Why are scientists still such a PR disaster?

Dr Jenny Rohn

Monday, October 19 2009 at 7:30PM

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283 High Holborn

Dr Jenny Rohn

What's the talk about?

Scientists as a group call up very specific images in the public imagination, typically not very flattering ones. This distorted view is reflected in depictions of scientists in fiction, but also tends to spill over into how they are portrayed in more factual accounts, such as documentaries and in the news media. In a world growing increasingly reliant on the latest scientific, medical and technological advances, possibly for its very survival, the expert accounts of scientists are nevertheless often simply disbelieved, which could be due in part to the unease and distrust that the prevailing stereotypes engender. The meme of scientists as out-of-touch/cold/arrogant/mad meddlers has ancient roots and has evolved in interesting ways to the present day. But whose fault is all this – are scientists themselves partially to blame? If people knew the truth about what modern scientists are really like and really do, would science as a whole be a more sympathetic, persuasive profession? And if so, how we can turn it around – and is it even possible? 

Jennifer Rohn is a biologist at the MRC Laboratory for Molecular Cell Biology at University College London and is a part-time novelist, science communicator and the Editor of LabLit. A lapsed American, Jenny appears occasionally on TV, radio, documentaries, podcasts, live panels and in print as a science/lit/art/culture pundit, and blogs about the scientific lifestyle at Mind the Gap on Nature Network. She is the author of a novel about scientists, Experimental Heart, and her writing has appeared in magazines such as Nature, Science Online, The Scientist, Chemistry & Industry, Bioessays, and The Biochemist.

Image from WhyScience.co.uk

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