Try doing a Google images search for ‘scientist’ and see what comes up. A series of dishevelled nutjobs with glasses, lab coat, and bubbling flasks full of coloured liquids.
While it does make me chuckle, it highlights a sad reality: ‘lay people’, as we scientists like to call them (which, quite frankly, doesn’t help things either), have no idea what we’re really like.
We just can’t seem to shake that ‘ivory tower’ association (particularly when some of us work at places with ivory-coloured structures that vaguely resemble towers). And this is a big problem. Associations with madness, superiority, and isolation do not serve us as scientists, to say the least: they only feed public fear and distrust of whatever strange, irrelevant pursuits we’re spending everyone’s hard-earned tax dollars on.
Why scientific research is worth spending tax dollars on is a topic for an entirely different post. What I want to focus on here is the image that scientists have. Too commonly do my colleagues and I encounter attitudes that scientists are elitist, hyperintellectual, detached cyborgs. I won’t stick my neck out and claim that scientists are entirely free of idiosyncrasies or social awkwardness – there’s a certain level of truth to every stereotype. But to me, the beauty of this week’s #overlyhonestmethods trend (samples here) is that it illustrates just how much we have in common with non-scientists (even if some of the posts were a bit too specific to be entirely comprehensible).
What it shows is: we’re only human. We’re not omniscient. Sometimes we take shortcuts. Sometimes we do things a certain way because it’s most convenient. Sometimes we don’t have an explanation for why things are done a certain way. Sometimes we forget things or mess things up. Our jobs can make us frustrated, insecure, apathetic, and cynical. But the most important take-home from #overlyhonestmethods is that we have a sense of humour* (a self-deprecating one at that – is there anything better?). And that’s something that can help just about anyone get through the day.
Honestly, we’re not that different.
*With some unfortunate exceptions.