What if Tom Cruise were a scientist?

Scientists still have an image problem. According to a recent survey by the Science Learning Centre in London, kids aged 11-15 value science, but do not see themselves as contributing as scientists. The BBC has an article about it here.

Researchers Roni Malek and Fani Stylianidou are completing their research in April but have analysed around half the responses so far.

They found around 80% of pupils thought scientists did “very important work” and 70% thought they worked “creatively and imaginatively”. Only 40% said they agreed that scientists did “boring and repetitive work”.

Over three quarters of the respondents thought scientists were “really brainy people”.

The research is being undertaken as part of Einstein Year.

Among those who said they would not like to be scientists, reasons included: “Because you would constantly be depressed and tired and not have time for family”, and “because they all wear big glasses and white coats and I am female”.

The article goes on to relate the belief in the stereotype to the decline in A-level exam takers and A-level test scores. (A-levels are advanced exit exams for UK learners, by the way.)

Similar attitudes prevail here in the States. The popular image of a scientist is either a harmless (male) eccentric, as in Robin Williams in Flubber, or a demoniacal (male) misanthrope, as in Willem Dafoe in Spiderman, to name but a few. Non-stereotypical models are rarely seen, at least as lead characters in the movies and TV.

Would science be viewed differently by the public if Tom Cruise professed to be a scientist instead of a Scientologist? Or if the next Nobel Prize winner looked like Charlize Theron?

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