"It's hard to make microbes, telescopes, and math calculations appear sexy," write +Dina Spector and +Jennifer Polland at +Business Insider, introducing their list of fifty "sexiest" scientists alive. They assure us: "These aren't your typical lab coat-wearing, messy-haired brainiacs -- with the exception that they're all pretty brain-y ... We thought this was important, to highlight the brains along with the beauty. But, they're not bad to look at, either."

Social media has provided a great platform in the push to make science more relevant to the general public. Throughout these recent efforts, many have played with different approaches, including the classic advertising strategy of "sex sells." It is questionable, based on my experience, whether this technique has engendered the sort of result that advocates of science and intellectual curiosity would consider helpful.

The problem with this particular breed of "science can be sexy" is multi-pronged: it ignores people doing great work who are not perceived as "sexy," it shifts the focus away from the great work being done by people who are perceived as "sexy," it feeds toxic notions that certain people are succeeding or getting more attention because they are perceived as "sexy," and it implicitly suggests to everyone in science that they need to put energy, not only into their work, but also into their looks, including (but not limited to) the task of halting the aging process (which is, according to Business Insider's +Jennifer Welsh, "unsexy," despite the outlet's inclusion of some people over the age of optimal fertility. Welsh writes: "Evolutionarily speaking you wouldn't want to mate with someone who can't bear you children"). 

Don't get me wrong -- there is nothing wrong with putting time and energy into looking a certain way, whether you are in science or not. And there is nothing wrong with using what genetics (or your doctor -- hey, I'm from L.A.) gave you to bring science to the table if that's what works with your audience as a science communicator. The problem is that this sort of list, compiled by people who are not in the fight for science education, takes that autonomy away from individuals. This sort of list exploits them. It's possible that some people on this list are very flattered to be included -- and that's fine -- but let's not pretend this is a real attempt at getting the public interested in science. 

The most important thing that I have discovered in my short and somewhat limited time working to amplify science education is that, while sex is a great Trojan horse, science doesn't have to be sexy. Science has to be accessible and approachable. There are a great number of scientists and science communicators who are doing that in the world -- what they look like is not important, their power is in their initiative and the creative and beautiful ways they work to present science, whether this is in their books, their status updates, their blogs, their hashtags, their YouTube videos or their Hangouts here on Google Plus. 

Give me a list of people worth following who provide good content on various social outlets. Give me a list of people who will answer when I have a science question in the middle of my lunch hour even though I'm just a layperson with a slightly scandalous blog. These are the people who have the power to make science relevant to me -- no matter what their bilateral symmetry, age, gender or hip-to-waist ratio. 
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