz, co-director of the Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes at Arizona State University, recently paid a little visit to the Science and Entertainment Exchange (SEE) – and obviously didn’t like what he saw. SEE, a recent initiative of the US National Academy of Sciences, aims to bring together scientists with film and TV producers to help foster accurate portrayals of science and scientists and thereby, hopefully, helping to increase the public’s trust and to counter anti-science campaigns.

In his most recent column in Nature, Sarewitz denies that there is any need for such initiatives, alluding to public opinion polls (presumably American ones – he doesn’t give references) that show good support for science and its practitioners. And he states, “there's a naivety bordering on the oblivious in the academy's efforts to render science and scientists more familiar and palatable through mass entertainment.”

We at obviously disagree. But we were also surprised by his statement that scientists work too hard to develop social skills or dress properly. Leaving aside the fact that social skills are probably formulated long before adulthood, science is an inherently social activity. Researchers, even when they do work hard, are not all alone in some ivory tower. The reality is that most researchers are working in dynamic teams, and collaborating with other teams worldwide, flexing their powers of communication and persuasion on a daily basis. If the movies can show people like Sarewitz that science is a communal, social endeavor full of real people (most of whom, by the way, you could not pick out of a line-up of other professionals as far as dress-sense and personal grooming – Einstein, which he cites, is a pretty small sample size), then the Science and Entertainment Exchange will have done a good thing.