Do You Know Your Scientists?

The New York Times published an interesting online quiz that challenges your knowledge about modern day scientific figures. Unfortunately, as it’s introduction, most people have little knowledge of contemporary intellectuals and academics.

In a recent survey asking Americans to name a scientist, 47% responded with “Einstein,” who has been dead since 1955. Next, at 23%, was “I don’t know.” In another survey, only 4% of respondents could name a living scientist.

Needless to say, those aren’t surprising result, but it’s still discouraging. I’ve long lamented the fact that our society seems at best, indifferent to science and at worst hostile to it. Anti-intellectualism runs deep in our culture and history, but the attitude seems particularly profound as of late, given the increasing polarization of our society. This couldn’t be happening at a worse time, as humanity is beset by all sorts of existential problems – resource scarcity, environmental degradation, energy needs, overpopulation – that must be addressed through rationalism, critical thinking, and scientific inquiry.

It’s sad that after all that science has done for us – and all the wondrous benefits we’ve reaped from the works of numerous thinkers, researchers, and inventors – and most of us remain either unaware, apathetic, or even distrustful. It’s easy for most people to name a list of celebrities, athletes, or even internet stars, but a few scientists tend to be out of reach. I know I’m not the first one to note this bizarre and counter-intuitive sense of priority in society, but it doesn’t make me feel any less justified in my displeasure.

Anyway, I managed to pull off an eight out of ten, thankfully – the two I didn’t get were at least narrowed down to 50/50, so I feel a bit better about that.The quiz includes some interesting links into the works and writings of each figure, and I definitely learned quite a bit.  Though I focus a lot on politics and the humanities (definitely my stronger suites), I consider myself a lover of science, particularly in it’s it’s empirical methodology, philosophical commitment to reason and open-mindedness, and it’s constant awe inspiring discoveries.  For all that they’ve given the world, scientists deserve far more respect and recognition than they deserve.