One of the silly stereotypes scientists have to deal with in their daily lives is that everyone who is a scientist or loves science is a “nerd”. By “nerd” I mean somebody lacking in social skills, unconnected to popular culture, painfully inept the the opposite sex and, yes, often really unattractive. Popular shows like “The Big Bang Theory” don’t really help with that kind of thing.
Disclaimer: I LOVE The Big Bang Theory. I watch it all the time. It’s and awesome show and it’s absolutely not responsible for the existence of stereotypes. It’s also far from the only piece of popular culture to perpetuate stereotypes about scientists, it’s just the most successful.
So Do Scientists Have To Be Socially Inept? Of course not. In fact, in the many years I have been a scientist I have never met anyone who even came close to the level of social ineptitude most people expect. Instead, I have met a variety of real people with a variety of interests. Yes there are gamers. And yes there are comic-book fans. But there are even more surfers, big-time clubbers, DIY enthusiasts, ravers and fashionistas. Most of the people I went to graduate school with are in long-term relationships. And a good few of them were, prior to their long-term relationships, rather successful with the opposite sex.
Much like all other stereotypes, the ones about scientists simply don’t hold up. While of course there is no harm in comedy, there is the real risk that this kind of stereotype is actually putting off talented young people from a career in science. The solution, I believe, is more outreach programs. Giving kinds in schools a chance to meet with a “real-life” scientist can do more to take down stereotypes than any TV show can ever build!