- Press Release
- August 15, 2022
Public Perception of Astronomers: Revered, Reviled and Ridiculed
“Our ancestors observed the heavens for religious and secular reasons, with astronomy and astrology largely indistinguishable. Observations of stars, planets and constellations were used to create calendars that provided agricultural societies with valuable information for the seasonal planting and harvesting of crops, as well as to predict future events or to discern divine messages from the cosmos. Given the importance of such activities to the cultural identity and even physical survival of ancient people, it is not surprising that sky watchers had prominent roles in their societies. An abundance of archaeological evidence from around the world attests to the importance of the ancient astronomer.
In modern times, however, public perception of astronomers began to change as astronomy evolved from an applied to a pure science. With less prominent roles in their societies, astronomers were forced to seek new forms of financial support for their scholarly activities from governments or wealthy benefactors and to justify their continued value to their fellow citizens. Although we live today in a time of remarkable astronomical discoveries, as many politicians and businesses know the public’s collective memory can be short, and hence astronomers cannot afford to be complacent about our public image.”
Michael J. West, European Southern Observatory, Invited review to appear in The Role of Astronomy in Society and Culture: Proceedings of IAU Symposium No. 260, 2009.