n 2006, Oxford University Press published a collection of essays on the life and work of writer and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins. The book called him “the world famous author . . . [who] has come to play a prominent role as a leading public intellectual.” 1 This discourse of fame has been used by commentators and ournalists to describe other scientists active in the public arena. The Daily Telegraph called Cambridge cosmologist Stephen Hawking “the world’s most famous living scientist.” 2 The New York Times called American astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson “a space-savvy celebrity.” 3 Nature called Oxford professor Susan Green-field “a celebrity neuroscientist.” 4

But what does it mean for a scientist to be a celebrity? How does a scientist become a celebrity? And how can a scientist be analysed as a celebrity? This conceptual aper addresses these questions by proposing a theoretical framework for analysing cientists in public, a framework grounded in field of celebrity studies. It outlines the core characteristics of celebrity in general and then applies these characteristics to science in particular. It then demonstrates how these characteristics are present in the media portrayals of the lives of selected high-profile scientists.

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Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

Science and Celebrity Studies
Towards a Framework for Analysing Scientists in Public

Declan Fahy   School of Communication, American University, Washington, DC

n 2006, Oxford University Press published a collection of essays on the life and work of writer and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins. The book called him “the world famous author . . . [who] has come to play a prominent role as a leading public intellectual.” 1 This discourse of fame has been used by commentators and ournalists to describe other scientists active in the public arena. The Daily Telegraph called Cambridge cosmologist Stephen Hawking “the world’s most famous living scientist.” 2 The New York Times called American astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson “a space-savvy celebrity.” 3 Nature called Oxford professor Susan Green-field “a celebrity neuroscientist.” 4

But what does it mean for a scientist to be a celebrity? How does a scientist become a celebrity? And how can a scientist be analysed as a celebrity? This conceptual aper addresses these questions by proposing a theoretical framework for analysing cientists in public, a framework grounded in field of celebrity studies. It outlines the core characteristics of celebrity in general and then applies these characteristics to science in particular. It then demonstrates how these characteristics are present in the media portrayals of the lives of selected high-profile scientists.

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