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.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • melissa 4 July 2009, 12:19 am

    James Watson!

  • Swede 4 July 2009, 10:09 am

    Too many to choose from! However, considering these pandemic times and that the most common advice from Health Officials to the General Public is “Wash your hands frequently”, I can not help thinking about;

    Ignaz Semmelweis

    A simple advice that has saved a whole lot of lives since the 1840s.

  • Ilse 4 July 2009, 3:12 pm

    Newton was the first one who came to mind, then Galilei.

  • gera hasse 5 July 2009, 8:46 pm

    Stephen Hawking leaps to mind.

  • Pat 7 July 2009, 1:36 pm

    John Wheeler. (I'm an astrophysicist.)

  • jason Halperin 7 July 2009, 5:45 pm

    Paul Farmer

  • Andrew 7 July 2009, 11:26 pm

    I would say Vincent Racaniello, because I just read this, and it's right there–and there's no discounting that fact. Then I probably would have said Mendel.

  • אריאל גלולה 8 July 2009, 2:23 am

    Dimitri Iosifovich Ivanovsky the Russian biologist who was the first to discover viruses.

  • ducker 11 July 2009, 10:03 pm

    Sylvia Earle, Jane Lubchenko

  • Name 12 July 2009, 11:52 pm

    Darwin, of course.

  • Name 14 July 2009, 9:58 am

    Sylvia Earl. Eugenie Clark. Ada Lovelace. Rita Colwell. Nancy Chang. Diane Fossey. Marie Curie. Rosalind Franklin. Gertrude Elion. Rita Levi-Montalcini.

    I wonder how much of the general population can name a female scientist?

  • profvrr 14 July 2009, 10:32 am

    It's a good question. I can tell you what fraction of virology blog
    readers can do so, when I compile the results.

  • angry_larry 14 July 2009, 12:35 pm

    First scientist to my mind; Louis Pasteur – organic chemist/microbiologist
    “Famous” scientists (who are also women) not mentioned so far: Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin, Jane Goodall
    An organic chemist: Carolyn Bertozzi/UC Berkeley
    A microbiologist: Eva Harris/UC Berkeley

  • G. Lee Wall 22 September 2009, 5:16 pm

    Richard Feynman

  • G. Lee Wall 23 September 2009, 12:16 am

    Richard Feynman

  • queen avery 9 September 2010, 4:09 pm

    Hi my name is queen i will like to meet u here is my email

  • Daro 3 September 2011, 9:06 pm

    Mikolaj Kopernik

  • Robinanna neibauer 7 March 2016, 10:20 pm

    Nikola Tesla or Rosalind Franklin!