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How To Touch People

ByTom MillerThe Secret Life of Scientists and EngineersThe Secret Life of Scientists and Engineers

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The first time I went to Michio Kaku’s

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website , I remember thinking that he seemed like the “Elvis of Science.” Shiny. Bright. Flashy. I knew he did a lot of radio and TV and wrote best-selling books. Was he really a scientist? Or was he some kind of entertainer? Or could he both? And if so, why would he be both?

I asked Michio about this when we interviewed him. And here’s his excellent answer:

How To Touch People-michio-elvis.jpg
Heartbreak Hotel? Or e=mc2? Or both?

“My attitude is, not enough scientists are in the public domain. I mean for example, think about all the movie stars you know. Rattle them off! You can rattle off scores of movie stars. Okay. Now rattle off how many scientists you know. Well, I once saw a cartoon. And one person was saying, ‘Gee, how come we honor our movie stars, but we don’t honor our scientists?’ And then the other person said, ‘Well, would you pay to see a scientist?’ Well, of course, you wouldn’t pay to see a scientist, because Hollywood movie stars are entertainers. And so we hate to say it, but scientists have to learn how to do a little bit of entertaining. We have to do some special effects. We have to do some gee-whiz stuff on television. Look at Stephen Hawking; he is a research physicist on the cutting edge of science, and yet he has inspired so many young people to go into science—he’s mesmerized so many millions of people. It just goes to show you that the public will be receptive. It used to be said that science doesn’t sell. But you know, look at Einstein. He has generated much more publicity than many Hollywood movie stars, and why is that? Because Einstein was a messenger from the stars. The stars are in our deepest dreams, hopes, and desires. When we look out there at the night’s sky, we feel at one with the cosmos. And here was this funny little man—a messenger from the stars. You see, there is a role for scientists. It’s just that we have to know how to touch people.”

Original funding for "The Secret Life of Scientists and Engineers" was provided by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.