What do you think about when you imagine a ‘scientist’?

Perhaps you know scientists in your immediate circle. You may have colleagues, friends or family who are scientists. You know what they look like.

When you do not know a scientist personally, you can of course just google it! And this is where it goes wrong.

A recent analysis by freelance ‘impact communications consultant’ Veronica White reveals a shocking image of the world’s scientists.

Do all scientists wear lab coats? (image credit: Veronica White)

Veronica came to this conclusion with a very simple experiment, following the scientific model, as she explains in the infographic. This means that you can easily repeat her study, using nothing else than the computer or phone you are using to read this blog article, and access to Google.

Try it for yourself, I did!

Shocked by the statistics I repeated the experiment myself. We all know that the Google algorithm heavily personalises its results, so surely it would look different on my screen.

Screenshot of Google image search of ‘scientist’ by the author, 26 January 2022, click to try for yourself!

Ok, so Veronica is right (of course she is). Like many of our readers I very rarely see scientists wearing lab coats, goggles and gloves. Of course they exist, also in space science, but not for 92%. Without any research, I dare to estimate that it is probably the other way around, where more than 92% of scientists never wear a white lab coat!

This is how the world sees scientists

I think this is a problem for science communicators. This simple infographic tells us something about how the world perceives scientists and science. Science is stuck in sterile labs, where you need to protect yourself from dangerous ‘science stuff’ wearing goggles and plastic gloves. It is like science is a dangerous virus that we need to shield ourselves from, like when studying Covid-19.

This is not the image we want when we work in outreach to encourage kids for an exciting career in science. We want scientists to be depicted as the people they are. People like you and me, who dress like you and me and do cool stuff in a wide variety of labs, offices and outdoor spaces. Science is about the real world around us. Not just sterile labs.

Stop using stereotypical images

Please stop using these stereotypical images of chemistry and microbiology laboratory researchers as our image of all scientists. Let’s depict scientists as the cool and varied people they really are. Perhaps kids are more willing to consider science as a career when you do not need to dress up…

You can’t be what you can’t see

During my – very short – research, I was very happy to find that the first non-lab-coat-wearing scientist on free image search site Pexels.com (that many of us science communicators use for our license-free images) is space scientist Vinita Marwaha Madill, a space engineer at Mission Control Space Services and the founder of Rocket Women.

This is a ‘scientist’ (Photo by ThisIsEngineering on Pexels.com)

The Rocket Women website perfectly reflects the message of Veronica’s image and this blog post: “You can’t be what you can’t see”. So let’s make the real scientists visible in all their diversity!

You can’t be what you can’t see (click to see the original on rocket-women.com)

Thank you Veronica for making me (and hopefully all others who see your infographic) think about the visual image of our work domain!

Follow @Veronicaa_White on Twitter for more of her amazing infographics!

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