I've long gotten over the novelty of being able to "add" famous physicists like Isaac Newton, Richard Feynman, and James Clerk Maxwell as friends on Facebook. Fans have their choice of several online impersonators, of varying degrees of convincingness, for each scientific luminary. But in between hanging out with astronauts and watching Toy Box videos, I somehow missed the fact that Secretary of Energy Steven Chu has joined facebook.
Chu must be our most popular and recognizable Secretaries of Energy yet. I mean, can anyone even name a former secretary off the top of their heads? Maybe it's because Chu radiates that ineffable rock star aura known as Geek. He's smart, he bicycles, and he's the first Secretary of Energy who's actually a scientist. And not just your test-tube-shuffling, garden-variety boffin; Chu has a Nobel Prize. (And he's still publishing.)
But part of me raises an eyebrow at such a public figure using such a casual medium to speak to the public. It makes sense for celebrities; Ashton Kutcher has nearly three million fans, no doubt eagerly refreshing his facebook page every few minutes for the latest Ashton news. Barack Obama has over six million fans and uses the page to encourage voters to tweet about issues to congressmen. (He enjoys Stevie Wonder and Bach, and watches Sportscenter.)
Chu's page sits somewhere between the two as far as how engaging it is. His wall features a YouTube video of his recent appearance on the Daily Show, a link to a recent New York Times article about his "white roofs" obsession, and Flickr photos from a trip to China to meet with dignitaries. He's learning how to golf (is golf code for "playing with the other politicians?) and is interested in energy effficiency.
He's got over 5,000 fans—"talk about transparency, this is great" says one wall post. If nothing else, the page gives us this awesome photo of young Chu. (I predict a sudden rush on Buddy Holly glasses.) But is it really transparency? A typo in a recent wall post made me wonder, cynically, if Chu's facebook curator (someone must have the job) would be reprimanded later. On the other hand, when have politicans ever been so accessible?