Ironic that Jim Al Khalili, one day after posting a challenge to the tweeter who could explain the most complex / significant fundamental physical theory in 140 characters, resorted to a chain of 4 tweets merely to express his outrage and other tweeters suggesting “celebrity” was maybe a motive in large numbers of A-level students naming Brian Cox in their UCAS applications to study physics at university. And doing it just two tweets after tweeting himself that “the Cox effect is real” though he “hates to admit it”. (With a smiley, of course, fortunately he doesn’t really mind Cox being more famous than him.)
Hamish McKenzie, writing in PandoDaily – Elon Musk is more important to society than Steve Jobs ever was – notes Elon Musk pleading with successful entrepreneurs to “think outside the Internet.” He goes on to quote (Musk’s PayPal co-founder) Peter Thiel:
“We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters.”
Talking of celebrity name-dropping, how ironic too that Larry Krauss going on stage this evening (now) in Oz presumably to deliver his stadium rant in defence of “reason” should tweet: (coincidence that Cox is also on stage in Oz as I type?)
“Equally nice to have something to remember Christopher by to take with me onstage.. pic.twitter.com/q23OTE6HLR ”
Who wouldn’t “defend reason” Larry? The problem is in your presumed privileged definition for the whole of reason. Name-dropping the late Christopher Hitchens to cement his mantle of 5th Horseman (or is that 6th after Steven Pinker?) maybe. Not forgetting the other celebrity atheists from the world of entertainment, Fry, Gervais, et al.
The famous celebrities kindle interest, and as Plutarch said (hat tip to David Gurteen):
The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be kindled.
Even the top scientists need to beware the cult of celebrity. So yes, the marketing value to grabbing attention and generating interest is real, but don’t confuse the perceived authority of that with the value of the knowledge content, the ideas expressed. The memetic effect of authority by celebrity association “the Cox effect” simply compounds the problem of crowding out the higher value ideas with the catchier ones.
Jim is the last person I’d want that to happen to – the celebrity scientist / atheist who understands the high value idea that it is irrational to wage war on the faithful.