BBC Home
Explore the BBC
BBC News
Launch consoleBBC NEWS CHANNEL
Last Updated: Friday, 31 October, 2003, 14:35 GMT
Physicist boffin image 'outdated'
Image: Institute of Physics
Which one is the physicist?
The image of a physicist as a bearded male "boffin" in spectacles no longer holds true, despite people's perception of scientists.

Shoppers in London's Oxford Street were asked to identify the physicist among a photograph of possible suspects.

The vast majority of people (98%) picked a 60-year-old white male with glasses and a white beard.

The Institute of Physics says this is an outdated stereotype. The average age of a physicist today is 31, it says.

There are also far more young women in physics now - the number entering the profession has doubled since 1960.

Despite this, the survey found that physicists themselves still believed the stereotype.

Tweed jackets

According to a larger study of Institute of Physics (IoP) members, physicists signed up to the stereotype of a 60-year-old male wearing a tweed jacket and throwing a party with sweet white wine, cheese, classical music and strictly no dancing.

These stereotypes are really damaging to society
Dr Petra Boynton, University College London
Dr Julia King, Chief Executive of the IoP, said: "One of the most surprising things in our members' survey was that the members themselves believe the geek stereotype even though they themselves aren't like this!"

Dr Petra Boynton, a social psychologist at University College London, said the stereotype had lasted a long time partly because the media helped promote the image of white men in glasses sitting by a blackboard full of equations.

"These stereotypes are really damaging to society," she said. "Very good school children might be put off doing physics because they don't see images of people like them on television, or in magazines, doing physics or science in general."

The IoP said it not only wanted the media to change the images they promoted but wanted the physicists themselves to recognise and promote the diverse nature of their community, too.

The line-up, left to right: history student, project co-ordinator, graphic designer, PA, policy officer, database co-ordinator, physicist.

Women scientists 'worse off'
31 Oct 03  |  Education
Nobel decline blamed on funding
24 Oct 03  |  Education

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


News Front Page | World | UK | England | Northern Ireland | Scotland | Wales | Politics
Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health | Education
Have Your Say | Magazine | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific