Overheard at an airport gate:
Mom to 9 year old son: You're going to be a teenager in 4 years. If you ever start doing weird things when you're a teenager, I'm going to have you locked up in a jail.
Son: What do you mean by weird, Mummy?
Mom: Like wearing lots of black clothes.
Son (voice quavering): But I like to wear black, Mummy.
Mom: No, I don't mean just wearing some black, but wearing only black. Lots of black. Maybe even black lipstick. And being pale and depressed. I will be so mad if you do that.
Son: Oh, I'm not going to do any of that. I'm going to be a paleontologist. I want to study dinosaurs and clone them from their DNA.
Mom: That's just as bad. Scientists lock themselves up in their labs and never talk to anyone and they get really depressed. You are not going to be a scientist.
This conversation depressed me, and I was only wearing a little bit of black. But I am a scientist, and hence easily depressed. Perhaps this mother is actually a fabulous person and her son is a happy and well-balanced child, but what kind of person discourages their child from being a scientist? Or anything, at age 9?
What then must we do (Tolstoy, 1886)? And whatever can be done to change this negative perception of scientists? More interaction with real scientists in K-12 education? A popular TV or book series starring a socially functional science-hero(ine)?
11 years ago