Who Believes in the Storybook Image of the Scientist?
Abstract: Do lay people and scientists themselves recognize that scientists are human and therefore prone to human fallibilities such as error, bias, and even dishonesty? In a series of three experimental studies and one correlational study (total N = 3,278) we found that the ‘storybook image of the scientist’ is pervasive: American lay people and scientists from over 60 countries attributed considerably more objectivity, rationality, open-mindedness, intelligence, integrity, and communality to scientists than other highly-educated people. Moreover, scientists perceived even larger differences than lay people did. Some groups of scientists also differentiated between different categories of scientists: established scientists attributed higher levels of the scientific traits to established scientists than to early-career scientists and PhD students, and higher levels to PhD students than to early-career scientists. Female scientists attributed considerably higher levels of the scientific traits to female scientists than to male scientists. A strong belief in the storybook image and the (human) tendency to attribute higher levels of desirable traits to people in one’s own group than to people in other groups may decrease scientists’ willingness to adopt recently proposed practices to reduce error, bias and dishonesty in science.