Research Article: Who Believes in the Storybook Image of the Scientist?

Date Published: April 3, 2017

Publisher: Taylor & Francis

Author(s): Coosje L. S. Veldkamp, Chris H. J. Hartgerink, Marcel A. L. M. van Assen, Jelte M. Wicherts.


Do lay people and scientists themselves recognize that scientists are human and therefore prone to human fallibilities such as error, bias, and even dishonesty? In a series of three experimental studies and one correlational study (total N = 3,278) we found that the “storybook image of the scientist” is pervasive: American lay people and scientists from over 60 countries attributed considerably more objectivity, rationality, open-mindedness, intelligence, integrity, and communality to scientists than to other highly-educated people. Moreover, scientists perceived even larger differences than lay people did. Some groups of scientists also differentiated between different categories of scientists: established scientists attributed higher levels of the scientific traits to established scientists than to early-career scientists and Ph.D. students, and higher levels to Ph.D. students than to early-career scientists. Female scientists attributed considerably higher levels of the scientific traits to female scientists than to male scientists. A strong belief in the storybook image and the (human) tendency to attribute higher levels of desirable traits to people in one’s own group than to people in other groups may decrease scientists’ willingness to adopt recently proposed practices to reduce error, bias and dishonesty in science.

Partial Text

Our results indicate strong belief among both lay people and scientists in the storybook image of the scientist as someone who is relatively objective, rational, open-minded, intelligent, honest, and communal. However, while the stereotypical image predicts that older, male scientists would be believed to fit the storybook image best, our results suggest that scientists believe that older, female scientists fit the image best. In addition, our research suggests that scientists are not immune to the human tendency to believe that members of one’s own social group are less fallible than members of other groups.




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