Sunday, April 29, 2012

In Defense of TED

There was some TEDMED bashing going on in the comments to an article in the Washington Post, and I felt compelled to come to TED's defense. My comment raises an important point about communication and promotion of science to the general public—a topic near & dear—so I'd like to re-post it here and add some follow up thoughts.

The situation: some scientist types in the comments were slamming the whole TED enterprise with statements like:
TEDMED is for self-promoters, not scientists. 
Real scientists don't have time for this.
No working scientist in the field of human genetics pays attention to any form. 
My reaction:
Have to disagree. Science needs the TED hype machine, big time. Events like TEDMED provide a worthy service in promoting science and showcasing scientists to the general public. Scientists can use all the PR help they can get in making their work exciting and connecting with the masses (which funds most research here in the U.S.). 
TED encourages more public engagement in science & technology -- something that is especially important now given the trouble we're having with basic science literacy and graduating more science and engineering majors.
Real scientists should appreciate anyone talking up science, especially high-profile figures that have the broader cultural reach practicing scientists can't attain (since they're busy doing science and cranking out those papers). 
Yet science spokespeople that don't have sufficiently scientific credentials are frequently dissed by the scientific elite. Recent example: Alan Alda on Science Friday was dubbed by a caller as an "offense to science" since he's not a trained, practicing scientist.
Real scientists may be too busy doing science to pay attention to TED, but millions of real people do tune in, and that's real good, IMHO.
And BTW, there were some real scientists at TEDMED2012: Eisen, Petsko, Butte, among others.