On Sunday, during its 153rd Annual meeting, the National Academy of Sciences will present several awards. Among them is the Public Welfare Medal, which honors ‘extraordinary use of science for the public good.’
This year the Academy is awarding the medal to Alan Alda. The actor has a long history of working with science and scientists, dating back to at least his stint hosting Scientific American Frontiers from 1993-2005. Besides hosting that program, which ran on PBS, he has hosted other science programs, and performed and wrote scientifically themed plays. He is the face of The Flame Challenge, which tests the ability of scientists to communicate concepts to young kids. In what spare time he has Alda is Visiting Professor at the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at the Stony Brook University.
This marks the second year in a row the Public Welfare Medal has recognized the work of someone engaged in public science. Last year Neil deGrasse Tyson was recognized for his work in science education and science entertainment. That the award came the year after Tyson hosted the 2014 edition of COSMOS is not likely a coincidence. Especially since Carl Sagan, who hosted the 1980 edition, also received the Public Welfare Medal (but not until 1994).
Two data points do not make a trend, and with only three recipients in 102 years having this kind of connection to popular culture, I don’t expect to see the MythBusters recognized with the Public Welfare Medal any time soon. (Besides, such recognition would make more sense coming from the National Academy of Engineering, which doesn’t have a comparable medal.)
Congratulations to Alan Alda, who could make a lovely acceptance speech on Sunday. Until *that* video becomes available, you can watch Tyson’s acceptance speech from 2015.