If you’ve been keeping tabs on MC Hammer lately, you may have noticed that he spent the last few weeks enthusiastically talking about science on Twitter. He tweeted about a gene found in neurons, about worm RNA, about slime molds, and much more.
MC Hammer has been sharing his love of science with his Twitter followers in the last few weeks. … [+] (Pictured here during a Capitol Music Group event on August 8, 2018 in LA. Photo by Rich Polk/Getty Images for Capitol Music Group)
This isn’t unprecedented. It’s not unusual for MC Hammer to talk about science (he was tweeting about laser-controlled fly brains back in 2014) and it’s not unusual for performing artists in general to be vocal supporters of science.
Over the last few years, several other musicians have publicly shared their fascination with various fields of science. A few years ago, singer Charlotte Church revealed that she loves physics. meanwhile, Ben Folds and Rosanne Cash both developed an interest in neuroscience. Folds has spoken with neuroscientist Daniel Levitin about the science behind music, and Cash collaborated with neuroscientist-led band The Amygdaloids on a song. The Wu-Tang Clan’s GZA has been focusing on science-themed rap the past decade, creating an as-yet unreleased science album. Bjrk also released a science-inspired album in 2011.
And then there are the scientists with high-profile music careers. Long before he became a TV science presenter and physicist, Brian Cox was keyboard player in ’90s band D:Ream. Queen guitarist Brian May quit his astrophysics PhD when the band became too popular to manage both careers, but he picked it back up a few decades later. He now occasionally works on science communication projects with NASA and others. The Offspring’s Dexter Holland also paused a PhD during the height of his band’s success and returned to USC to finish his PhD in 2017. His thesis on the molecular biology of HIV on got a mention in Rolling Stone.
Some performing artists use their platform to raise attention and money for specific causes. Country singer Willie Nelson is interested in stem cell therapy and has supported the field by raising funds for the University of Texas’ Southwestern Medical Center. Meanwhile, actors Michael J Fox and Leonardo DiCaprio both run foundations that support scientific research. Fox launched his foundation in 2000 to provide funding and resources for Parkinson’s Disease after he was diagnosed with the condition himself. DiCaprios foundation supports environmental research, and has partly funded a range of research projects, such as a study on kelp forests or research on wildland fires.
The list goes on. For every celebrity that gets unwarranted attention for peddling unproven treatments or gimmicks, you’ll find several others being the voice of reason and using their platform to support science. And that public support is something that researchers very much appreciate.
Scientists often have the intention to communicate their work widely, but the constrant struggle to survive beyond their current grant pressures them to focus on getting the research done and published in specialized journals, often without finding the time to share that work with the wider world. However, people are trying to change this through new science communication methods. The field of science communication studies how research is shared and looks for ways to connect people with science. Here, too, we find a celebrity. After presenting the PBS show Scientific American Frontiers, actor Alan Alda founded the Alan Alda Center For Science Communication, which offers advice and training for researchers to help them share their story with others.
In a 2016 interview with the Australian National University, Alda emphasizes that it’s important to show the people behind the research. “I think when we see scientists as human beings, the door is open for us a little bit, we can go into their lives. Theyre not the white-coated gurus on the mountaintop.”
Showing scientists as human beings is exactly what MC Hammer has been doing with his platform. This week, he has been supporting the #BlackInChem initiative, amplifying the profiles of black chemists and showing his followers some of the people behind the research.
Scientists on Twitter have been understandably excited when MC Hammer retweets them. Not just because of the brief brush with fame, but because researchers are always trying to reach new people with their work.
It can be hard to share science with people beyond the usual science fans. People have to want to attend a science festival, purposely buy a popular science magazine, or deliberately tune in to a science show. Online, our algorithms keep feeding us the same topics we always look at. But by using their platform to share science news and scientist profiles, high-profile performing artists like MC Hammer can break through that bubble and give their audience a glimpse into a world that they might otherwise not seek out themselves.