Scientist Selfies: The Social Media Experiment

Can social media help change the public image of scientists?

Ask anyone to describe what a scientist looks like and, more often than not, you’ll hear the words “lab coat”… or something akin to it. No one ever notices the jelly-bean Doc Martens. That wouldn’t match the serious, focused, and aloof characteristics usually perceived by the general public. Now a group of scientists is conducting an experiment to see if using social media can change the somber perception and show us how warm, competent, and amazing scientists can be. Introducing Scientist Selfies!

First up, let’s get one thing straight: lab coats are amazing! Have you seen the size of those pockets?! We have at least one GeekMom who wears them as her regular attire to all conventions and meetings. However, not all scientists wear lab coats. Some don’t even work in labs all the time.

But, surely, that can’t be right? Scientists are always doing sciencey things in sciencey rooms, right? That’s what they do. That’s what we see them do all the time… on TV…

No, no, no! This is the perception held by way too many people all around the world. The truth is scientists are ordinary everyday people, whose expert knowledge happens to be in one specific area. Unfortunately, scientists apparently have a public image problem. In most cases, the general public sees scientists as competent and intelligent, but lacking in humanity, warmth, and humor. Best case scenario, they are compared with Big Bang Theory, the ultimate nerds ridiculed by those around them. Worst case, they are compared with pharmaceutical companies and anti-vax campaigners.

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One group of scientists have said “NO MORE!!” and set up an Instagram account, reposting science selfies and sharing the amazing diversity found in the profession. You really need to check out @scienceselfies for yourself! They encourage any scientist to take a “selfie” while doing their “sciencey thing.” And the pictures speak for themselves!

But it isn’t just about sharing happy snaps of real-life scientists. This IS science! It is an experiment, and YOU can be part of it. The social media experiment is part of a larger project (detailed on experiment, an online platform for discovering, funding, and sharing scientific research). This particular experiment is run by a team of science and mass communication researchers, educators, and Instagrammers. Through experiment, they are also seeking financial backing for equipment used by the group and running survey equipment in collecting the data. All of their results will be shared publicly, with the intent to create an online Instagram for scientists.

So what happens if we do start thinking of our scientists as warm-and-fuzzy humans? Hopefully, it will build trust between scientists and the greater community. Personally, we think it would help encourage more people to consider careers in science and even breakdown some “anti-intellectual” attitudes.

And who knows? Maybe we will all have lab coat pockets in next year’s fashion trends?

Follow @geekmomblogs and @scientistselfies on Instagram for more details!

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