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« when science narratives go bad | Main | FROM THE ARCHIVES: reality bites »


What a neat idea for a study! Comparing responses about scientists to those about doctors or lawyers would do more than just disguise the purpose, I think, it would provide a great context for the public perception of scientists as compared to other professions.

I'm curious about the fourth-grade circuit class. The kids may not have believed the grad students were scientists, but did they learn some actual science? I wonder if it's better to create separate projects to address those two goals, or if it's desirable to have the same project teach both who scientists are and what science is . . .

Curious tangent: I've done science outreach throughout grad school, and I think it was only somewhere in my fourth year that I started telling kids "I'm a marine biologist" instead of "I'm a grad student." I've had several conversations with fellow grads about how we identify ourselves to people we meet--as scientists or students? There's a lot of uncertainty.

Chad Orzel has a nice post about Broader Impacts at: where he touches on a lot of good points I didn't get to in this article.

Hi Danna: Education research is so hard! The kids learn more by doing rather than listening to and it's unclear to us whether the kids learned more because they had scientists working with them or because there were more people in the room and thus each set of kids had more help. I mean, one person trying to do anything hands on with thirty fourth graders is insane.
The place we've seen an impact from the scientists is in middle and high school classes, where the scientists are real-life models of the scientific method when something doesn't work the way it is supposed to. Scientists are inherently comfortable with things not working because (let's face it)that's the way our real lives work most of the time, right?
The scientists start troubleshooting and that is where the kids really learn something about discovery and attacking a problem that you don't already know the answer to.
Our graduate students had similar qualms about calling themselves scientists. They felt (especially the women) that they were somehow being presumptuous using that title before they had their degrees. I think it's really important that we make sure grad students understand that an important part of their education is becoming part of the community. That's a process, not a step function that happens when you defend your thesis. You become part of the community when you start your study and you strengthen those bonds every time you read a journal article,give a paper at a conference or have a scientific talk with someone in a hallway. We are all, even twenty years after getting the Ph.D., in the process of becoming scientists. You ARE a scientist and I encourage you to make that point when you are doing outreach.
Sorry - bit of a rant here, but after nine years of running a project that places graduate students in the schools (, I have so many results I haven't written up yet that really need to get out there!

I don't watch a lot of TV, but the one show that does come to mind? Eureka. Yes, they take some liberties, but the show is about scientists. A non-insignificant number of them are female scientists, which makes me happy. The entire lab? Run by a woman who is smart, struggles to balance work and home (like the main male character), is a parent - all the kinds of things real people have to do.

In a presentation for teachers, I recently used the images on television to discuss nature of science and the idea that students come to classrooms with preconceived notions of what a scientist is and what he or she does. These notions affect the way children think about and learn science. In addition precious few of the images depict women. Google images of scientists from cartoons, movies and television and see what happens!

I would add to your proposal, Diandra, that we survey elementary students -- it would certainly add to the data that's been collected by many through the "draw and scientist" protocol. Not one of my favorites because it never parses out the real issues -- it's almost a foregone conclusion because of the medium.

As one who has struggled with these issues over many years of formal and informal science education, I'd love to work with Vicki and whoever else is interested -- Vicki has certainly added her expertise to our own research at the Magnet Lab!

Johnny Test's twin sisters are genius scientists who use Johnny as a lab rat. It's one of my 8-yo son's favorite shows. And the sisters are gorgeous. Cartoons, but gorgeous.

So...maybe the next generation of 4th graders will associate gorgeous red-heads as scientists.

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Thanks for the responses, Diandra! This is great: "The scientists start troubleshooting and that is where the kids really learn something about discovery and attacking a problem that you don't already know the answer to." Totally! I also love it when kids ask a really basic natural history question (usually about some obscure marine invertebrate in the tidepools) and I can tell them: NOBODY knows the answer to that. You could be the one to find out!

Project Fulcrum sounds very cool. I look forward to hearing more about it in future posts/articles/etc.

Who wouldn't want to be Dr. Doofenshmirtz?! He's a guy who clearly loves his work and doesn't give up in the face of adversity. I doubt he'd score well on the love interest scale, though.

Regarding your study, it seems to me that you're going to run into an issue of distinguishing between how people feel about a person and how they feel about the person's profession, which won't be the same. To take an extreme example, it's easy for someone to think that Bob Knight is a fantastic basketball coach while simultaneously thinking he's a pluperfect jerk. Likewise, people will like George Clooney even if he's playing a criminal... or worse, a scientist!

So just like your grade school experience, the question is whether they attribute any positive or negative impressions of the character to the fact that they're a scientist. To make it worse, many people probably have a very constrained/distorted idea of what a scientist is. For example, my gut tells me that most people don't think of the CSI characters as scientists... they are law enforcement. But they probably think the hackers in Transformers were scientists... because they were smart and worked with computers or something.

Like you said at the bottom, you'd want to disguise the study by including other professions as well. I would take it a step further and not mention professions at all and ask respondents to self-report what profession the character has. But you'd still have to figure out how to tie the responses to the profession, and I don't know how to do that.

I would like to mention one of the more 'famous' scientists on TV:

Prof. Frink on The Simpsons

Just my $0.02, lol!

This was a very interesting post. I'm not a scientist (I'm an Historian), but my daughter wants to be one. She totally looks up to scientists. Her love of science began with her taking a science experiments class "Wonders of Science" offered through the community services of our city. She's 10 yrs. old and I'm excited to think she may pursue science. Thanks for the thought-provoking post.

Great idea for a study!
The first scientist that comes to mind is Abby on NCIS. She literally runs the entire lab, single-handedly, giving the impression that science is *that* easy. Perhaps that's the drawback!

You're kidding, right? Like the ENTIRE CSI oeuvre is filled with HOT scientists of both genders. And they solve crimes and carry guns and everything!!!!

OK. I can stop channeling a 13-year-old now.

My guess is that these kids aren't allowed to watch the "hot" scientists -- yet.
As for me, Marg Helgenberger still has "it".

I love watching CSI just for Marg Helgenberger..

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    Physics Cocktails

    • Heavy G
      The perfect pick-me-up when gravity gets you down.
      2 oz Tequila
      2 oz Triple sec
      2 oz Rose's sweetened lime juice
      7-Up or Sprite
      Mix tequila, triple sec and lime juice in a shaker and pour into a margarita glass. (Salted rim and ice are optional.) Top off with 7-Up/Sprite and let the weight of the world lift off your shoulders.
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      The perfect nightcap after a long day struggling with QED equations.
      1 oz dark rum
      1/2 oz light rum
      1 oz Tia Maria
      2 oz light cream
      Crushed ice
      1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
      In a shaker half-filled with ice, combine the dark and light rum, Tia Maria, and cream. Shake well. Strain into an old fashioned glass almost filled with crushed ice. Dust with the nutmeg, and serve. Bongos optional.
    • Combustible Edison
      Electrify your friends with amazing pyrotechnics!
      2 oz brandy
      1 oz Campari
      1 oz fresh lemon juice
      Combine Campari and lemon juice in shaker filled with cracked ice. Shake and strain into chilled cocktail glass. Heat brandy in chafing dish, then ignite and pour into glass. Cocktail Go BOOM! Plus, Fire = Pretty!
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      Dr. Strangelove's drink of choice.
      3/4 Triple sec
      1/4 oz Bailey's Irish Cream
      2-3 drops Grenadine
      Fill shot glass 3/4 with Triple Sec. Layer Bailey's on top. Drop Grenadine in center of shot; it should billow up like a mushroom cloud. Remember to "duck and cover."
    • Mad Scientist
      Any mad scientist will tell you that flames make drinking more fun. What good is science if no one gets hurt?
      1 oz Midori melon liqueur
      1-1/2 oz sour mix
      1 splash soda water
      151 proof rum
      Mix melon liqueur, sour mix and soda water with ice in shaker. Shake and strain into martini glass. Top with rum and ignite. Try to take over the world.
    • Laser Beam
      Warning: may result in amplified stimulated emission.
      1 oz Southern Comfort
      1/2 oz Amaretto
      1/2 oz sloe gin
      1/2 oz vodka
      1/2 oz Triple sec
      7 oz orange juice
      Combine all liquor in a full glass of ice. Shake well. Garnish with orange and cherry. Serve to attractive target of choice.
    • Quantum Theory
      Guaranteed to collapse your wave function:
      3/4 oz Rum
      1/2 oz Strega
      1/4 oz Grand Marnier
      2 oz Pineapple juice
      Fill with Sweet and sour
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      So called because after one of these, you have already passed the event horizon of inebriation.
      1 oz. Kahlua
      1 oz. vodka
      .5 oz. Cointreau or Triple Sec
      .5 oz. dark rum
      .5 oz. Amaretto
      Pour into an old-fashioned glass over (scant) ice. Stir gently. Watch time slow.