Ah, a lab coat  and  a telescope. Perfect.

Ah, a lab coat and a telescope. Perfect.

I actually don't blame Hollywood for perpetuating the typical scientist stereotype. You know how it goes: the crazy white-haired, white-coated man alone in a laboratory full of beakers and bubbling fluids and way too many keyboard and monitors. The genius scientist who works completely by themselves and apparently doesn't publish much who is either prophesying doom or desperately trying to save the Earth. Always alone, and rarely listened to.

I don't blame Hollywood producers, writers, or directors for this stereotype for two reasons. One, I assume that like most people they are very busy and working under way too tight of a deadline for way too little pay and basically just want to get the job done so that they can go home and relax. Hence they don't really want to bother digging in and researching what scientist do and how they act and how they work. To be perfectly honest I personally have very little conception of how producers and writers and directors work except from what I've learned through Hollywood movies, so I should be fair.

Second, writers and directors are a part of the general public, and just simply stated flat-out, the general public has a very limited conception of how scientists work and what they do and how they do it. And so the writers and directors in Hollywood are just reflecting the general lack of knowledge from the public. So it seems a little unfair to go after just one segment of the public when it's a general ignorance that needs to be cured.

So let's start with some medicine.

For starters, almost no scientist works alone. Collaboration is the name of the game. Whether it's with a colleague down the hall or an international team of a thousand of your peers, science is done through sheer teamwork. Just browse your favorite academic journal if you have any doubt and look at the authors of those papers. How many single author papers do you see? Essentially none. Even if it's just between an advisor and a student, that's still a collaborative relationship.

Also, scientists are some of the best communicators you'll ever meet. After all, a big chunk of their job is devoted to convincing their peers that their peers are wrong and they are right. This requires not a little bit of - you guessed it - communication. Emails, papers, letters, talks, posters, hallway conversations, coffee chats, and yes sometimes even full-blown emotional arguments. If a scientist doesn't communicate they are effectively invisible. And If they're invisible they don't get cited and they don't get grant money. Which means they don't get to be a scientist anymore

Lastly, scientists are surprisingly kind of sort of normal people. Not eccentric weirdos with odd hygiene and personal habits and an inability to muster even basic social skills. No, they're just...people. All sorts of different shapes and sizes and colors and interest and hobbies and passions and personalities. When scientists aren’t doing their day job, which is science, they’re doing other things that give them happy and fulfilling lives, like rock climbing and raising families. Just like hairdressers and accountants, and other not-scientist professions.

In fact, I'm willing to bet that today there was a good chance that you walked by at least one scientist on the street and you didn't even know it. So if you want to know what a typical scientist looks like, just look in the mirror.


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