A-Rod and Andrew Fire

Here’s a question… why does society bestow adulation on athletes, actors, models, socialites, etc.? Its especially odd when contrasted with how little adulation society bestows on people who do things. A superstar athlete and a biologist (to pick a profession) shortlisted for the Nobel are both, shall we say, outstanding specimens at their game, but odds are that only the latter makes any difference in the long run. And yet,a lot of people will pay attention to even trivial things done by the former, and have no interest in the major discoveries of the latter.

And of course, its not just the Nobel laureates. Most biologists (to stick with that profession) make a difference – remove a random biologist and the world in 100 years will be slightly diminished. Most athletes can make a difference, but if they do, its not through athletics (Jesse Owens and Jackie Robinson notwithstanding). Remove the world’s greatest track star, or soccer player, or fencer, or whatever, and 100 years from now, will there be a difference to society?

(Incidentally, what is true for a biologist is not necessarily true for an economist. Economics, it seems to me, is still a profession where peddling silly notions is not only acceptable, it gets you political power and money. Sadly, we’re a long way from getting rid of our Lysenkos.)

I have my opinions on why, but I’m swamped right now… and I’m interested in what you think. Am I right about this? Why or why not? And if I’m right, why do we see what we see?