Public Perceptions of Scientists: The Good, The Bad, and the Nerdy

So, what does your mind conjure up when you think of a scientist? I’m going to take a long shot and guess it involves a white lab coat and a test tube, possibly with a nerdy faced, I-live-on-pringles-lemonade-and-masturbation-type-looking male.

Is this how the Public perceives Scientists?

But we all know this just isn’t true now, don’t we? So how can we change public perception and banish the lab coat stereotype once and for all?

Stephen Curry, a popular science blogger, suggests that people perceive scientists as overly clever, and thus unrelatable to your average Jo or Jane. This is understandable when we think about how Scientists arte perceived in the Media. When Scientists are in the media, it is almost always only to air their advice or explain a situation. They need to speak with an air of authority to be believable, so it’s understandable that people would view them as cold, authoritative robots. In an effort to show the public that scientists are in fact normal, accesible people, Stephen Fry made the 26 minute film clip below, titled “I’m a Scientist: The Film”.

I enjoy parodies such as this one below from Hungry Beast, as they show that Scientists have a healthy sense of humour.

What do you think the benefits to Science could be if the public found Scientists more relatable?

Picture Reference


7 comments on “Public Perceptions of Scientists: The Good, The Bad, and the Nerdy

  1. Interesting topic!I love the videos!
    I think most of the scientists always have humors and strong characters, which atract me.
    Most of my scientist frineds are actually talkative. However, interesting enough, when I talk to someone who do not have back ground of science, I find that they are misunderstanding about scientists.
    As the video mentioned, they are not genius but people think they are. Also, they say science people have special and better brain because they can do science.
    I think if people realise a scientist is just a HUMAN, people can feel science more near by.
    So, this is the job for science communicators to make the bridge between scientists and the others to let them comunicate.

  2. Nice post.
    I also feel that a lot of non-scientist believe that all us scientists are incredibly smart. Of course, there are some incredibly smart scientist in this world, but judging by some of the answers I’ve seen and written down on tests, we are not all nobel prize candidates.

    I wonder if one of the problems is television programs like Bones or The Big Bang Theory. I love both shows a lot, but the scientists are all brilliant, and social awkward (although in different ways). Although there are moments when I relate to each character, I don’t feel like there is any one character that reflects me as a scientist. Can anyone else think of a television show with ‘average joe’ scientists in them?

  3. Thank you for a great post,
    Well, as a person who has not background of science, this post and video pointed out several important points, most of the time, the voices of scientists are tightly connected with his/her speciality and social function. Not with their personal aspects, like history of their life or preference.
    Why not?
    My personal opinion is, there are strong public perception that science is always stable, hardly makes mistakes, and not influenced by subjective issue, but truth is, scientists are not equal to science itself. They make mistakes, hesitate and struggle, and I think this aspect, scientists as ordinary people, must be talked more widely.
    For most of scientists, this may sounds bit bitter, because public and society always require “the right answer” for scientists.

    Thank you for sharing this topic!

    • Nice post rosanna,

      I agree with Kohei here about how scientists are perceived in the Media with the authority to provide professional advice or explain a scientific concept. In order to present their professional image, they need a certain dress code and to speak with a certain tone and voice. This is generally their images on screen. However, as Keiko mentioned above, they are humans and they can be humorous and funny at the same time (off-screen in most of the cases). So for the sake of Science, scientists have been promoting the image of “white lab coat and a test tube, possibly with a nerdy faced” for many centuries and I think it works well! I’m just wondering how the white coat comes about as in science you have to wear it in the lab. Why white but not any other color, why it must be in that certain length and when did the concept come up?

  4. Thanks for your great comments guys. Shortfletch, I don’t think I can think of any TV shows that reflect a normal scientist, which is interesting. I wonder if in the future, with the help of science communicators like us, like you say Kieko, we will see scientist have an un-stereotypical representation in the media.

  5. Shortfletch- I was struggling to think of any ‘real’ scientists on TV. I couldn’t do it but I did think of NCIS. Whilst Abbey may be incredibly smart, she is different to the usual perception of scientist and is actually quite cool.

  6. Pingback: Science blogs, beneficial for public engagement with Science, or not? « Science and the Media

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