TWiV 317: Brazil goes viral

On episode #317 of the science show This Week in Virology, Vincent travels to Brazil and joins Eurico to speak with three four young virologists, Gustavo, Cintia, Tatiana, and Suellen, about their work and their prospects for careers in science.

You can find TWiV #317 at

Name a scientist results

usa-todayWhile most adults cannot name a scientist, the readers of virology blog can identify many of them.

I asked readers to spontaneously name just one scientist, and I received 204 responses. Nine of the individuals named were not scientists; that left 195 responses out of 204, indicating that 96% of those who responded could name a scientist. In stark contrast, 23% of adults in the USA Today poll could not name a single scientist. This result is not surprising – readers of science blogs probably have a higher understanding of the subject compared with the general population.

Who are the most frequently named scientists in my informal poll? Of the 195 individuals who correctly responded, 45 named more than one scientist. To simplify data analysis, I considered only the first scientist mentioned by these individuals, leaving 150 responses for scrutiny. Here are the top 10 scientists named in the poll:


I was surprised at the amazing diversity of scientists selected. Four scientists were each named three times (Dawkins, Einstein, Galilei, Heisenberg), 12 were named twice (Dirac, Earle, Faraday, Franklin, Carver, Kaku, Leeuwenhoek, Nye, Plait, Planck, Turing, Tyson, Racaniello), and 56 scientists were named once. In all, 82 different scientists were identified by 150 respondents. Even more scientists were listed by the 45 other individuals who gave more than one name.

One reader asked if anyone could name female scientists. Unfortunately none made the top-ten list above, and only 9 of the 82 different scientists were women – Marie Curie, Rachel Carson, Sylvia Earle, Dian Fossey, Virginia E. Johnson, Ada Lovelace, Mary-Claire King, Barbara McClintock, and Doris Taylor. A dozen more female scientists were identified by those individuals who listed more than one person.

I draw a few conclusions from this very informal poll: first, the readers of virology blog are familiar with a very broad range of scientists; and second, awareness of the contributions of female scientists could be improved. But the real issue is the gulf between my readers and those who responded to the USA Today survey. How can we reach those individuals to teach them some science?

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.