Thursday, January 12, 2006

Scientists: "Mad, bad, and dangerous to know"

That is the public perception of the modern scientist. Drawn from 1960s iconography the public perception of the scientist is one part Albert Einstein, one part Dr. Frankenstein, and zero parts cool.
There is, perhaps unsurprisingly, a rather wide disconnect between the public's perception of scientists and scientific research and reality. "The image of the mad scientist, free to do his own thing in a laboratory near you, is a far cry from the reality of scientific life, which is dependent on rather more mundane concerns."

Overcoming this gap will require a commitment from the scientific community to communicate with the public, and to make themselves, as well as their research, accessible. And, in turn, the public needs to make an effort to purge itself of what sometimes appears to be willful scientific evidence.

I wonder, more than half seriously, whether this isn’t one information disconnect that neither side is overly anxious to correct. The image of the scientist, mad as a hatter, running around inside a laboratory as beakers bubble over and lightening flashes, is a clear myth. As is the belief that scientific research has become so esoteric and specialized that it is entirely inaccessible to the public.

But if the public isn't willing to put forth the effort to learn, and if the professional scientists would prefer to be left to themselves (preferably in relatively clean, sunny labs), then who is there to put a stop to the perpetuation of these myths? And does anybody even really care?


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