My 15 minutes of fame

In March 2011 I had my Andy Warhol-ian 15 minutes of fame: One of my cousins lives in Japan. He had asked me for my assessment of the Fukushima situation. After doing my research, I send him a long email explaining what was going on. He put the email on his blog, it went viral, became the second (maybe even first) most twittered site on the internet for a couple of days, copied, reposted and translated numerous times and read by millions of people.

I have no claim to fame, as my email was not intended for publication. It illustrates however very clearly the journalistic meltdown of our established media that we were suffering during the crisis. It also exemplifies the responsibility that we carry as scientists and engineers to provide the necessary context information on complex technical systems and events, so people can make informed assessments of incoming facts (because if we don’t do it, nobody does).

Assessment of the quality of different information sources on the Fukushima incident. A “5” denotes average quality. Respondents were readers of my essay and most also of (n=295)

For a few weeks after the accident, I ran an online survey to answer a few questions regarding the Web 2.0 and disaster communication (mostly on what people liked about my original essay). One of the question asked about the quality of a variety of online information sources in the first two weeks after the accident. Not surprisingly, many people were very disappointed by our media landscape.

You can read a more detailed account of the story in the New Scientist or in MIT’s newspaper The Tech. I have archived the original post on my publication page.


While my ego and I were indulging in the fan mail I got from people ranging from mothers in Japan to nuclear reactor operators on US aircraft carriers, my family and friends had the time of their lives collecting the fallout from the – shall we say ‘more creative’ – part of the blogosphere (that also seems to have a lot of spare time). I only wish I was one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse, the ring leader of the very secret (but somewhat ineffective) world nuclear conspiracy, or the new secretary for environment and nuclear safety in Germany.

According to Google, I am now 3.3% as famous as Queen Elizabeth II. However, I only make 0.11% of Charlie Sheen (the Google hits for my name went up to over 300’000 from around 190, but the Queen scores over 9 million, and Charlie leads the way with 277 million). So, thank you Blogosphere!