America’s Unrequited Love of Scientists

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The American public loves science, but scientists don’t love the American public back. The Pew Center for People & the Press reports that Americans hold scientists in high esteem, while “many scientists offer unfavorable, if not critical, assessments of the public’s knowledge and expectations.” (The Pew Center offers a test to see how you well your knowledge stacks up to the rest of the American public.)

The admiration given to scientists is also mixed with fear, Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum write for Salon. Americans tend to view scientists “as idiosyncratic nerds or actively the villains,” in the words of Hollywood director James Cameron. That’s an unhealthy place for science in American culture. Kirshenbaum and Mooney write that the wide canon of movies depicting mad scientists hell-bent on destroying the world has fostered a deep mistrust of scientists in real life.

Many scientists blame the media for the science’s image problems. Almost half of scientists polled by the Pew Center believe that media oversimplification is a “major problem.” The flaw in that view, according to Kirshenbaum and Mooney, is that real science would make for really boring movies. Scientists need to “connect with Hollywood on its own terms,” Kirshenbaum and Mooney write, and help them see that science doesn’t need to be the enemy to make a good film. Then, perhaps, science in the public could live happily ever after.

Sources: Pew CenterSalon

Image adapted from a photo by pfala, licensed under Creative Commons.

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