Stephen Hawking is probably the most famous scientist alive. In the popular mind he has taken on the role of the new Einstein or Newton. Now there is no doubt that Professor Hawking is a good scientist - but there are two big problems with this.
One is that if you compare him with those illustrious predecessors, frankly he hasn't changed our understanding of the world a lot. When he was still alive, Richard Feynman could arguably have come close, but Hawking doesn't. Yes, he has done plenty of fine work, but it really isn't comparable.
The other big problem is that the media take all his pronouncements and push them out to the world as if they were great wisdom, when in fact, off topic, he often comes up with dramatic statements that frankly wouldn't be worth the time of day were it not for his media status.
When the COBE satellite came up with the first images of the Cosmic Microwave Background, the so-called echo of the big bang, Hawking called the results 'the greatest discovery of the century, if not of all time.' I'm sorry, but that is absolute baloney. They were certainly interesting, providing useful but not conclusive evidence on the early nature of the universe, but to take his 'discovery of the century' comparison, could he really say they were more important than relativity and quantum theory? Hardly.
More recently, he was warning us we should be hiding from aliens. And now he's on the news telling us that both religion and philosophy are irrelevent now, because science can explain everything. Not only is it not true that science can explain everything, it is just so arrogant. Susan Greenfield, who to be honest I don't usually have much time for, called these 'Taliban statements' on the radio this morning, and I can see her point. Hawking does science no favours by coming up with these plonking opinions - and the media doesn't help by bigging them up far beyond their importance.
Image from Wikipedia