The standard operating image of a scientist is that of an introspect. The scientist is often times a loner. When he does have a supporting cast they are often times just as quirky, if not more, than he. The scientist keeps to himself, most of the time, unless his work requires him to venture outside. He prefers to work in a laboratory with few or no distractions. These labs, it appears, usually lack any sort of window to the outside unless applicable to the work, even further reinforcing the scientist isolationism. In the images, the scientist is often times doing chemistry related work; perhaps even alchemy! White lab coats seem to be the clothing of choice among our scientists, however those without lab coats are not well dressed; perhaps because they’d rather spend time with their work over extra time dressing in the morning. In half of the images our scientists appear to have spiked or greatly disheveled hair, maybe because they haven’t had time for anything other than work or sleep in quite a long while. Eye glasses are also a common theme throughout many of the images, and of course spectacles have long be associated with educated persons. So from these images we can conclude that at least the common University of Oklahoma student has the following common ideas of a scientist doing science: They keep to themselves while working, feel that their work is much more important than their looks and hygiene and sometimes sleep, and can sometimes be driven mad. Their experiments often involve chemistry and they are almost all very learned individuals.
Now it is time to address the three outliers of the group which, for the most part, go against the entire previous statement. It must be said however that these are attempts at creativity more than actualizations of it. In reality they are merely projections of scientific themes of popular culture. Firstly, the spaceship and three men: alien life has yet to be proven to exist so from the beginning this piece is more conjecture than fact. Moving to the three men, we have the treasure-hunter (Indiana Jones style character), the greedy and impatient investor (he’s always there in some form as a secondary or tertiary character), and the quasi-scientist (a la Special Agent Scully, an educated person who uses their skills to chase dreams more than ideas). Next is the image of the man working outside near the tree. While there is no denying that environmentalism can be a science any person raised in America during the late eighties through to the mid nineties grew up with Smokey the Bear telling us to be careful with our environment, the images of the rainforests of Brazil being destroyed, and the television newscasters telling us of the hippies stopping logging in rural Washington State because they’d bunkered down at the top of a tree or tied themselves to the front of a backhoe. Finally the image of cloning a sheep; there is perhaps no more well known singular story of science in all the 20th century. Any person in some relatively stable state of consciousness in 1997 would recall this and recognize this image as a complete allusion to the event.
A class of seven or eight year olds today would likely incorporate the images purported in the cartoons and movies they watch and the books which they read. I can imagine that it is likely there would be many Harry Potter inspired characters of science and the like. Just as our generation have been inspired by Bill Nye the Science Guy and Pinky the Brain the next generation will as be heavily influenced by the media of which they are exposed to. One main difference between ages though would likely be the sociality of said scientists. A young person is much more likely to represent any event as particularly social, so we could imagine seeing more than just singular persons in said drawings. The images which we as a people develop are those which our social unconscious has absorbed throughout our existence. We are influenced by what is around us and what is around us is influenced by us.
This article originally written February 12th, 2008 for OU HSCI 1133 - Science and Popular Culture.