Friday, August 24, 2007

Scientists: too geeky

Even before Sputnik, scientists and policy makers worried that not enough Americans were studying science. In August 1957, two months before the Soviets launched their satellite, Science magazine published a survey of high-school students’ images of scientists, conducted by Margaret Mead (yes, that one) and Rhoda Métraux. Students, they found, thought scientists were important. “Without science we would still be living in caves,” was a common sentiment. But they didn’t want to become scientists or (a question asked only of girls) to marry one. Scientists were just too weird.

Two things: They're right, and they're wrong. Scientists are an odd bunch because of the nature of the work. It's detailed and often tedious work that requires a certain amount of obsessive-compulsive disorder to spend hours and hours preparing an experiment or measuring thousands of sherds. And a certain amount of solitude is required for reading and writing.

OTOH, Hollywood does have a stereotype that it likes to play to that the post mentions. Yeah, we're all willing to turn ourselves into flies to "advance the science". They mention CSI which a lot of forensic people hate, but on balance I think it's a good show because the characters aren't all that weird. A bit too typically heroic, but they're usually shown doing the sort of detailed (boring) work that science requires.

There is that thing with the beards though. . . . .