Celebrating the Dynamic Between Spock and Captain Kirk

Leonard Nimoy, beloved hero of geeks and nerds, has passed.

He will be forever remembered for his portrayal of Mr. Spock, Captain Kirk's science officer and first officer on the USS Enterprise in Star Trek. But as a scientist myself, I think Spock embodied the perfect scientist. He is a great model for how scientists might behave and others might interact with scientists, especially during a crisis.

Spock was known for his lack of passion, his cold objective calculations. But that belied his intensity and high ideals about the scientific process. He was tenacious in pursuit of the facts and evidence, staunchly undeterred by the subjective emotions of Kirk, the chief engineer "Scotty", and Dr. McCoy. And despite being half-human, Spock's greatest emotion was a slightly raised eyebrow. You knew when the eyebrow went up, Spock was either perplexed by human foibles or by a problem that would certainly yield, in time, to his relentless investigation.

Spock commanded respect, even when his conclusions seemed to contradict observable "truth" or what you wanted to believe. He spoke with conviction well-founded on data and principles of logic. He gave timely advice and didn't use jargon but rather articulated his arguments in ways that others could readily understand them (something that a lot of scientists I know haven't quite mastered; they might as well be speaking Romulan). Even in the face of mammoth uncertainty, he calmly dissected situation into clear probabilities, the best one could hope for under the circumstances. (It didn't hurt his coolness quotient that Spock was also a badass who could handle himself deftly in combat.)

Many compare Spock to other modern television nerds such as the quirky, socially awkward, and genius Sheldon Cooper in The Big Bang Theory. There is no comparison. Cooper would have been lucky to graduate from the Star Fleet Academy.

It's hard to count how many lives Spock saved over the years, but skilled as he was, I've come to realize that he couldn't do it alone. If no one listened to him, considered his arguments, and then acted on them, Spock's value would have been negated.

Fortunately, the Enterprise also had Captain Kirk, who was emotional, courageous, and inspirational. In other words, he displayed leadership (even if he was flawed, too, widely viewed as an intergalactic womanizer).

It occurs to me that in our non-TV reality, our spaceship Earth is wrestling with an assortment of dramatic crises. Recent headlines are full of them: the Keystone XL Pipeline, infant vaccination, and climate change. We could use more scientists at hand to articulate clear, objective, dispassionate info. Maybe they aren't capable at it or willing to do so.

Maybe they aren't asked.

And then we also need leaders who make the effort to listen to all available objective evidence, even it they prefer not to hear it, factor it into their decisions and then have the courage to inspire timely action.

At every level, local, state, federal, international, and personal, we need that combination of both Kirk and Spock, complementing each other, to solve problems and ensure that we live long and prosper.