Sunday, January 11, 2015

Ellen on Science and Technology

From Ellen:

Anonymous asked: Tesla or Edison?

Thanks for the question, anon! I ended up talking about this in way more detail than you probably wanted, sorry.

I’m not a historical expert on Tesla or Edison, so I won’t try to be.

It seems to me that the whole ‘Tesla vs Edison’ question in geek culture is indicative of bigger issues that we have. The general consensus, however historically accurate, is that Tesla is the 'true geek' and Edison is the asshole businessman, Tesla had brilliant ideas that were ahead of his time and he was the ‘real geek’ because he could never communicate or sell them, and Edison is an asshole because he sold out to the public and was commercial.

It's indicative of this broader idea in geek culture, that the asocial genius is the ideal, that your ideas are only truly brilliant if you can’t communicate them, that anything else isn’t a real geek or a real scientist. I don’t want to diminish Tesla as a person, or other people in this archetype, (Alan Turing, for example, is one of my biggest heroes) but holding this up as the ideal is simply harmful to science.

Communication, collaboration, and education are absolutely essential to science. Not only with other scientists - where it’s vital for progress - but with the public.

We’ve suffered enormously from a failure of science education and communication, as large segments of the public deny everything from global warming  to the importance of vaccinations. These are issues where a failure of communication, of public education, of engagement, quite literally kill people.

Science cannot remain locked in an ivory tower, or a New York hotel room, in Tesla’s case - it serves no purpose there. Science shared, science acted upon - that is where it becomes valuable.

(Shameless plug - this is the purpose of my webcomic, The Science of Fandom)

People like Carl Sagan or Neil DeGrasse Tyson - these are brilliant people who understand the value of communicating science, who were/are engaged and active. I would rather form a new archetype from them than imitate the old.

No comments: