What Scientists Think About Scientists

By Neuroskeptic | December 23, 2016 12:47 pm

Most people believe that scientists have high levels of objectivity and integrity – and scientists themselves share these positive views of their own profession. But according to scientists, not all researchers are equally upstanding, with male and early-career scientists being seen as somewhat less trustworthy than others.

That’s according to a new paper from Dutch researchers Coosje Veldkamp et al.: Who Believes in the Storybook Image of the Scientist?

Based on a series of studies in samples of scientists as well as highly educated non-scientists (as control groups), the authors conclude that:

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.

Here’s the results on researchers’ views of male vs. female scientists:


Both male and female scientists felt that female scientists (light bars) were more objective, intelligent, etc. than male ones (dark bars), although the differences were larger when it was female scientists making the ratings.

Regarding the respondents’ opinions of scientists at different career stages, senior (“established”) scientists were generally seen as having the most integrity and rationality. Strikingly, though, early-career scientists were rated as having less objectivity, integrity and open-mindedness than PhD students – or so thought the senior scientists.

Junior researchers, however, saw themselves as being slightly superior to PhD students…


ResearchBlogging.orgVeldkamp CL, Hartgerink CH, van Assen MA, & Wicherts JM (2016). Who Believes in the Storybook Image of the Scientist? Accountability in Research PMID: 28001440

CATEGORIZED UNDER: papers, science, select, Top Posts
  • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/qz4.htm Uncle Al

    Science is blood sport in which upper management hopes to be Alien chestbursters. Lower management is content to lap at sweet, sweet exudates.

  • OWilson

    They are just human, like plumbers, politicians, gamblers, priests, adulterers, policemen and posters to forums like this one. Some, gasp, can even finish up in jail!

    If you believe that they are somehow above human frailties, you will always be disappointed!

    You should look at their logic, not their “authority”. Especially if they themselves appeal to consensus or authority!

    • Matthew Slyfield

      “Especially if they themselves appeal to consensus or authority!”

      Self proclaimed scientists who resort to appeals to consensus and/or authority ought to be treated the way the Church treats heretics.

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  • Juliska Magyar

    The issue with these myopic articles is that they focus on academia. The vast majority of scientists work in IT, Geology, Engineering, etc.

    I have never wok ped in academia. Daily we Plug away in our lab and get results. A lot of the chatter about scientists is focused on academia…tenure, doctorate programs, research grants etc.

    • mostlynew

      Academia is where the Federal grant money hustle is taking place.

    • wjr123

      Juliska, IT folks and engineering folks are not scientists. Indeed, engineers, in particular, would take umbrage if accused of being scientists. There are many scientists working in industry but the bulk of “science” is in life sciences — almost exclusively an academic exercise.

      BTW, psychology and sociology folks should, also, not strictly be included in the sciences. Sociology is merely voodoo supported by very bad statistics. Psychology, in particular experimental psychology is rigorous but much of it is opinion.

      • OWilson

        And, climatologists lie somewhere between astrologers, chiropracters, and your local TV weather guy, Chick, Chuck, or whoever!

      • Maks Swing

        Wrong. I am an engineer (mechanical) and I very much call myself a scientist. It might be that in the US due to their short history there is a difference. In Europe, for a long time, there was no difference. A natural scientist had to be an engineer, too. Theories have to be validated and that could only be done by real-life experiments for which you have to be at least technically inclined. Also, seeing the results of medical research (amongst others), Id say that research with private market incentives leads to more robust and better results.

        Sadly, my own experience with academic science is not very good. Most of the findings were shallow and proved to be not robust (repeatable). Also academic scientists over-estimated their own knowledge and often exhibited unfounded bias towards their area of expertise.

        • OWilson

          Einstein couldn’t repair his car!

          We once had the thinkers, then the technicians to set up the experiments, then the observers to confirm it all.

          Now it works from bottom up.

          Theorists trying to explain what is observed.

        • wjr123

          Maks, your world must be very different than mine. Here engineering people may be very well trained but, other than the rare-ish Ph.D. type engineer, the discipline has squeezed much of the creativity out of the process. Engineering is mostly shoving known boxes around into new configurations (grossly simplified, admitted).

          It is interesting to see the perception of the “scientist” that people have. It is also interesting to see how desperately some disciplines are to be regarded as a science. This name creep has been going on since the 1960’s and has not served us well.

          WRT your commment on actual “academic” acience it is difficult to comment on Europe in general. Much of physics and chemistry in Europe is world class – if badly underfunded. Engineering, on the other hand, ranges from excellent to awful – depending upon where you are.

          Someone made a comment that science needs to be theory driven. That is naive in the sense that the commentator must have very little experience. The process from theory to practice is a very rare case. The real process is more likely “I saw something strange and…” or “I made a mistake and…”.

          More and more, today, there is another route — at least in terms of applied fields — and that is the connectionism between silos in the literature. That is: joe does this, Sam does that and Bob has an insight for an unrelated problem in a different silo.

        • bwana

          I am an Engineer (Canadian) and wouldn’t call myself a scientist. I apply science as an Engineer but unless I was a Ph.D. in some university I doubt very much I would be called a scientist and even the Ph.D.’s I know in universities don’t like the term scientist very much…

  • Dr. Turi

    Most scientists are educated idiots! Here is the proof! http://www.drturi.com/a-desperate-call-to-all-parents-help-me-save-your-children/

    • mostlynew

      My dear Dr., you are overwrought – take a pill and be merry, it’s Christmas

  • Marty Johnson

    If–IF–female scientists are “more intelligent” than male scientists it is only because the “more intelligent” women self-selected for science (as opposed to women’s studies and nursing and H.R. careers). And conversely that the “more intelligent” males self-selected for other, higher paying careers (physicians, lawyers, money managers, etc.).

    • Lionel Y.

      Wait, this makes no sense.
      How do you know more intelligent males self select for higher paying careers? You don’t need to be brighter to do well in medicine law or finance than academia.

  • Darby42164

    Well as a scientist, my view of scientists is that they are no different as people than anyone else, and the scientific field as a workplace is no different either. You meet unethical, cruel and sleazy people in banking and other fields, and guess what, you meet them in the science field too. Here are some personal examples, I was offered a post-doc, at a pay that was not liveable in SF, when I showed up for the job the PI had cut the pay by $1000. I was stuck, just moved to CA and needed to work. This was a well funded lab, and I was not the only one he did that too. I worked in AIDS in the early years and there was problems with some labs stealing research of other labs, rushing to print before the original lab could publish. Yup upstanding people those scientists. Later I worked at a lab run by physicists. They abused people in unbelievably cruel ways. On top of that I learned physicists, at least there, were some of the most arrogant scientists I had ever come across. So much so I would never work with physicists again. I read as everyone else does about the crisis in non-reproducible results, and hear the scientists respond “but the competition for grants is too hard we have to rush out results or not get funding!” Doesn’t speak much of their integrity, implying the tough competition makes it ok to cut corners in research. No it is not ok, it just makes you corrupt. Getting and keeping a job in science these days is increasingly hard and makes for a cut throat, nasty environment where people do things that don’t fit this idea of scientists as noble seekers of truth. The science field has become a lot like politics, plan on being stabbed in the back by your collegues. Pretty sad.

    • Mutated

      Scientists are no different than other people, however at the beginning of their careers they are given something very valuable: trust of their colleagues. It can be viewed as a free gift, but more appropriately as a pawn loan. If a scientist fails that trust, he pays with his credibility, something that can never be restored and in many cases marks a full stop on a career. I’ve been working as a scientist in both industry and academic environment, went through the tenure track and all that. It is actually quite amazing although we take it for granted that when we present our work (including occasions such as academic evaluations), the audience (or committee) basically trust us when we skip certain details of how we reached the conclusions. Yes, there is misconduct and plain fraud, but what is at stake had created a special culture and I still believe that scientists being the regular people that they are typically have both moral mechanisms as well as a strong sense that fraud will make you an outcast, rejected and despised. Another point is that it looks like there is currently a crisis in science because of the tools for tracking these things down and just due to the volume of publications and their availability. There used to be a dump (aka university library) where journals collected dust and enjoyed their still life, or rather death. But now everything is sitting on some server and searchable. We can match text for plagiarism, or even automatically scan papers abstracts for “P-hacking” and post what comes out for everyone who cares to see.

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  • Hibernia86

    Doesn’t this study just prove that scientists (especially female scientists) have sexist views? Being male or younger doesn’t make someone necessarily less objective or less smart. If the study had found that female scientists were viewed worse, I’m sure the article would have talked about sexism within the scientific community. Why isn’t the response the same in this case when male scientists were viewed worse?

    I’m guessing the responses were based on the fact that the male scientists didn’t want to seem sexist by rating the female scientists worse than them. The female scientists likely voted themselves higher because they have a bias toward people like themselves (in this case, the characteristic being female) and don’t face social pressure against rating male scientists worse. This study tells us more about our society’s view of gender than it does about the actual scientists’ characteristics themselves.

  • Olmy Olm

    “Most people believe that scientists have high levels of objectivity and integrity”

    Oh yes, the top scientists are so objective and full of integrity that some of the most important findings of their fields have to be published in the less fancy journals instead of the “prestigious ones”, and are perpetually ignored. Such as, for example this:

    ‘Finnish Open Dialogue helps 80 or 85% of people in “first-episode psychosis” to recover,’

    Why does not a single “top-tier” journal publish this? Why are they not screaming from the rooftops about this?

  • https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=UUwbGJwCdp96FKSLuWpMybxQ Lee Rudolph

    Reading this discussion has made me even happier than usual that I’m only a mathematician, and not a Scientist or an Engineer.

  • bwana

    I associated “scientist” with “Ph.D.” which most Engineers refer to as “Piled Higher & Deeper”. We’d prefer not to be referred to as scientists. We’d just like to get on with helping build modern civilization.

  • Erik Bosma

    Scientists I’ve noticed, especially in the past 100 years or so, are exactly like religious people in that the percentages of fundamentalists, liberal thinkers, closed-minded hicks or open-minded quacks and everything in between is the same. They all have their grand plans and predictions, they all quote from their collection of saints who are never wrong and never to be spoken badly of and they all hate their opposites in the other sphere of thought/belief. I prefer to laugh at most of them and try to understand the rest.



No brain. No gain.

About Neuroskeptic

Neuroskeptic is a British neuroscientist who takes a skeptical look at his own field, and beyond. His blog offers a look at the latest developments in neuroscience, psychiatry and psychology through a critical lens.


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