Boffins seen as boring but rich

December 24, 1999

Scientists, with their white laboratory coats, bottle-bottom glasses and balding heads buried in books, have long been held in some contempt by most young people.

Yet new research suggests this negative image is undergoing something of a makeover.

A study unveiled this week has revealed that young people feel scientists have considerable prestige, the power to change the world and are - no one laugh - wealthy.

Unfortunately, they have yet to shake off the "boring" tag but, according to research by Helen Haste, professor of psychology at the University of Bath, and colleagues, scientists are viewed in a much more positive light than they used to be.

"Twenty years ago, there was a much more stereotyped view of crazy, balding men in white coats who did dangerous things - now they are seen as normal, hard-working people," said Professor Haste.

"It is a more realistic image, though many young people felt that scientists were very well paid."

The results, presented at the British Psychological Society's London Conference, also recorded comments that scientists were seen as boring.

But they worked under enormous pressure, had great responsibility and had to wait years before seeing any results.

The researchers asked 258 young people, from between 15 and 17 years of age, about science and the future.

They found that more general fears about science identified 20 years ago had been replaced by more informed and specific worries such as concern about environmental pollution and genetic engineering.

Scientists were often viewed as possessing possible solutions to these problems rather than simply being blamed as the cause.

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