I am Science, but I am not Geek

Most of the time when I post things on here, it’s about actual science. Today, I thought I’d take a little bit of a turn and talk about how we communicate science. After all, you are the people who I want to encourage to explore the world of science, so it’s you I would like the opinion of.

There’s been a growing movement in the science communication circuit to promote ‘Geek Pride’. For the uninitiated, geek pride is sort of like gay pride, but being proud of being a geek. Apparently, to be a scientist is to be a geek so instead of fighting the negative stereotypes, we should all apparently accept it.

I do not agree.

What is a geek anyway?

It’s hard to talk about geeks without defining them first. And there are so many different definitions. Google gave me the following:

  1. An unfashionable or socially inept person.
  2. A person with an eccentric devotion to a particular interest: “a computer geek”.

For me and many others, “an unfashionable or socially inept person” is the epitome of geek. The branding of a geek is about the imagery and the consequences of that imagery lead to other stereotypes.

A geek in duck form. Image courtesy of Yuval Y

A geek in duck form. Image courtesy of Yuval Y

In fact, geek has such a powerful image association that the fashion industry turned it on its head and populated geek chic only a few years back. (Although geek chic seems to have evolved into hipster…)

So with all this imagery, why would I support Geek Pride when I don’t identify as a geek? I don’t think I dress poorly, my social skills are pretty slamming and while I am a scientist, I do have a life outside the lab.

Just because I am a scientist, am I automatically supposed to go along with Geek Pride because someone labelled me one? Should all people interested in science and technology automatically be stamped with this bar code? If that’s the criteria then will.i.am, perhaps one of the biggest promoters of science outside the science world, is a huge, fat, mega geek!

Every profession has a stereotype. Stereotypes are never a good thing. Geek is the ultimate stereotype for scientists.

Brand Science

We are in a time when we really need to think about how we promote science. There is a need to show a positive message of what science is, and to encourage more people to become engaged.

Science itself has an issue with branding as all sorts of scientists, whether they’re a biologist, physicist, chemist or other, get lumped into this one generic category. It’s like branding ‘Art’ as a single form, when really it’s a multidisciplinary area with photography, paintings, sculpture and theatrics.

Of course, nerds and geeks exist in science, just as they do in any occupation. They can own that if they wish and they can be proud for sure. But just because some scientists identify as geeks, doesn’t mean we all do, and we don’t all need to wave the geek flag for the sake of it.

Scientists are people too

When it comes to encouraging the next generation of scientists, or even to encourage the public to get involved with science, image is a powerful tool. For the young ones, they need to be able to imagine what they would look like if they were to become a scientist when they grew up. It’s no use having this stock standard stereotypically geeky, lab coat wearing, professor to look up to.

There's more to science than lab coats. Image by Pi

There’s more to science than lab coats. Image by Pi

For the public, we need to break down the ‘us and them’ barrier. We need to show that scientists are relatable human people too that are not separate from the rest of society. And I guess Geek Pride aims to help this- to show the other side of the geek personality. That’s great. It’s great to promote the creativeness, enthusiasm and passion needed to make major breakthroughs.

But just because Geek Pride aims to do this, doesn’t mean all scientists should have to subscribe to this cause. Real scientists can’t be branded into a singularity because real scientists show the breadth of human personality that exists.

Let’s celebrate the diversity that’s out there, call out for the individuals to shine through and break through those silly lab coat moulds.

Please, let me know what you think in the comments below, our facebook page or twitter profile. You’re the ones we’re trying to reach after all.

About Noby Leong

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