05 November, 2008
Why is it that all popular images of science invariably involve a white dude/tte in a svelte lab coat holding up a flask of some colored liquid and gesticulating at it with gloves hands? Sure, sometimes I'll hold up a beaker of agar to make sure that it doesn't contain a lot of bubbles or burny peely stuff, but I do NOT spend my whole day filling oddly shiny beakers with food coloring and discussing them with my colleagues.
Yet, in society, these images persist. I guess, perhaps, that these images serve to differentiate us scientists from everyone else. If we were shown with hand tools, then we might actually be mechanics. If we were shown with scalpels and forceps, then we might actually be surgeons. If we were shown sitting in front of our computers crunching data, then we might actually be accountants (they're almost as sun-starved as most of us). Beakers and mysterious colored liquids are sciencely! So are lab coats and wild gesticulation!
It would be much more accurate to show biologists, molecular ones especially, wielding micropipets and microcentrifuges, perhaps even gesticulating at a hot water bath or incubator. But, now that I think about it more, it seems that a micropipet just isn't as sexy as a 2L Erlenmeyer flask filled with grape juice. Therefore, I dare a supermodel to just try to make focusing a fluorescent microscope on a single strand of rhodamine-labeled actin look sexy! If Tyra Banks can't do it, no one can (maybe Iman). Suddenly it appears that I don't tune my fiancee's TV shows out quite as well as I had believed...
Anyway, there are stereotypes about scientists that can sometimes be kind of accurate, at least part of the time. Let's examine them a bit:
1) Scientists wear glasses. This is frequently true, and perhaps even observed at a greater frequency than the general population outside the lab. However, it could also be true that those outside the lab are more likely to wear contacts to correct their vision.
2) Scientists have wild hair. This depends on what you could call wild. Most men in science maintain either conservative short hair or let it grow very long. I have yet to observe any hairstyle trends (beyond low-maitenance) among female scientists. It is possible that scientists are more likely to avoid going to go get hair cuts when they need one. It is also possible that scientists are less likely to brush out the bedhead in the morning.
3) Scientists are nerds. This is true. Mostly (there are always a couple of exceptions). Otherwise we wouldn't be scientists in the first place.
4) Scientists are all anti-social deviants who universally aspire to mad, crazed experiments. This may be true. We all have our moments where we indulge ourselves in a cinematic mad scientist trope. But by in large, scientists are just dangerous people who are better kept busy in the lab than bored on the street (consider: since scientists are generally inclined to want to know how things work, how safe would it be if all scientists were working from non-standardized improvised laboratories?).
5) Scientists have bad hygiene. This is only true if we have a shitton of data that needs to be crunched into a grant application or presentation by tomorrow. Therefore, this is always true because there is always a shitton of data to go through. However, it is not true so long as one does not consider the standard of hygiene to include several daily facial scrubs, moisturizers, daily shaving, perfume, and ironed clothing. In conclusion, our bad hygiene isn't nearly so bad as it is often made out to be.
Huh. I started this post out with a point in mind. And then somewhere I lost it. As such, I apologize for rambling.
Typical scientist pictures!!!!1!:
Oh, wait, they uploaded to the top...