Last month at least two celebrities were caught expressing their love for science and technology. Both James Cameron and Kevin Costner got major publicity for their first-hand involvement in trying to solve the oil spill crisis in the Gulf of Mexico --Cameron for lending his expertise in deep sea transportation and photography; Costner for sponsoring a machine that’s designed to separate oil and water. Although ultimately their contributions may not amount to much in terms of cleaning up the Gulf, it’s unusual for celebrities to be actively engaged in the development and application of scientific solutions to an environmental disaster. In interviews, both Cameron and Costner have spent years getting acquainted with scientists and engineers and what they do for a living. They’ve expressed their appreciation and admiration for their work. Cameron and Costner's enthusiasm is unmistakable when they talk about the discovery and development of new technologies.
It’s difficult to think of a celebrity who doesn’t take an active role in drawing attention to, or raising money for, a good cause -- or two, or maybe many. There also seems to be a trend of Hollywood celebrities becoming more involved physically in helping out, not just lending a hand in raising money. Look at the celebrities who showed up in Haiti to help residents cope with the aftermath of the earthquake. Cameron and Costner seem to be on that path, taking an approach that happens to involve science and technology. Like other celebrities, they are drawing attention to a good cause.
Celebrities have helped raise billions to fight poverty, disease, and devastation caused by natural disasters, and to support public policy initiatives, including environmental protection. Their activism is probably most valuable in calling attention to the need for others to take action.Maybe science is in need of more celebrities to campaign for it?
Cameron and Costner were good cheerleaders last month. And, M*A*S*H star Alan Alda, who also played a presidential candidate on The West Wing and needed a kidney on 30 Rock (not to mention his hosting of PBS’s Scientific American Frontiers for a dozen or so years), has certainly lent his celebrity to promoting science. Another example that’s recent is actress Amanda Peet using her voice to call attention to medical research on the proven safety of vaccines. But not a lot of celebrities go around openly advocating the importance of science and encouraging the public to support it.
Celebrities have always been used to draw attention to worthy causes. Why not science? They could be particularly effective on the talk show circuit, promoting science as well as their latest projects. Maybe the science community needs to secure the services of more celebrity advocates? Is that what we need? And, if so, how do we go about getting those endorsements? Any thoughts or ideas?