Science already has awards, lots and lots of them. The problem is that, despite the fact that science and technology have a far deeper impact on people’s daily lives than anything that comes out of Hollywood, most people don’t know about or care about science awards.
However, that is not entirely the fault of the public. Science awards are generally not crafted in a way that invites the public to care. A certain percentage of people may know that Peter Higgs and Francois Englert won the 2013 Nobel prize in physics for their work on the theory of the Higgs boson, but even among those people only a small percentage have any idea what the Higgs boson is or why they should care.
I’m not suggesting that the Nobel prize should be more commercial or should be dumbed down. I’m not even suggesting that the Nobel prize change in any way but there should be another set of awards that is meant for the general public, that is meant to be understood and that helps the people to understand.
What I’m suggesting is that people in the scientific community regularly say that they want public to be more scientifically literate. They say that they want science to play a larger role in the public policy decisions and want to encourage funding for scientific research. The scientific community, education community and policy makers want to encourage young people to participate in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). If all of those things are true, then science needs to be presented to the public in a relevant and easy to digest way, at least sometimes.
Right now, public interest in STEM and scientists is on an upswing. This is happening on a number of fronts. Neil Degrasse Tyson and Bill Nye have become household names, last years Cosmos revival did fairly well and the Big Bang Theory is one of the most popular shows on television. Two science biopics, the Theory of Everything and the Imitation Game garnered Oscar nods and public interest in the work of NASA is probably higher than at any time since the Apollo missions.
This has also been helped along by interest in technology from Apple and Google to SpaceX and a revival in science-fiction entertainment which has a spillover into an interest in science fact.
So, it seems to me, that now is the perfect time to continue that upswing by putting some of science’s latest and greatest achievements on a big stage once a year.
Everything I just listed will actually help to generate public interest because it can also serve as a list of guests and presenters to generate public interest. Nye and Tyson, the cast of STEM related television and film, tech entrepreneurs and astronauts can be brought out to hand out awards and draw viewers.
This is a rough idea and something I can’t do by myself but what I envision at this point is a handful of general awards. In other words, rather than having awards for engineering, chemistry, physics etc., the awards would go to maybe six to 10 scientific developments that will have an impact on people’s lives.
Rather than simply announce the names and hand out the awards, a little time would be taken to explain why it was important. A custom video from someone like Henry Reich of MinutePhysics / MinuteEarth or the folks behind ASAPScience, Kurz Gesagt (In a Nutshell), PHD Comics, It’s Ok to be Smart, SciShow, PBS Idea Channel, etc could even be used between the announcement and the presentation of the award to explain in simple terms what the award was for.
Science and technology plays an ever increasing roll in the daily lives of almost everyone and there is every indication that, for better or for worse, this is going to be more true than ever in the next few decades. I think presenting the top 5-10 things that people should be aware of, in an easily understood and carefully explain way, just once per year could help people understand and make important decisions about the present and the future.
Again, this is very much in the brainstorming stage but I’m hoping that others will join in, pass it around and help make it into a reality.