Is the media shaping us or do we shape the media?

by Juliane

I often find the presentation of science and scientists in the media quite biased. This might be because I am female and for a long time have had a hard time seeing a person like myself portrayed in popular media. However, the presentation of scientists in the media can be an interesting reflection on how society perceives both our jobs, personalities and characters. Quite a few other people are interested in this too and in fact there even is a scientific journal for just this topic.

I don’t own a TV, instead I use Netflix. Following from that I am mostly interested in the presentation of science and scientists in movies and TV dramas.

Because of that, I was surprised when I came across this article by Jennifer Welsh. I admit that I didn’t know that Dancing With The Stars was still a thing. It is great that a scientist is considered to be a star (however, after 17 seasons they could just be desperate). However, he isn’t exactly a scientist. He isn’t doing any active scientific research; he promotes science and is doing a tremendous job in this difficult but so important and valuable field. He is funny, educational and perfectly fits into the stereotype of a scientist as described in the Draw-a-Scientist Test and promoted by the media whenever possible: an older, white man, who is a little eccentric. To paraphrase Jennifer Welsh, Bill Nye allowed dancing with the stars to reduce him to “a scientist”, not a human being who happens to work in science; so once again he is the face of science to the American public, the “SCIENTIST TM”.

old, white and male=scientist

There (still) is an interesting astronomy program in the UK, broadcasted for decades on the BBC, hosted by a scientist called Patrick Moore, who fits the stereotype to a dot: he is old, white and slightly eccentric.

He died in December last year.

not old, white, not male ≠ scientist

The new hosts are a female solar researcher and a young astrophysicist. Unfortunately there are rumors that the show is to be cancelled. They haven’t lost many viewers in the last 8 months, but it seems that without the stereotypical scientist presenting, the BBC does not seem to believe in the show any more.

This is another example of how only older men with beards can possibly be wise enough to educate us about science.

Scientists actually do a lot to change the public face of science and it works!


Sometimes I do a Google image search for scientists; I am actually quite happy to see that about half of the scientists presented in the results are female.

Strangely enough, they all seem to be working in a molecular biology lab with colorful liquids. (colorful liquids are a topic for another time). However, there are still no pictures of minority scientists or scientists, who don’t actually do their research in a laboratory. The public perception of science is definitely changing, with women now featuring much more prominently. This is also seen in changing scores in the Draw-a-Scientist Test. But we are still a long way away from the public accepting us as a diverse group of normal people.

In the end, maybe we are only looking at it from our own perspective and need to collectively work much harder to convince the other side (media, public) to give ‘alternative’ scientists a chance.

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