I was just reading through my friends page and came across the latest offering from Bad Astronomy, 'Scientists are...' (http://www.slate.com/blogs/bad_astronomy/2013/12/04/search_engine_bias_scientists_are.html
). In this article Phil Plait is worrying about the bad rep scientists seem to have via Google search autocomplete.
Scientists being idiots, liberal and liars as the top three options listed. The perception of scientists and scientists perceptions of other peoples perceptions of scientists is a topic close to my heart as a scientist and a science communicator so I had some opinions on this article!
Granted, the options shown are not generally the most flattering but I wondered how other professions fared with the same test.
Teachers are overpaid
Lawyers are liars, evil
(no surprises there I
Authors are rockstars , dead
also listed alphabetically
Chefs are arrogant
Actors are overpaid
Politicians are corrupt
Footballers are awesome
Sales people are scum
Mechanics are crooks
Police are useless
I could go on, but you get the picture. Scientists are not alone in having their profession disparaged. Maybe it's because I interact with a lot of scientists that I see it more, but I do see a lot more complaining by scientists than other professions about how 'the public' sees them. In fact, after having carried out a study on 10 year old children and reading many other studies, I feel I can say with reasonable confidence say that most people think of scientists as people who work in science.
All professions have their stereotypes and the people in those professions are as diverse, character-wise, as any other arbitrary group.
I have mixed feelings on the promotion of science and scientists. On the one hand I think it is important for professions to be visible, so children can decide if they like them and so 'the public' can see how they affect them socially. On the other hand I don't think this persecution complex on the part of scientists is something that is at all helpful to be holding on to. Neither is the promotion of science as the perfect objective lens through which the world must be viewed. Science is important, but so is history and politics and law and all these other subjects. We are not one dimensional beings, nor is 'the public' a cohesive whole. Trying to treat people like that smacks of condescension which doesn't help anybody's cause at all.
This post is not meant as a complaint about Plait specifically, but his article is another in a long line of similar ones I have seen and pushed me to post my own thoughts on the matter. If anyone's still reading, you might like some more posts I have planned on children's perceptions of scientists. I have got my dissertation back and am now free to post it where I like so there will be some of the better extracts from it coming soon (
when I am not too lazy
). There will also be pictures drawn by the children, which are frankly the best part.
If anyone wants to join in with more professions do so in the comments!