Many adults cannot name a scientist

Dimitri-IvanovskyUSA Today’s Snapshot for 29 June was a survey in which 1000 adults were asked to name a famous scientist. Here are the results:

47% named Albert Einstein
23% could not name anyone
6% named Marie Curie
4% named Louis Pasteur
4% named Thomas Edison

The survey was conducted by L’Oreal, but the methods were not revealed. Therefore it is not possible to determine if the results can be extended to the adult population in general. Nevertheless, the poor showing on naming a famous scientist is an indictment of the science education of those who participated in the survey.

I’m interested in how the readers of virology blog would respond to the question, ‘Name a scientist’ – it doesn’t have to be a famous scientist, and it should not be a relative, or the author of virology blog. Don’t look up someone in a book or online – I’m interested in who you would think of spontaneously. Post your answer – just one scientist – in the comments section, or send it to I’ll reveal the results here in a few weeks.

In attempting to determine how the L’Oreal survey was conducted, I learned about the L’Oreal-UNESCO For Women in Science Program, an effort to celebrate women who have dedicated their careers to scientific research, and to encourage emerging talent to pursue scientific discoveries. It’s a commendable program, and I do hope they impress upon the recipients of these awards the need to educate the public about their work.

220 thoughts on “Many adults cannot name a scientist”

  1. Who was the astronomer that the “Chandra x ray' observatory is named for?

    Subrhaman Chandrasker or something like that? Seems like he found a way to determine mass of stars.

    Any other Indians? Im coming up short…

  2. Any Far East that anyone can think of? I know Shigella is named for someone in Japan. Any others?

    China? Anyone?

  3. Benjamin Banneker?
    The first one I came up with actually was Gregor Mendel. Damn you freshman biology!

  4. Here's a list of some with stupid nicknames I've given them, just for some variety. Some of the nicknames pretty much only make sense to me.

    Neils “Nelly” Bohr, Richard “Slickback” Feynman, Erwin “Kitty” Schroedinger, Nikola “I'll Show You All!!!!” Tesla, Thomas “Thanks Nikola” Edison, Guglielmo “Radiohead” Marconi, Jonas “Crazylegs” Salk, Albert “The MC” Einstein, Nicolaus “Universal Soldier” Copernicus, Carl Sagan, Isaac “The Force” Newton, Charles “Chuck” Darwin, and of course, Stephen “Wheels” Hawking.

  5. Michio Kaku, Richard Feynman, Nikola Tesla, and Buckminster Fuller popped into my head simultaneously, so I'd say they all qualify as the “first.”

  6. That's scientists, not scientologists. 🙂 Beware of volcanic eruptions Xenu.

  7. Nina Hartley.

    …wait, she's a slut, wait no a scientist, wait…

    …you know, those two professions seem to have some commonalities…

  8. Dr. Percy Julian is the one i thought of that i haven't seen listed. PBS had a wonderful show about his life and his work a few months back.
    Ask if the average american can name a sports star or celebrity. . . our priorities in this country are skewed at best.

  9. Clodomiro Picado Twight, a Costa Rican scientist. He was pioneer in the researching snakes and serpent venoms; his internationally recognized achievement was the development of various anti-venom serums. He was one of the precursors of the discovery of penicillin, which he used to treat patients a couple of years before the formal discovery of penicillin by Alexander Fleming.[1] He wrote over 115 works, mainly books and monographs.

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