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Stock Photography Caters to Stereotypes

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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Consider microstock giant iStockphoto’s perception of scientists:

Results of a search for "Scientist" at

What is singularly disturbing about this result is that iStockphoto’s top search results aren’t determined by the company. Like any good search engine, iStockphoto’s ranking algorithm is a dynamic, organic process driven by statistics drawn from past interest in the content. The Scientist-as-Mad-Scientist,  and the lab-coat-and-blue-liquid cliché, are driven by image buyers.

Thus, these are images that conform to preconceptions of how society wants scientists to look. Stock agencies are selling society back its own stereotype, and the merry-go-round spins ever onward.

Now go do yourself a favor and have a look at real scientists.

Alex Wild About the Author: Alex Wild is Curator of Entomology at the University of Texas at Austin, where he studies the evolutionary history of ants. In 2003 he founded a photography business as an aesthetic complement to his scientific work, and his natural history photographs appear in numerous museums, books and media outlets. Follow on Twitter @myrmecos.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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  1. 1. Jerzy New 5:28 pm 02/19/2012

    With due respect, that’s how scientists put pictures of themselves on this very blog. And that’s how popular science exploratorium designed by scientists themselves portrait science.

    I agree it’s bad cliche – but don’t blame ignorant non-scientists!

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  2. 2. Stephanie Z 6:04 pm 02/19/2012

    Yes, the two things I always notice about Alex’s profile picture are the lab coat and wild hair.

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  3. 3. Alex Wild 6:13 pm 02/19/2012

    I think my hair has to be Wild, by definition.

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  4. 4. kclancy 7:07 pm 02/23/2012

    Yes, Alex, don’t blame ignorant non-scientists for being uncritical of obvious stereotypes!

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