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.

  • ET 2 July 2009, 12:55 pm

    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…

  • ET 2 July 2009, 12:57 pm

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

    China? Anyone?

  • Aeromax 2 July 2009, 12:59 pm

    Linus Pauling.

  • lyric 2 July 2009, 1:09 pm

    Stephen Hawking

  • Jack W. 2 July 2009, 1:10 pm

    Stephen Hawking.

  • steve 2 July 2009, 1:15 pm

    Nikola Tesla

  • Alex 2 July 2009, 1:37 pm

    Richard Feyman

  • Sean 2 July 2009, 2:07 pm

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

  • zzing 2 July 2009, 2:11 pm

    Paul Dirac

  • Orlando 2 July 2009, 2:31 pm

    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.

  • f 2 July 2009, 2:35 pm

    nikolai tesla

  • Jason 2 July 2009, 2:39 pm

    Doc Octopus

  • thenonimous 2 July 2009, 2:56 pm

    Isaac Newton

  • max 2 July 2009, 3:08 pm

    stephen hawking came to mind first

  • Michael 2 July 2009, 3:11 pm

    Why no love for Tesla?

  • Michael 2 July 2009, 3:11 pm

    Why no love for Tesla?

  • Michael 2 July 2009, 3:12 pm


  • DT 2 July 2009, 3:28 pm

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

  • DT 2 July 2009, 3:29 pm

    You messed up one; it should be Guglielmo “Radiohead-Thanks Nikola” Marconi.

  • James L 2 July 2009, 3:37 pm

    Richard Feynman. Physics, yay!

  • Guest 2 July 2009, 3:38 pm

    Richard Feynman

  • James L 2 July 2009, 3:50 pm

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

  • gonzalo Urrutia 2 July 2009, 4:00 pm

    i thought of tesla
    fits the crazy scientist type

  • AndyB62 2 July 2009, 4:43 pm

    I love his constant!

  • AndyB62 2 July 2009, 4:53 pm

    Dian Fossey

  • AndyB62 2 July 2009, 4:55 pm

    Dr. Emmett Brown

  • schadenfreudian 2 July 2009, 5:04 pm

    Nikola Tesla. (Edison can suck it)

  • ET 2 July 2009, 5:32 pm


  • tom 2 July 2009, 5:40 pm

    J. Robert Oppenheimer

  • Thomas Overton 2 July 2009, 7:04 pm

    hershey and chase…name that phage

  • Nubisor 2 July 2009, 7:42 pm


  • Dan 2 July 2009, 8:02 pm

    Gregor Mendel was the first name in my head

  • Knapalm 2 July 2009, 9:20 pm

    Sir Isaac Newton

  • Joe Bloggs 2 July 2009, 10:22 pm

    Linus Pauling

  • Dee 2 July 2009, 10:36 pm

    George Washington Carver

  • Dan 2 July 2009, 10:59 pm

    I came up with 3 off the cuff

  • Moneil 2 July 2009, 11:18 pm

    Amy Mainzer

  • Sapik 3 July 2009, 1:40 am

    Josiah Willard Gibbs

  • ijostl 3 July 2009, 1:53 am

    Nina Hartley.

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

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

  • Scott 3 July 2009, 6:50 am

    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.

  • M 3 July 2009, 7:11 am

    Rachel Carson, Richard Feynman, Rosalind Franklin

  • dave 3 July 2009, 11:25 am

    Vincent Racaniello

  • David Loria 3 July 2009, 12:08 pm

    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.

  • Melkarion 3 July 2009, 12:22 pm

    Nikola Tesla. The classic mad scientist.

  • Kate 3 July 2009, 12:25 pm

    Linus Pauling

  • C Day 3 July 2009, 12:26 pm

    Barbara McClintock.

  • Janice Numtwabe 3 July 2009, 4:23 pm

    Stephen Hawking

  • Janice Numtwabe 3 July 2009, 4:23 pm

    Or Einstein

    – Janice,
    Stroller Travel System

  • Wilijon 3 July 2009, 6:58 pm

    Isn't 23% about the same percentage that thought G W hung the moon?

  • dottholliday 3 July 2009, 8:45 pm

    Enrico Fermi
    Richard Feyman