Guess who's speaking at the NSTA National Conference


The featured speaker at this year's National Science Teacher Association conference in Boston is…Mayim Bialik.

The lucky ones among you are saying right now, "who?". Others may know her from her television work, but maybe don't know the full story behind her 'science' activism.

She's an actor who plays Sheldon's girlfriend on Big Bang Theory. Right there, as far as I'm concerned, we have a major strike against her: I detest that show. It's the equivalent of a minstrel show for scientists, where scientists are portrayed as gross caricatures of the real thing — socially inept, egotistical jerks who think rattling off an equation is a sign of intelligence. I think it's literally an anti-science communication show. Who in their right mind would want to be anything like Sheldon, the narcissistic nerd? Who would want to work with people like that? The message it's sending instead is that if you are a superficial asshole, you should become a scientist, where you will be loved for personality traits that would get you shunned in civilized company. (We also see the same phenomenon in atheism, where so many people think it's a great excuse to be the insensitive Vulcan.)

But OK, that's a matter of taste, I will admit, and maybe not enough of a reason to be appalled to think she is going to be speaking to science teachers (although it's enough for me). And she does have a Ph.D. in neuroscience, you have to respect that.


Mayim Bialik does not vaccinate her kids. She's the spokesperson for the Holistic Moms Network. I know what you're thinking: "holistic" doesn't sound so bad. But take it away, Orac!

Just one look at its advisory board should tell you all you need to know. For instance, there’s Dr. Lauren Feder, who bills herself as specializing in “primary care medicine, pediatrics and homeopathy” and has been a frequent contributor to that bastion of quackery and antivaccine looniness, Mothering Magazine, where she recommended homeopathic remedies to treat whooping cough. It doesn’t get much quackier than that. But Feder is just the beginning. Also on the Holistic Moms advisory board is the grand dame of the antivaccine movement herself, the woman who arguably more than anyone else is responsible for starting the most recent iteration of the antivaccine movement in the U.S. Yes, I’m talking about Barbara Loe Fisher, the founder and president of the National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC), a bastion of antivaccine propaganda since the 1980s. She’s not the only antivaccine activist on the advisory board, though. There’s also Peggy O’Mara, publisher of Mothering Magazine and Sherri Tenpenny, who is described right on the Holistic Moms website as, “one of America’s most knowledgeable and outspoken physicians, warning against the negative impact of vaccines on health.” Then there’s Dr. Lawrence Rosen, “integrative” pediatrician who appeared at the NVIC “vaccine safety conference” back in 2009 with Barbara Loe Fisher and Andrew Wakefield. In fact, Barbara Loe Fisher, Sherri Tenpenny, and Lauren Feder are featured very prominently on the Holistic Moms Network page on vaccination.

But that’s not all. If there’s one more thing that should tell you all you need to know about the Holistic Moms Network approach to science-based medicine, then take a look at its sponsors: Boiron (manufacturer of the homeopathic remedy for flu known as Oscillococcinum), the Center for Homeopathic Education (and I bet it is homeopathic too), the National Center for Homeopathy, and a whole bunch of other purveyors of woo and quackery.

And he has a lot more to say, as usual.

So why is this woo-peddling, vaccination-denying sitcom star being featured as a speaker at NSTA? I don't know. Because she has a Ph.D. and pretends to be socially inept on TV? That doesn't seem to be a good reason. Will Jenny McCarthy be invited to deliver a keynote next year? How about Ken Ham — he's very into 'science' education, you know. Gosh, if we're going to open the door to quacks, the pool of potential speakers just expanded immensely! Joseph Mercola? Andrew Weil? Deepak Chopra!

Tsk, NSTA. Do you vet your speakers at all?

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Well, the thing is that for non-science academics like me, the Sheldon character is very funny, and all too familiar. In my small corner of the academic world, we have several Sheldons in our sciences areas. Inept, completely oblivious to their colleagues, dismissive of any intellect other than their own, patronizing etc.. We also have the other characters - the ditz, the lonely, the pathetic - they appear in my classroom as students and in faculty meetings as colleagues.

I take your point on the choice of speaker. Let me assure you - historians bemoan the popularizers and quacks too.

In my book publishing capacity I offered them Professor Jared Diamond, Pulitzer Prize winning author of Guns, Germs & Steel among others. He has a book coming out FOR kids. They passed (and not even graciously--I had to chase them down for an answer!). So disappointed in the choice they made!

We never recognize ourselves, do we! I think we all need to take a good dose of humor with our serious sides, and alternative medicine is effective, if you only open your closed mind. I think she's a GREAT choice.

By RJ Herrmann (not verified) on 24 Mar 2014 #permalink

Mayim DID graduate with a PhD in science, and she is intellectually a genius. She is also heavily influenced by her orthodox religion, and has published books on parenting as well as vegetarian recipes. She is famous, and is a well respected speaker. I will assume they specifically asked her to speak on a particular subject, and if so, she will be a fantastic speaker on that subject. I also assume she won't go into her holistic theories or personal religious beliefs. She has a way of separating those areas. I have known her since she was in elementary school, and she is a smart young woman with a good character.

By Karen Bell (not verified) on 25 Mar 2014 #permalink

I have known her since she was in elementary school, and she is a smart young woman with a good character.

She is using her celebrity to promote the spread of harmful diseases to children. This is neither smart nor an act of good character.

It's true, Mayim Bialik is all of those things that you wrote about. But about the whole vaccination bit, while it's not the smart choice for most people, she doesn't send her children to public or private school. She home schools them, which IMO is the right choice if you're not going to vaccinate. Plus she's a really well known speaker for women/girls in science and a spokesperson for Texas instruments. Plus, she's spoken publicly about her role on The Big Bang Theory (which I've never watched) and said that she really enjoys working with people who are scientists and for a show that takes the science itself seriously. Jared Diamond would be a great speaker. Hopefully the NSTA gets their act together for a future conference and includes him.

By Megan Alton (not verified) on 30 Mar 2014 #permalink