In 1957, Margaret Mead and Rhoda Metraux carried out a survey of the attitudes of high school students to scientists and found that although the students agreed that science was a “good thing,” their attitude to becoming a scientist or marrying a scientist was overwhelmingly negative. In 1975 the magazines New Scientist and New Society asked their readers to describe the characteristics they associated with scientists. This survey revealed that the nonscientist readers also had a fairly negative image of scientists—even when they included a note to the effect that they actually- knew scientists who were not like this!

How do these perceptions arise? One very important way is through the literary tradition—the manner in which scientists have been presented as fictional characters from the medieval alchemists to the computer experts and physicists of contemporary literature.

This view is supported by the results of other researchers who have attempted, by...

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