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"[A scientist] is always asking questions and can be annoying."
June 23, 2010 3:11 PM   Subscribe

Seventh graders describe and draw pictures of scientists before and after their visit to a physics lab.

One blogger compared the drawings by gender of artist and subject and identified the following:

Female students:
-36% drew a female scientist in the “before” drawing
-57% drew a female scientist in the “after” drawing

Male students:
-100% drew a male scientist in the “before” drawing
-100% drew a male scientist in the “after” drawing

Fermilab previously on Metafilter.
posted by emilyd22222 (83 comments total) 57 users marked this as a favorite

 
Well, if you trust those kids, "actually, scientists are normal people".

Shows you should never trust kids, I suppose.
posted by sodium lights the horizon at 3:16 PM on June 23, 2010 [7 favorites]


That is such a nifty project! I really liked how the kids seemed to realize scientists were real people.
posted by strixus at 3:16 PM on June 23, 2010


That's a good thing, emily; where the stereotype is scientist = male (hence the boys holding steady at 100%), the girls started seeing scientist = someone like myself, someone I could grow up to be..
posted by hincandenza at 3:19 PM on June 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


Did the kids get to meet the guy who wrote this memo?
posted by GuyZero at 3:20 PM on June 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


I love this so much! I had a great professor (Chip Brock) at Michigan State who does research at Fermilab and I can totally see him being one of the awesome, down-to-earth, friendly scientists that talked to these kids. Except, when I had him, he was doing the "physicists are people too" thing for college freshmen.
posted by Tesseractive at 3:24 PM on June 23, 2010


I think Jeffrey saw an Edward Gorey scientist.

Pretty interesting results. Lots of room for quick growth in girls seeing themselves as scientists counter-balanced by the complete lack of adjustment in the boys. Both results say fascinating things about the way kids internalize and project gender expectations.
posted by Babblesort at 3:24 PM on June 23, 2010


Gee, do you think that the theme of the class project just might have been that scientists are normal people just like the kids? What I found hilarious is that while the text below the pictures kept repeating that theme over and over again in the after drawings, by and large the pictures before and after looked almost identical (minus a few lab coats, explosions, and a little bit of the male pattern baldness)
posted by Muddler at 3:27 PM on June 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


Hrmm... from the people I know who went to Fermilab, I've always assumed it's one of those rare happy instances where a bunch of lunatics lock themselves up in an underground facility voluntarily. Perhaps children miss that tell-tale glint of madness in the eyes of someone willing to devote 10 years of their life to be 70th author on a paper quantifying data from rare B-quark decays.
posted by Humanzee at 3:27 PM on June 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is terrific. I'm going to start using the line from David's "after" scientist: "Hello I am a regular person!"
posted by partylarry at 3:29 PM on June 23, 2010 [5 favorites]


A scientist can have a family of their own...
posted by doublehappy at 3:30 PM on June 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


I noted the gender changes in the drawings (before I read the rest of this op). Interesting. Very important for young women to have this experience and notice the differences in their views before and after. Girls today are still easily influenced by perceived 'norms' that bias against women.

And, as for the boys, I agree with the second comment on the blog. I think boys of this age - 7th grade - may simply be reluctant to draw pictures of women (with clothes on, anyway)
posted by Surfurrus at 3:30 PM on June 23, 2010


think boys of this age - 7th grade - may simply be reluctant to draw pictures of women

Well, also I think that if scientists were perceived as completely gender neutral, most kids would draw one of the same gender as themselves. Especially if part of the goal was to get kids to think they could be scientists too.
posted by wildcrdj at 3:32 PM on June 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


With most jobs you might say, "When is it ever going to be five thirty?" But the scientists I talked to say, "Is it five thirty, already?"

Fortunately she was whisked off to the schoolbus before she could hear the mumbled "...when the hell are these kids getting out of here so I can get some god damned work done."
posted by griphus at 3:37 PM on June 23, 2010


Mostly I am thinking... These kids need to get some art instruction STAT. Seriously, seventh grade? Like, twelve years old?
posted by seanmpuckett at 3:41 PM on June 23, 2010 [8 favorites]


That's just perfect. I'm so jealous and yet so insanely pleased with what Fermilab have done. Magical.
posted by edd at 3:41 PM on June 23, 2010


Except the gender inequality which I only read after. Work to be done still. *sigh*
posted by edd at 3:44 PM on June 23, 2010


Hey! They write better than they draw. I glad (or maybe when need to start funding art in schools more.)
posted by Some1 at 3:48 PM on June 23, 2010


*I'm glad (damn typo when I'm snarking about writing - grar.
posted by Some1 at 3:51 PM on June 23, 2010


You know, on re-reading, I'm even more impressed how good a lot of the before- text is.
posted by edd at 3:53 PM on June 23, 2010


Some of them are uncannily accurate.
posted by iconomy at 3:58 PM on June 23, 2010


Wolverine works at Fermilab. In a polo shirt, even. Good to know.
posted by yiftach at 4:01 PM on June 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm with Muddler. I remember school assignments of this type, where the thesis is hammered over and over again so bluntly that there's nowhere for students to go but to parrot back what the teacher said and get that A grade. It's like a Skinner box, where kids have imagination and critical thinking conditioned clean out of them. It's particularly striking here, where the topic is science, a field in which those attributes are particularly necessary.

I'm something of a pessimist when it comes to modern trends in education.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 4:02 PM on June 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


Wolverine works at Fermilab.

Well considering his before pic looks like a central american drug dealer, I'd say it's an improvement.

A scientist is a person who tries to learn more about the universe and about life, not to make money and to be famous.

...some of us do try....we just never seem to get far (;_;)
posted by Throw away your common sense and get an afro! at 4:07 PM on June 23, 2010


100% of males who will soon be making a decision to select classes which can lead down a career path drawing males as scientists is a good thing; it shows that they see science as a possible career.

The difference in "before" and "after" percentages of females who will soon be making a decision to select classes which can lead down a career path drawing females as scientists is a also a good thing; it shows that younger girls are positively affected by more exposure to science.

So yeah...awesome!
posted by hal_c_on at 4:11 PM on June 23, 2010


Wow. I know Amanda's entry came first because the set is arranged alphabetically, but I don't think you could have a better summary of the positive effects of this sort of exposure to real world science.

. . . . anyone can be a scientist. I saw people walking around in sweatshirts and jeans. Who knows? Maybe I can be a scientist.
posted by tocts at 4:18 PM on June 23, 2010


Little girls, of about six or seven, were asked what do they like to do. And then sometime later the same question asked in a slightly different form; they were asked what do little girls like to do.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:22 PM on June 23, 2010


When I was in elementary school, we had an event where scientists brought their work in and set it up in the cafeteria. I got to hold a sheep brain and decided then and there that I wanted to be a scientist when I grew up.
posted by emilyd22222 at 4:23 PM on June 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


[this is good]
posted by loquacious at 4:27 PM on June 23, 2010


A note on the before/after drawings:

Where are the white coats in the after drawings? Don't tell me that scientists have stopped wearing white coats? How are we going to identify them? And how are we supposed to pretend that we are scientists without a white coat?

Also, from my talks with former scientists I've learned that it might be good to warn these kids that you often can't support a family on a scientist's salary. I wish this country would get its priorities straight. Until then maybe they should draw before/after pictures of investment bankers and go visit Goldman Sachs.
posted by eye of newt at 4:30 PM on June 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


Their jobs sound very interesting because they can do whatever they want and they still get paid for it.

Lousy, freeloading scientists!

My image of scientists are people who live forever in the lab, fighting a losing battle to finish their research AND maintain socially acceptable levels of hygiene (on the off chance they ever meet a real person again). A scientist friend of mine recently said to me:

I'm coming apart at the seams. In the lab I now have: toothbrush+toothpaste, spare clothes and stockpiles of food and painkillers. I'm in need of a holiday...


I wonder why the kids didn't mention that?
posted by marmaduke_yaverland at 4:35 PM on June 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Love the radioactive glow. I might start working on something like it.
posted by halogen at 4:46 PM on June 23, 2010


Mostly I am thinking... These kids need to get some art instruction STAT. Seriously, seventh grade? Like, twelve years old?

For real--when I first saw the pictures and read the descriptions, I thought, these second-graders are geniuses! Then when I saw how old they were I thought oh no these children were born with dog paws for hands.
posted by Powerful Religious Baby at 4:48 PM on June 23, 2010 [24 favorites]


I think they show the kids some actors dressed as scientists dressed as normal people, while the real scientists are in the science lab doing science.
posted by qvantamon at 4:54 PM on June 23, 2010


you know who else is at fermilab? corky siegel!
posted by lester's sock puppet at 5:03 PM on June 23, 2010


This is cute and good.

If they did before/after visits to a law office, the pictures wouldn't change much. I imagine the supplemental data would say something like "lawyers don't have time to have a life and do not know how to smile."
posted by jabberjaw at 5:03 PM on June 23, 2010


So, adolescents have certain (mostly negative) preconceptions about a group of people who they've seen stereotyped in mass media? And those preconceptions can be dispelled by meeting actual people who fall within that group?

Slightly less than amazing. But still, useful data.

Perhaps confining our teenagers to a world where the people they meet are either teenagers, teachers, or parents might be a bit of a mistake.
posted by MrVisible at 5:27 PM on June 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


Shouldn't there have been a control group that didn't go anywhere at all?
posted by davejay at 5:31 PM on June 23, 2010 [17 favorites]


Then when I saw how old they were I thought oh no these children were born with dog paws for hands.

That's what happens when you defund arts education, and when kids hands are too weak to hold pencils!
posted by grapesaresour at 5:50 PM on June 23, 2010


I think this seemed fakish. The drawing's seem really bad for a group of 13 year olds. The ability range seemed suspiciously homogeneous for both drawing and writing too. Except for Kierman!Kierman's is really interesting. The drawings are terrible. Like pre-school kid motor control. But the scientist has bought all of his clothes online. And they all say where he bought them! Then his essay, all of them have the same exact format with just the ends changed. But, then the last sentence blows the doors of the joint by, truly, being a complex, well constructed, and interesting sentence. The decisions involved with Kierman's entry are too strange to be undertaken with an adult trying to construct a fake child.
posted by I Foody at 5:52 PM on June 23, 2010


Almost all the kids mention that scientists are normal people. The scientists must have beat the kids over the head with it. That seems pretty defensive to me. "We're NORMAL! Really!" I guess scientists are abnormal, touchy, and self-loathing.
posted by painquale at 6:11 PM on June 23, 2010


You all really think adults can draw people that much better?
posted by smackfu at 6:19 PM on June 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wow. This experiment proves that seventh graders are really good at intuiting what their teachers want to hear from them.

Who knew?
posted by felix betachat at 6:26 PM on June 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Regarding gender in science labs: we just watched the film Agora, about a lady scientist back in the old toga days. A really great movie if you like this sort of thing. We loved it. Culture Wars subtext.
posted by ovvl at 6:30 PM on June 23, 2010


Of the 23 students who drew a bespectacled scientist "before," only 4 drew a bespectacled scientist "after." None of the students who initially drew a non-bespectacled scientist went on to draw a bespectacled scientist. Take *that*, malicious glassist stereotypes!
posted by flechsig at 6:39 PM on June 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wow, emilyd22222, did we go to the same elementary school or was it just really common to have people bringing sheep brains into schools when we were little? I'd totally blocked that out of my head until you mentioned it!
posted by bitter-girl.com at 6:55 PM on June 23, 2010


Nobody drew God.
posted by doublehappy at 6:57 PM on June 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


Wow, emilyd22222, did we go to the same elementary school or was it just really common to have people bringing sheep brains into schools when we were little?

Actually, I'm from Cleveland, too...I went to Fairfax.
posted by emilyd22222 at 6:58 PM on June 23, 2010


That's what happens when you defund arts education, and when kids hands are too weak to hold pencils!

Favorite line from that article, "These days, many little fingers are being drilled." I'm hearing it in Fred Willard's Best in Show voice.
posted by Powerful Religious Baby at 7:00 PM on June 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


emilyd22222 -- I live in Cleveland now, but went to Columbia Station schools K-4, which I'm pretty sure was sheep-brain-time. Maybe it's just a weird NE Ohio thing!

Sheep brains? Anyone? Anyone?
posted by bitter-girl.com at 7:05 PM on June 23, 2010


No thanks I'm full.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:05 PM on June 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


MetaFilter: Sheep brains? Anyone? Anyone?
posted by hippybear at 8:07 PM on June 23, 2010


You all really think adults can draw people that much better?

Yes. "Kierman's" drawings look like those of a 4 year old.

For comparison, here's me at my 7th grade art show next to some student artwork (I did the one on the lower right. It's an actor who played a hot alien on the kid's show Space Cases). The other drawings are those of my classmates. The balloon-headed figures with the spidery eyelashes are really more representative of early elementary school art.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:10 PM on June 23, 2010


You all really think adults can draw people that much better?

No, most people I know aren't PhoBWanKenobi and struggle to make stick figures recognizable. I probably can't draw to the same standard as the bottom right picture in that photo, and I'm twice the age of a 7th grader (if I've got my grades right). I also LIKE drawing and spend time doing it occasionally.
posted by doublehappy at 8:33 PM on June 23, 2010


Well, I wouldn't disagree but I think that 7th grade kids who are taking a drawing class would draw better than the average adult who never has.
posted by smackfu at 8:33 PM on June 23, 2010


So you where Patti Smith when you where in 7th grade?
posted by The Whelk at 8:36 PM on June 23, 2010


: So, adolescents have certain (mostly negative) preconceptions about a group of people who they've seen stereotyped in mass media? And those preconceptions can be dispelled by meeting actual people who fall within that group?

Slightly less than amazing. But still, useful data.


That's a good point, really, because adults don't have these preconceptions about scientists. Would an adult describe a scientist as a person in a lab coat and glasses, who is able to quickly formulate solutions to complex problems using encyclopedic knowledge of chemistry, physics, calculus, biology, and genetics? Of course not! It's pretty widely know that doesn't happen in real life.

It really is different from talking to kids. I rarely have to explain to an adult that scientists like to socialize. Or that they like to go out for a beer, or to a game. Or that they have to deal with office politics just like everyone else. I mean, duh, right?

The way they performed a Science PR Intervention on these kids, you'd think it likely that the kids would never have an adult explain to them that being a scientist doesn't, for example, mean you create genetically modified plants for your vegetable garden and then try to feed weird mutant vegetables to people. It's not like adults would be afraid to eat something out of a mini-fridge in a scientist's office because they thought there might have been Petri dishes or something in there.

Sooner or later, all kids grow up to recognize that scientists are just ordinary people.
posted by zennie at 8:39 PM on June 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Guys, really--I was an okay artist, but I wasn't some sort of statistical outlier. I come from a family of art teachers (my mom teaches art to developmentally delayed middle and high school students; my aunt to main stream high school students in an inner city area) so I have a pretty good handle on the artistic capabilities of that age group.

Assuming any past art instruction, I feel pretty confident saying that this isn't the art of a group seventh graders. What stands out to me the most is that, out of a group this size of 13 year olds, there wouldn't be at least one or two kids who are producing something that looks a little bit more show-offy.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:39 PM on June 23, 2010


Here's what I know: by 7th grade, at least one kid in the bunch--most likely a boy--should be using Xtreme Perspective, in which a huge gloved fist comes flying at the viewer's eyesight while a tiny superhero body recedes freakishly toward a grape-sized Earth. Or is that not happening anymore?
posted by Powerful Religious Baby at 8:40 PM on June 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


What did you do with the sheep brains in elementary school?
posted by porpoise at 8:43 PM on June 23, 2010


Could it be possible that the kids were given this assignment during a class period and just didn't actually have time to care much about what the drawings looked like? Plus, I know plenty of people who avoid drawing people because drawing people in proportion can be difficult. Consequently, they suck at drawing people.
posted by zennie at 8:48 PM on June 23, 2010


Also the difference between drawing for art class and drawing for science class or whatever this was.
posted by smackfu at 8:51 PM on June 23, 2010


What did you do with the sheep brains in elementary school?

Oh, you know. Held them, poked them...
posted by emilyd22222 at 9:00 PM on June 23, 2010


I don't know. It just really doesn't seem right to me. My instinct is that these are mislabeled--I wish someone with more experience working with children and the arts (or psychology--there are oodles of psychology texts on art development in children) would weigh in.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:02 PM on June 23, 2010


This day and age, there would be at least one Anime-Style drawing.
posted by The Whelk at 9:06 PM on June 23, 2010


I'm going to agree with PhoBWanKenobi here. I have taught K-12 art in NYC for almost fifteen years and I think that while anything is possible, this isn't likely to be 7th grade work. I wish I could share some of my student's work for comparison but this all seems much younger, leading me to think the whole thing is fabricated. I'd also be curious to see the results of this experiment if it took place in my current school - a very academically rigorous girls school. I be the results would be quite different.
posted by blaneyphoto at 9:14 PM on June 23, 2010


Here's one way to check. Go to Indiana State University's web archive of children's art. On the search page, scroll down, pick Child: Age Range 12-14, and under Subject Matter, check "human figures," then click Display Images.
posted by zennie at 9:41 PM on June 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


So I take it this Fermilab works primarily in the development of hair-restoration products?
posted by The Gooch at 10:16 PM on June 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


What did you do with the sheep brains in elementary school?

Man, I know my grades in elementary school weren't really bright, but that was uncalled for.
posted by qvantamon at 10:17 PM on June 23, 2010


it also appears that in all cases the before scientist is a pc and the after scientist is a mac.
posted by jeremy b at 10:18 PM on June 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


No two scientists are exactly alike.

That's just an urban legend!
posted by aubilenon at 10:39 PM on June 23, 2010


I will say that, on a second look, a lot of the drawings have similar features.
posted by doublehappy at 10:52 PM on June 23, 2010


I know a primary (elementary) school teacher who's done a similar thing to this, albeit without a trip to a real lab. All the "before" pictures are basically Einstein- a 50+ white guy with messy, receding hair. It's not just a gender gap, but a race gap too; even the non-white kids almost universally draw white scientists.
posted by metaBugs at 12:28 AM on June 24, 2010


Sandra's scientist seems to have to gone from a jet-setting married New Yorker with rad shoes, to a . . . girl with a boyfried? I don't really understand the after picture.
posted by Eumachia L F at 1:46 AM on June 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Science is grand, but so is funding for the arts.
posted by woodway at 3:56 AM on June 24, 2010


Ha! I love it. I often think about how science is perfect because I am most in my element always asking questions and being annoying, so maybe the before statements have some merit. I am also in possession of a number of white lab coats, none of which I wear on a regular basis. I think exposing kids to the realities of science, and other misunderstood professions too, can do a lot to broaden their perspectives. I went to a day camp run by undergrad/grad women in science when I was in Junior High, and in addition to being lots of nerdy fun, I definitely gained a lot of perspective on how to get from where I was into being a scientist.

I think the drawings could have been done by a random group of 7th graders - some seem too low quality, but you also have to consider that there are likely to be one or more special needs (whether general, or just with motor skills) integrated in the class. Personally, Sandra's drawings (minus the boyfriend thing) could have been done by 7th grade me, except that 7th grade was at the height of my drawing gigantic combat boots phase. zennie's link seems to show pictures of similar quality.
posted by fermezporte at 5:13 AM on June 24, 2010


So I take it this Fermilab works primarily in the development of hair-restoration products?

I have always enjoyed the response when a group of students is touring our facility and one of them notices the big guy with the foot-long ponytail (Hint: Me).

Of course, I always like the high pitched cry that happens when stereotypes just exceed their shear strength.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 5:21 AM on June 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


What did you do with the sheep brains in elementary school?

Oh, you know. Held them, poked them...


This, unless you were an over-the-top squealy girly-girl who resolutely refused to get anywhere near them. (I was not, quelle surprise, one of those).
posted by bitter-girl.com at 6:22 AM on June 24, 2010


Scientists live in their own world and the rest of society puts them there.

Sounds about right.
posted by cereselle at 9:15 AM on June 24, 2010


: I'd also be curious to see the results of this experiment if it took place in my current school - a very academically rigorous girls school. I be the results would be quite different.

Unless their parents or close relatives are professional scientists, I'd bet they wouldn't. My experience talking to highly educated, intelligent non-scientitsts leads me to believe that the outcome would be fairly similar.

I feel I should mention, my comment above was complete sarcasm.
posted by zennie at 2:03 PM on June 24, 2010


zennie says, "Sooner or later, all kids grow up to recognize that scientists are just ordinary people."

As far as I can recall, pretty much every date I've brought to a party full of physicists has commented afterward that they were surprised at how normal everyone was, usually using exactly that word. Granted, the experience is anecdotal, and most of the people involved are from the art/theater/film world and didn't spend much time in college making friend with people from quantitative fields. But, what seems obvious to many of us is far from obvious to someone who's only understanding of a working scientist's life comes from the movies and an occasional NPR interview.

For that matter, there are plenty of professions about which I haven't got a clue. What does someone on a cargo ship spend the day doing? How do they talk? What do they wear? I've never met one, and aside from brief passages in fiction, wouldn't know that they exist. If you asked me to draw one, you'd probably wind up with an amusing picture.

When it comes to the gender and ethnicity of scientists, we should be doing everything possible to broaden the impression young people have of the field. But, giving them a tour of a working lab could easily backfire. You have to cherry-pick your examples pretty carefully to avoid confirming their suspicious that physicists are middle-class white guys with glasses, at least in most of the US labs I've seen. I hope they did exactly that. (A misrepresentation, perhaps. But, if we can convince kids that the field can be diverse, they just might grow up and demand that it become genuinely so. And that would be a very good thing.)
posted by eotvos at 2:14 PM on June 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


I work with about 40 people with scientific backgrounds, and most of them are anything but normal fucking weirdos*. I also work with about 40 people without scienfitic backgrounds, and none of them are normal, either. Go figure.

*Well, some of them are fucking weirdos, but I'm sure some have normal spouses, too.

posted by doublehappy at 6:25 PM on June 24, 2010



I work with about 40 people with scientific backgrounds, and most of them are anything but ...


You really need to spend an hour in any college faculty lunchroom before you label your colleagues anything near "weird" in the professional world.
posted by Surfurrus at 7:56 PM on June 24, 2010


Mostly I am thinking... These kids need to get some art instruction STAT. Seriously, seventh grade? Like, twelve years old?


I don't know anyone who can draw appreciably better than that, besides my uncle who is a professional artist.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 11:43 PM on June 24, 2010


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