Good-looking? Feminine? Then people may not think you're a scientist, according to a paper in the journal Sex Roles. As science writer Matt Shipman recently put it on his blog, the findings are "disappointing — frankly, they make me sad."
For their work, researchers exposed volunteers to a series of photos of male and female faculty members in STEM fields. Study participants were asked to rate the photos on attractiveness, likability, whether the subjects were masculine or feminine and whether it was likely they were a scientist.
The study found that both men and women judged as attractive were less likely to be deemed a scientist, and that, in the words of Shipman, "the more feminine a woman looked, the less likely she was to be considered a scientist – and the more likely she was to be deemed a teacher or journalist."
Shipman sees the work, which came out this winter, as both an important reminder and a call for action:
This paper – even accounting for the study’s limitations regarding sample size and racial homogeneity – drives home something I’ve said before: the way we present science and scientists matters. When people think of scientists they often think of old white guys. That’s changing, but we’re still not close to parity. And if young women feel that they would have to change who they are to fit into the scientific community, they are unlikely to want to become part of that community.
There is no single solution to this issue. But there is clearly a need for widespread, creative communication efforts designed to influence the way people see and think about scientists. If you’re reading this blog, you presumably have an interest in science communication. And I think it behooves everyone involved in science communication to think about this issue and try to identify ways – large and small – that we can contribute to positive change. I don’t know what the answers are, but I do know we should be looking for them.
Previously: Science enthusiasts flock to #IAmAScientistBecause and #BeyondMarieCurie on Twitter, Nature issues reminder that "equality in science is a battle still far from won" and Women authorship of top medical articles continues to lag, new study shows
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