If I were to describe you in one word, there’s a fair chance that you would take issue with what I say. It’s not that I’m inherently mean or that I’ll offend you. Instead, the problem is that one word is not enough. One paragraph or even one page isn’t enough. In reality, it would take a lot of words to describe you as a person in a way that you would be satisfied with. Likewise, I’m sure that you’d notice if someone were to describe you with a term that you feel doesn’t fully capture you as a person.
Obviously, we are biased to notice these things when they are about us or other aspects of life that we are intimately familiar with. For myself, this is what I frequently see with the domain of science and mathematics.
What happens is that the people inside these domains are often seen as brainiacs that think on a level above the general population. They think that those who do science are cold and analytical, not wanting to feel the emotions from art and literature like those who pursue the liberal arts. You can tell that this sort of thing happens when it permeates culture as the stereotypes we employ.
Obviously, stereotypes only show one portion of truth (and that’s being optimistic). For science and scientists, the stereotype of a really smart person (and specifically, a white male) is one that is damaging to the scientific community as a whole and needs to be rectified. I fit squarely in that stereotype (well, maybe not the smart part), but I still want to have a more inclusive environment for scientists.
I’ve written about it before and I’ll say it again: if you’re curious about the universe we live in and want to find the best explanations that we can find about, you have the qualities of a scientist. It’s as simple as that. Notice that there’s nothing in there about the “kind” of person you should be, except for the curious part. You can be male or female, land anywhere on the spectrum for skin pigments or sexual orientation. Diversity is there, and science (ideally) has the capacity to accommodate everyone.
It saddens me when the stereotype of scientists is in full force, because it takes away from the brilliant work those who don’t fit the stereotype do. They are an integral part of the science community, and this should be clear.
Therefore, we have a responsibility in how we present the scientific community. If the people who do outreach and public communication are only of the stereotype, the truth is that it will continue. I know that puts me in an awkward position, but I trust that I can work at showing the diversity that is present (or could be) in science.
Science is an idea, a mindset, and a process. It’s a framework to view the world, and that has nothing to do with the physical properties of those that do it. Science is for everyone. You don’t have to be amazingly smart (trust me, I’ve met my fair share of both smart and less smart people), and you shouldn’t have to be of a particular demographic. There’s still work to be done, but I know that we can restore the public perception of diversity in science if we work hard at it.
Let’s get to work.