Space scientist Colin Pillinger is academia's answer to David Beckham, according to David Southall, director of science programmes at the European Space Agency. Having given Professor Pillinger a bit of a kicking in the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee's inquiry into Beagle 2 this week, Professor Southwood intended the remark to be soothing. Professor Pillinger was, he said, more of a Beckham than a Sven-Goran Eriksson in his approach to Beagle 2 , the British-led mission to Mars. Just how comforting it is to be compared to the footballer being lambasted for his failure to drive the English team to victory in Euro 2004, only Professor Pillinger can tell us. But if he does embrace the Beckham role, there seems to be particular potential for him to inspire copycat fashion among fellow scientists. Will the famous Pillinger sideburns become this summer's must-have for every discerning academic?