In the spirit of Mr Wizard: Tracing the evolution of celebrity science through time and technology

In the spirit of Mr Wizard: Tracing the evolution of celebrity science through time and technology

Author: Judith McIntosh White – University of New Mexico, United States


  • Denisse Vasquez-Guevara – University of Cuenca, Ecuador
  • David Weiss – University of New Mexico, United States
  • Jeffrey White – TextPerts, United States

Arguably, the idea of the intellectual celebrity may be as old as written history – witness Aristotle’s regard within the empire of Alexander the Great. However, the ubiquity of today’s interactive media has made celebrities out of a growing number of scientists and media presenters, as documented by sources such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The dictionary defines a celebrity quite simply as “a famous person”. Celebrity scientists, therefore, are persons who become famous because of their science, whether through self-promotion or recognition by certain publics. Media science celebrities may have science qualifications but enter into the public sphere through their media presence. Our session will consider the evolution of such celebrities over time as technology has changed, focusing on both celebrity scientists and media science celebrities. Many current media science celebrities (including Bill Nye) have mentioned Mr. Wizard (Donald Herbert, whose U.S. television program, broadcast from 1951-1965, combined science experiments with encouraging children to pursue their education) as contributing to their decision to pursue science education and media work.

Our papers will discuss case studies of four celebrity scientists/media science celebrities from different countries and time periods, using the lens of Habermas’ theories about the public sphere and communicative action; entertainment education methodologies and rubrics; and mass communication theories. Participants will use these tools to explore the effect of these celebrities’ backgrounds and disciplinary orientations on their research foci and the content of their outreach presentations. Additionally, we will examine how intellectual climate and normative constraints and communication technologies/media of these science celebrities’ times impacted their interactions with different public spheres. Finally, our discussion will compare and contrast the science celebrities chosen in an attempt to draw some lessons about the societal role of science celebrities in engaging the public in science issues.

The author has not yet submitted a copy of the full paper.

Presentation type: Linked papers
Theme: Time