ADELAIDE, Australia – Media depictions of scientists historically show white men in white lab coats acting rather bizarrely. While modern media portrayals of scientists have expanded to include females, the “mad scientist” stereotype persists, continuing to suggest that genius is inherently linked to mental instability and odd behavior. Take the popular CBS show, The Big Bang Theory, for example. All of the show’s characters – male or female – are highly eccentric to say the least. Despite the comedic value of these characters’ quirks, recent research conducted by the University of South Australia and the Australian Catholic University suggests that portraying scientists as odd and eccentric individuals may thwart kids’ desire to pursue a career in science.
In the study, researchers asked a group of children, ages 9 to 10, several questions related to their future job plans and perception of scientists. These questions included: what job they wanted to have when they grew up, whether they wanted to be a scientist, what scientists do for work, and what scientists look like.
Progress, But ‘Long Way To Go’
Fortunately, most children believe that a scientist can be either a man or a woman, suggesting that gender stereotypes may be fading. However, it is important to note that this study was conducted in Australia, which recently developed a number of initiatives to normalize women in science. As a result, these opinions may not reflect those of children in the United States.
Despite the lack of gender stereotypes, researchers found that the majority of kids (55%) do not want to be a scientist when they grow up. Perhaps of greater concern, almost 40% of children said they “did not like” science, and that science is “boring” or “weird.”
“It’s two steps forward, one step back – gender stereotypes may be in decline, but we still have a long way to go if we are to get children to understand the role of a modern scientist,” explains UniSA researcher Dr. Garth Stahl in a statement. “The notion of science being ‘weird’, ‘unusual’, ‘dangerous’ and ‘challenging’, is a barrier that we still need to tackle, with many kids feeling that a career in science could be too difficult or high-pressure for them to achieve.”
The study is published in the International Journal of Inclusive Education.