Academic journal article Science Scope

The CSI Effect

Academic journal article Science Scope

The CSI Effect

Article excerpt

Byline: Richard Jones and Arthur Bangert

As a science teacher, I am sure that if you were asked to draw a scientist today you would not revert back to the same image that you had in your mind's eye during your middle school years. What would your current mental image of a scientist reflect? Would the scientist you draw be representative of your own culture and gender, or would your drawing represent what Chambers (1983) refers to as the standard image of a scientist: a white male wearing a lab coat and glasses, with unkempt hair? If you were to ask your own students to draw a scientist, what would you expect to see?

Until recently, the vast majority of female student images of scientists were versions of white males working alone in laboratory settings (Barman et al. 1997). Surprisingly, even female scientists, for the most part, draw stereotypical Einstein-type images that are not realistic representations of themselves actively engaged in a scientific profession (Nuno 1998). We asked the question, "What phenomenon is responsible for the recent change in female students' mental images of scientists?" One plausible answer to this question is the popularity of the Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) television series that first appeared in October of 2000. CSI was the first series to give equal representation to both males and females as laboratory scientists. This genre of television programming has expanded to include several CSI spin-offs, as well as other series such as Bones and Crossing Jordan, which also portray women as investigative laboratory scientists.

The CSI effect

We suggest that CSI, a public mass media product, and other television programming have greatly influenced how students, especially female students, perceive scientists at work. Perhaps the increased airing of television programs focusing on laboratory sciences has caused student perceptions of scientists to shift away from the "mad scientist" image to one that is more realistic. This notion seems to suggest that, today, more students hold mental images of scientists that are aligned with their own gender and typical features, rather than stereotypic "mad scientist" images promoted by horror films such as the 1931 version of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein novel.

Evidence for the CSI effect was found in drawings from 388 middle school students asked to participate in the Draw-A-Scientist Test (DAST) activity created by Chambers (1983). We began our study with drawings obtained from a convenience sample of 265 science students. These 7th-grade (n = 131), 9th-grade (n = 120), and 11th-grade (n = 14) students were enrolled in the classrooms of teachers participating in eMSS (electronic Mentoring for Student Success), an NSF-funded program designed to provide support to early-career science teachers. Students participating in this research effort attended schools with approximately equal proportions of male and female students. The ethnicity of students included Caucasian (82.5%), Native American (7%), Hispanic (5%), African American (3%), and Asian American (2.5%). Twenty-eight percent of students were eligible to receive free or reduced lunch. Thirteen percent of students participating in this study were receiving special education services (Montana Office of Public Instruction 2006).

Procedures and results

The DAST activity was administered by supplying students with a blank sheet of paper, a variety of writing utensils (pen, pencil, colored pencils, crayons, and color markers) and then asking them to draw what they think a scientist looks like. The completed drawings were collected and evaluated using the Draw-A-Scientist Test Checklist Revised (DAST-CR), a modified version of the original DAST, which identifies 10 major stereotypical characteristics of scientists rather than the 15 originally identified by Chambers (see Figure 1). Our rationale for the use of a more typical and efficient set of criteria was based on the work of Matkins (1996), which suggests that student drawings rarely include all 15 features identified by Chambers. …

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