Who’s Our Next Science Hero?

A recent post on Slashdot asked: Where will we find the next "science hero?" The author implied that ever since Carl Sagan finished Cosmos, no one's stepped up to bring science to the public as effectively. Thankfully, I'm not sure that's true! But read on for my top four Carl Sagan replacement contenders -- plus seven honorable mention candidates, too.

Cosmos was a groundbreaking show for its time, and even now -- almost 30 years since it first aired -- the show stands the test of time. It's still a great teaching tool and an inspiration to viewers of all ages. But Cosmos originally aired in an environment consisting of only three major networks and PBS. Of those, PBS served as the primary source of science news and information. Carl Sagan also caught some serious criticism from his peers for trying to popularize science.

Since then, the stigma of being a science populist has diminished. The number of cable networks has grown, and we've added a few science channels to the mix. The rise of the internet also gives scientists an opportunity to reach people outside the classroom. Result: more scientists reach people today, but we don't see any one scientist drawing the name recognition of Carl Sagan.

But to answer Slashdot's question, here's my short list of front runners and honorable mentions for Carl Sagan replacements. (I hope, by the way, that all of these people will forgive me for any errors or omissions regarding their resumes.)

The Front Runners

I selected these leaders based not only on their name recognition, but also based on how much effort they've put into teaching science to the general public through writing and the types of shows they host.

Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson

Astrophysicist, writer, director of the Hayden Planetarium, Host of the PBS show NOVA Science Now and the PBS mini-series Origins, Neil came to the public’s attention after the Haden Planetarium moved Pluto from planet status to a "trans-neptunian object." His enthusiasm and cheerful manner earned him frequent guest spots on (and finally host of) several TV shows. Of all the people on this list, Neil deGrasse Tyson is probably the closest to matching what we think of when talking about a science popularizer.

Bill Nye

Engineer, comedian, and host of the Bill Nye The Science Guy TV show, Nye took a show that was focused for teens and made it accessible to adults, too. He's also known well enough that he can guest as himself on other shows.

Adam Savage/Jamie Hyneman (Mythbusters)

Along with their build team of Kari Byron, Grant Imahara, and Tory Belleci, these guys created a show that demonstrates the scientific process of testing and removing variables until you figure out what's going on. Even though the show usually ends with a big boom, it teaches the fun process of how science leads up to the boom.

James Burke

Science historian and TV show host James Burke may not be well known in the U.S. But his short-run PBS TV shows Connections (1978) and The Day the Universe Changed (1985) proved just as groundbreaking as Cosmos. Where Cosmos covered the science itself, Burke's shows covered how scientists reached the discoveries with which they're credited. These shows influenced me as much as Cosmos, and IMHO they should sit on any GWCer's science DVD shelf.

Read on to page two for my honorable mentions.

9 Responses to "Who’s Our Next Science Hero?"
  1. Darren Difronzo says:

    Lame mainstream entries that will get no one anywhere. Here are the real finalists.

    1) Richard c. Hoagland

    2) David Wilcock

    3) Pete Peterson (see Project Camelot.com for info.) Biggest secret black project scientist ever

    4) Henry Deacon; alias. Has finally come out in recent days. another genius who’s worked on black projects for the government who is showing his face as much as possible for his safety.

  2. mymatedave says:

    Brian Cox is one of my favourites. Pop star turned physicist, talks a lot about quantum physics and the Large Hadron Collider.

    And Darren, sorry to disappoint you but we’re talking about actual scientists. Not conspiracy theorists.

  3. Casilda says:

    Cool list!

    Neil Degrasse Tyson and Bill Nye definitely speak to my generation (what with watching Bill Nye the Science Guy in middle school and seeing Dr. Tyson on shows like the Colbert Report), and I’ve read the Brian Greene books (which I quite enjoyed, particularly after reading Hawking’s stuff). I’m not as familiar with some of these names, I’ll definitely have to check their stuff out.

  4. John says:

    Bill Nye was spectacular, and he really had a Saganesque impact on an entire generation. That said, in many ways his time has passed. You still see him on the Science Channel from time to time, but he isn’t putting up much new material.

    I would argue that Dr. Kaku is really the closest thing we have today to Carl Sagan. Unlike many of the others you mentioned, he doesn’t limit his focus (in terms of communicating science to the masses) to one discipline of science. The sheer volume of topics covered in his shows is astounding. He is definitely number one on my list. Brian Greene is right up there as well, though. His book, The Fabric of the Cosmos, is one of my all-time favorites. Never before has someone done such a spectacular job of breaking down supersymmetry & m-theory in a way that it can be easily understood. And the fact that he did so using The Simpsons, The X-Files, and Star Wars as explanation tools earns him major geek cred! One of us!

  5. John says:

    Also, isn’t Henry Deacon a character from Eureka? Just sayin’…..

  6. topchef says:

    You made some good points there,I did a search on the topic and found most people will agree with your blog.

  7. SciLabWoman says:

    All wrong. Steve Spangler is The Science Hero, and nobody else comes close. He doesn’t do only demos and he doesn’t write complicated white papers and he doesn’t charge an arm and a leg for his stuff; he teaches children and their parents the SCIENCE behind the pops, bangs, explosions, and smoke.

    I thank God daily that I found Steve Spangler online, for his methods and explanations and products have been the saving of my children’s science education.

  8. Jane says:

    I agree with the above poster about Steve Spangler being our current science hero.

    None of those other guys came even close.

  9. Henry Deacon says:

    Henry Deacon was verbally and almost violently assaulted behind stage at Barcelona conference for going onstage without prior permission from the Conference organizers! Kerry Cassidy had pushed Henry to go on stage and to interrupt Mr. Dean’s talk. Henry was very reluctant to do so but was assured by Kerry that it met with Bob Dean’s approval.

    Henry was also very disappointed with highly distorted mis-reporting by Camelot, A. Weber and other individuals. He saw no reason to continue down the path they were destroying.

    Disinformation was out of control and private party PSYOPS were busy digging more holes.

    Bye!

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