Hot scientists may not have careers that are so hot, according to, well, scientists who find that the laboratory is apparently the anti-Hollywood. The researchers, whose work was published Tuesday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Scientists, asked roughly 3,700 participants to rate the headshots of 600 actual geneticists and physicists based on their attractiveness, competence, morality, and sociableness. What they found, according to Live Science: Apparently the frumpier and nerdier the scientist, the more we think he or she is competent and doing good work. “I was very surprised that attractiveness could be a negative quality,” says lead researcher Ana Gheorghiu, a doctoral student of unknown good looks from the University of Essex.
That has very real implications in an industry in which getting one’s research taken seriously shapes one’s ability to get funding or publish papers. “The way scientists are perceived affects how people apply their findings to their own lives, to influence government and science policy,” Gheorghiu says. “That’s why it’s helpful to know what biases are out there.” It’s not all bad news for Dr. McDreamys: Those scientists who were judged as attractive also garnered more initial interest in their research. And our perceptions are likely changing as we watch scientist heroes nerd out on the big screen, a la Matt Damon in The Martian.
“I think the more representations of scientists in the media, the better,” says a psychologist. “Anything that fleshes out the picture of who does scientific work and that shows scientists are real people, I think, is to the good.” (Scientists also tell us that beauty sleep is no myth.)