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How seventh graders view scientists

Posted by Christopher Shea  June 23, 2010 03:18 PM

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A ten-year-old study of impressions that middle-school kids have of scientists is drawing fresh attention, after Geek Feminism Blog highlighted it.

In the study, 31 seventh graders were asked to describe and sketch a typical scientist. Then they visited Fermilab, the applied-physics facility in Batavia, Illinois. After a tour and meetings with actual lab employees, they repeated the exercise.

The study testifies to the power of the geek trope: The "before" sketches have a definite mad-scientist vibe, in contrast to the "after" pictures.



A seventh-grade girl's "before" and "after" sketches

Another striking detail:

--Among girls (14 in total), 36 percent portrayed a female scientist in the "before" drawing, and 57 percent portrayed a female scientist in the "after" drawing.

--Among boys (17 in total), 100 percent portrayed a male scientist in the "before" drawing, and 100 percent portrayed a male scientist in the "after" drawing.

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
Brainiac blogger Kevin Hartnett is a writer in Columbia, South Carolina. He can be reached here.

Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.

Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.

Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.

Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.

Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."

Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.


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