So what is a ‘scientist’ anyway? Part 1.

Guest post by: StephS

Part 1
Science in fiction has been analysed by scholars who frequently look at how scientists are portrayed in fiction. But how can you analyse how “scientists” are portrayed, if you haven’t defined what a scientist is. Yet this is precisely what many scholars have done. I want to challenge this and say defining what or who a scientist is can drastically change stereotypes. So what is a scientist? The question looks simple, but it’s perhaps more complex to answer than initially thought.

So to start with, in my opinion, a scientist, in their most basic form, is someone who does science.

This leads to obvious examples in fiction, like Dr Frankenstein, Dr Julias Kelp (the Nutty Professor), Dr Who or even House for example. These characters are Doctors, physicians, chemists and biologists to name a few and they typically engage with science as a part of their profession. It is at this level that a lot of the literature is based on. Haynes (2003) talks about seven scientist stereotypes, and says,
‘These types recur in literature, sometimes in compound form. They offer both writers and readers a convenient shorthand, a matrix in which to slot contemporary scientists and their projects, cutting the corners and simplifying the issues.’ (p224 Haynes 2003)
While the paper identifies key stereotypes that certainly do exist in the literature, and stereotypes do cut the corners and simplify the issues. But this is what stereotyping is.

There are other characters in movies and fiction that frequently ‘do’ science that aren’t included in the frequent ‘stereotype’ lists. Yet these characters are not commonly included in analysis of scientific stereotypes. But by including all types of ‘scientists’, surely this makes the issue more useful, if not more complex.

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