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Schools? How About A Science Laureate At The Super Bowl?

May 11, 2013
Originally published on May 11, 2013 9:11 am

The same scientist who famously "killed Pluto" (as a planet, that is) says it's "brilliant" that there's an effort underway in Congress to name a science laureate.

But Cal Tech's Mike Brown tells Weekend Edition Saturday host Scott Simon that he doesn't think a laureate's main responsibility should be to visit schools and talk to kids about why science matters.

"You want the person with that national forum to be on The Daily Show ... or halftime of the Super Bowl," says Brown. "The goal would be to encourage the public to think about science and to understand science."

And he hopes a laureate would weigh in on issues such as climate change, to move the discussion out of the world of politics.

It sounds to us like he's thinking of someone like Neil deGrasse Tyson. Do other names come to mind?

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This just in: Democrats and Republicans in Congress agreed on something this week. Both the House and Senate released a bill, cosponsored by Republicans and Democrats, calling for a science laureate of the United States. He or she would be to science what the poet laureate is to poetry. Mike Brown joins us. He's an astronomer at Cal Tech, and author of a popular science book, "How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming." Thanks so much for being with us.

MIKE BROWN: Oh, it's my pleasure.

SIMON: You're a scientist with a popular following. Is this science laureate thing a good idea? What could it do?

BROWN: When I first heard about it, I thought what a brilliant suggestion. The actual proposal, as I've seen it, is actually not what I would suggest. The proposal said that they wanted someone to go around and talk to school kids and encourage people to go into science. What you want in the science laureate is not the person to go around and talk to individual school kids. You want the person with the national forum, you know, being on "The Daily Show," you know, stand up and talk about science at halftime at the Super Bowl. That's probably a really bad idea. But you can imagine that there are big places...

SIMON: I'm sure that the producers are just lathering to hear that one.


BROWN: Yeah, that's not so good. But the goal would be to encourage the public to think about science and to understand science more than happens now. I think that's a much more important goal.

SIMON: There could obviously be a lot of controversy, right, for the scientist who talks about climate change or reproduction decisions, that sort of thing?

BROWN: I would hope that having someone stand up as the anointed science laureate, that if they talked about something scientifically that people would actually stop and listen. Now, maybe I'm just optimistic, but if their issue was climate change, you know, this is something that we should talk about scientifically, not politically, because it's a science problem.

SIMON: May I ask, Dr. Brown, do you ever get emails from people on Pluto objecting to your demotion of their home?

BROWN: Nearly daily.

SIMON: (Laughing) But it still doesn't convince you it's a planet, huh?

BROWN: No. It always makes me a little happy when I get those all-riled-up emails.

SIMON: Mike Brown, professor of astronomer and assassin of Pluto, joining us from KPCC in Pasadena. Thanks so much.

BROWN: Oh, it was my pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.