Representations of Scientists.pdf - FROM FAUST TO...

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FROM FAUST TO STRANCiELOVE Representations of the Scientist in Western Literature ROSLYNN D. HAYNES TIH! JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY PRESS BALTIMORE ANO LONDON
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INTRODUCTION Popular belief and behavior are influenced more by images than by demon- strable facts. Very few actual scientists (Isaac Newton, Marie Curie, and Albert Einstein are the only significant exceptions) have contributed to the popular image of" the scientist." On the other hand, fictional characters such as Dr. Faustus, Dr . Frankenstein, Dr. Moreau, Dr. Jekyll, Dr. Caligari, and Dr. Strangelove have been extremely influential in the evolution of the unattrac- tive stereotypes that continue in uneasy coexistence with the manifest de- pendence of Western society on its scientists. Surveys conducted among various social groups to evaluate how sci- entists are generally perceived have invariably yielded results that indicate an almost wholly negative estimate, in relation to both scientists as a group nnd the contribution they make to the community . Such an evaluation seems sharply at odds with the self-image cherished by the scientists themselves, the majority of whom regard their activities as both reputable and socially beneficent. On the other hand, the images conveyed by the survey answers bear a remarkable resemblance to literary representations of scientists, many of them centuries old and apparently irrelevant to their modem ana- logues. In 1957 Margaret Mead and Rhoda Metraux carried out a pilot study to ossess how scientists were regarded among high school students in the United States. They reported that although at an "official level" most stu- d nts commented positively about the public role of scientists, their answers lo questions involving their own personal choices about a career in science or about a scientist as marriage partner conveyed an "overwhelmingly neg- live" image. 1 More recent surveys of younger children in several different untries have come up with very similar findings. Scientists drawn or described by primary school students are almost invariably male (99.4 per- cnt),2 middle-aged or older, either bald or having a large mass of hair in the tyle of Einstein (see fig. 1). What is more disturbing, they are nearly always d •picted as working alone and in isolated laboratories; and where the object
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2 FROM FAUST TO STRANGELOVE FIGURE 1. The Scientist, a recurrent image indicated in public opinion surveys . of their research is indicated it is usually conspicuously labeled as "secret" or "dangerous." This deep-rooted suspicion about scientists is not confined to children. In 1975 surveys measuring the public perception of scientists were conducted among readers of New Scientist and New Society. While the scientist readers who responded considered scientists to be "typically ap- proachable, sociable, open, unconventional, socially responsible, and popu- lar with broad interests, nonscientist readers saw them as typically the op- posite." There was also an overwhelming gender bias in the replies,3 which accords with the gender distribution
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