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Rocío Vidal (Benicasim, 1992) is the real name of the person known on social networks as Schrödinger’s Cat. This alias refers to a paradox devised in 1935 by the Austrian-Irish physicist Erwin Schrödinger, to argue theoretically with Albert Einstein. According to his paradox, a hypothetical cat, enclosed in a closed steel chamber, can be simultaneously alive and dead, known as quantum superposition, and is linked to a random subatomic event that may or may not occur. The explanation is very long and complex, but that is precisely what Rocío is dedicated to: spreading science, through her YouTube and Twitch channels, in a way that is understandable to ordinary mortals. She’s been doing it for five years… and she’s doing very well!
You are a journalist and publicist, but your YouTube channel is about popular science. Where did your interest in science come from?
I studied journalism because I loved writing; as a teenager I had a blog where I commented on the news. Journalism invited me to be able to talk about whatever I wanted and whatever I liked, at least in my head. I wanted to specialise in investigative journalism and I realised that science is something very important and we don’t know about it, so I said to myself that I was going to specialise in science communication. I did a master’s degree and I’m still doing it today.
You started the YouTube channel almost five years ago. Was it a way out because you couldn’t find a job?
I was working on a science exhibition and when it closed I knew I wanted to do my own project. What is true is that I saw the YouTube channel as a calling card.
I saw it as a letter of introduction to scientific companies or media that could hire me. I started a YouTube channel because people I admired were doing it and I was lucky that I did well and got a lot of hits. At that point I saw that it could be not a means to get a job, but a job in itself.
You now have more than 600,000 subscribers to your channel. What exactly does this job entail?
YouTube is a window of opportunity. At the end of the day, I am a journalist and I also give talks and conferences, present events or collaborate. What YouTube and social networks do is get you seen, and that means a lot of opportunities for collaboration. It is true that I am one of the few privileged ones who can make a living from something, a priori, so specialised. A fashion or make-up youtuber can promote many products, can dress for brands and it seems more obvious that she can make a living from it and get paid for it. But you can make a living from something as specialised as science and popularisation.
Do you feel supported by scientists and researchers?
Yes, because they are my sources. In my channel, although I touch on conspiracies, UFOs, denialism or terraplanism, I always do it from a sceptical approach, always open to listening. Perhaps many traditional scientists don’t understand this entertaining, down-to-earth way of communicating, but I believe that what really matters is that people get to see the content, see it and like it. What matters is that people like to be educated and have a good time, that they are curious and therefore think critically.
Are the topics you talk about the ones that interest you or do you address them because they attract the most followers?
A mixture, I would say. It’s mainly what I like to talk about. But it’s true that I started the channel as a more ‘white’ populariser, so to speak, more about content and classic science popularisation. But then I realised that I really liked to dismantle beliefs and hoaxes, to understand how conspiracy theories worked. But if the question is whether I’ve ever talked about something I didn’t feel like talking about… If that were the case, I would end up leaving the channel, because the main thing is that you feel it and you live it. That’s what people get the most out of it.
I’ve seen your videos about organic food, but not, for example, about biotechnology applied to the creation of meat-like food from stem cells…
No, it’s not a subject I’ve touched on yet, but I love it. I think it’s a wonderful idea, but we need to see more results.
Will it be possible to mass-market lab-grown meat?
I don’t know yet. At the moment I’m not seeing much progress towards mass commercialisation, which is the key in the end. It’s all very well to have succeeded, but if each piece of artificial meat costs 5,000 euros, it will never have a real impact on society. But every breakthrough starts with being very expensive and then it gets commercialised. For me that would be wonderful news. I am not an absolute vegetarian: I sometimes eat fish. But if I have stopped eating meat, it is not because I don’t like it, but for ethical reasons. So, if meat is produced in a laboratory, without animal suffering behind it… luxury! I can also tell you that there are meat substitutes that I (or friends of mine who eat meat) am unable to distinguish, based on soya protein or peas.
And transgenic foods…?
That’s fine by me. Obviously the problem lies in their practical application, in how the use of pesticides can affect crops. All of that has much bigger implications. I don’t agree with the extreme radicalism of “no GMOs!” that environmental groups have promoted, because I think there is a lot of scientific research behind it and I think biotechnology is the future for many things. We should stop being so closed-minded and open up to these new possibilities, while taking the environmental impact very much into account, obviously.