On Thursday, April 7th, 2011, CBS will air another, 04x20 episode of The Big Bang Theory. It's called "The Herb Garden Germination." Amy and Sheldon will try to spread rumors and Howard will act to upgrade his relationship with Bernadette.
More importantly, Brian Greene will star as himself.
He will be reading excerpts from his new book, probably The Hidden Reality about the multiverse, while Sheldon Cooper will display another level of his striking overlap with your humble correspondent. Sheldon will be explaining that it is nonsense to try to teach physics to the general population.
Well, I have of course spent lots of time by popularization of science among the broader public - including the Czech translation of The Elegant Universe - and other books I authored etc. But the reality has taught me that Sheldon is right. It is nonsense to teach advanced physics to the broad public.
The public can never appreciate the concepts and inner workings of quantum physics, string theory, or anything else that actually requires a technical mastery of the subject. As a result, the interest of an outsider always converges from the actual physics that makes sense and that has very strict rules to some superficial, and almost universally wrong, issues that are attractive for the laymen because of pre-existing reasons.
In other words, it's throwing pearls to the swines.
Even when a layman manages to parrot some correct insights about science that he or she has learned from a popular book or presentation, it cannot be classified as an actual, lasting knowledge. The first pseudoscientific book or presentation that the very same layman encounters is able to immediately "neutralize" the previously acquired knowledge - because it was not a real knowledge. It was just a temporary state of parroting someone else.
It's actually more likely than not than a non-expert will worship the most incorrect ideas about physics and spit on the most valuable ones. It is kind of inevitable. And I am not talking just about the thousands of brainwashed and aggressive imbeciles who gather on blogs of Fecers Shmoits and read books by Pees Swolins and similar hacks who are much closer to an average chimp than to an average string theorist. They're just a diluted version of the way how pretty much every uninformed layman thinks.
I believe that it may be refreshing to admit that all the interest and excitement about advanced physics concepts displayed from the people who manifestly misunderstand the internal logic of the physical theories is fake. After all, a vast majority of the owners of Hawking's Brief History of Time has never read the book. It is a dishonest game for people to pretend that they are something else than what they are.
In my opinion, it would be healthier if the public stopped influencing things it can't understand and it can't possibly be interested in: the proliferation of postmodern pseudoscientists of the Swolin kind or the global warming alarmists is, to a large extent, a result of the interactions with the extra-scientific portions of the population. Quite universally, these interactions have contaminated science because they bring criteria that have nothing to do with the scientific ones.
I am not saying that the number of people who are educated in physics should be left dropping: quite on the contrary. But what I think should be avoided is the informal promotion of people who don't understand physics as "honorary physicists" just because they display some (usually fake) interest in the discipline and/or because they're found important by someone for totally unscientific reasons.