The Perception of Scientists

So, I realize this post is long overdue, but I feel it’s still important that I write about what I consider to be the most important challenge to overcoming chemophobia: America believes that scientists are antisocial wimps who are on a leash held by some evil corporate overlord.

Honestly, the thought occurred to me when I was reading the webcomic Questionable Content a few months back. There was a tangential story arc in which the characters visited a space station (out of context, this sounds quite strange), one of which featured this comic:

QC comic

More importantly, the caption read:

Scienceweight is one division up from Mistakeweight and one division below Kittenweight.

Now don’t get me wrong, if he wants to write characters that are total dorks, that is A-OK with me. His comic is his creation, but the caption exists outside of the “QC Universe” as he calls it. I didn’t appreciate the implication that a kitten could generally beat up a scientist. It’s not even the case that I can name some scientists who are buff: the large majority of scientists that I know and interact with are perfectly well-socialized and I’d like to think that the bulk of us are no less physically fit than any other trade. Sure, I’m no prizefighter, but I’m not a kitten either.

Pictured above: Just a few chemists who could all totally kick a kitten’s ass.

“But Marshall, surely you must know that stereotypes exist for a reason! There must be more examples of dorky, sunlight-fearing chemists than those who can be classified as ‘normal!'” Bull. There was once a day when chemistry, dare I say science as a whole, was the cool thing to do. Back when NASA was the ideal workplace for any kid, there wasn’t this weird bias against scientists. Let’s face it, things have changed: back in BASF’s glory days, being a chemist was a well-respected position. Now I get accused of not having a personality when I tell the barista at Starbucks that I’m a scientist.

There are not words to express how awesome this picture is. V8, really?

So is this really damaging to our field? Certainly. Kids who grow up thinking that scientists are nerds (alright, many of us are, but when was that a bad thing?!) grow up thinking that math and science are either too hard or something that they are “too cool” to do. Those kids then grow up to be students of other disciplines, which is great, except when they then get to be congressmen who don’t understand the things that they have to decide whether to fund or not. Hell, in Europe the funding of synthetic organic chemistry was all but outlawed, and I can’t see a reason for that other than pure ignorance.

Dearest readers, what do you think? Am I full of it? Or have you ever been on a date, revealed your trade and suddenly been treated like some sort of madman? I’m not sure what we can do to combat this image, I would be delighted to hear suggestions.


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