Jan 25, 2007
Scientific stereotypes continue to persist, stretching even as far as recent Google acquisition, Youtube, the social video upload site. (Right click and view image to read it full size).
Today, Youtube had a period of allegedly scheduled downtime and to explain the lack of vids, they displayed a cartoon showing a marginally mad scientist (albeit a youngster rather than the usual aged, balding mad scientist). The scientist in question seemed malevolently preoccupied with pouring one green liquid from a test-tube into another. For what purpose we’re not told, but the caption beneath read:
“We’re busy pushing out some new concoctions and formulas We’ll be back soon…assuming all reactions are stable”
Inherent in that phrase is a fundamental lack of understanding of chemistry, of course. What, after all is a “stable reaction”, a reaction by virtue of being is anything but stable, it is intrinsically unstable, in constant flux…reacting! Perhaps they meant to say “steady reaction”, instead, a reaction can be steady, with a constant conversion of starting materials into stable products and byproducts as opposed to an explosive reaction, which one might talk about as being unsteady, or perhaps that’s what they are alluding to in using the words stable, somehow attempting to imply that reactions to their new concoctions might be unstable and lead to an extension of their scheduled downtime.
I suspect most Youtube readers will not care one ion. But, the pushing of scientific stereotypes in popular culture is a serious issue. With scientists repeatedly characterised as mad, malevolent or at best absent minded, it is difficult to see how the general public will ever reach a point at which they will understand or trust the scientific endeavour.
You can read a feature article I wrote on the subject of scientific stereotypes for the now defunct HMSBeagle webzine on BioMedNet here. Note the hopefully ironic use of a benevolent, slightly madcap, and certainly balding character as illustration.