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Good-looking scientists? Most people think they must be dumb, according to study

By Greg Hadley

ghadley@mcclatchy.com

In this file photo taken Sunday Aug. 5, 2012, Bobak Ferdowsi, the activity lead for NASA's Curiosity mission to Mars, who cuts his hair differently for each mission, works inside the Spaceflight Operations Facility for NASA's Mars Science Laboratory, MSL, at Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.
In this file photo taken Sunday Aug. 5, 2012, Bobak Ferdowsi, the activity lead for NASA's Curiosity mission to Mars, who cuts his hair differently for each mission, works inside the Spaceflight Operations Facility for NASA's Mars Science Laboratory, MSL, at Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. AP

Even in fields such as science and research, an old stereotype is stubbornly persistent: good looks go hand in hand with a vapid brain.

That’s according to a study from researchers at the University of Cambridge published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

In the new study, researchers used pictures of hundreds of scientists’ faces from universities across the U.S. They then asked survey respondents to rate the faces based on attractiveness, intelligence and age, according to Science Daily. Then, another group of participants was asked to rate how interested they would be to know more about a particular scientist’s research, as well as how much each scientist looked like they conducted accurate and important research.

The results indicate that people are more interested in knowing more about the research of scientists that were rated as more attractive, according to a University press release. However, respondents were also more likely to say that scientists deemed unattractive were “good scientists” who conducted important research.

These results seem to go against other studies of beauty and its correlation to intelligence and success — other researchers have found that in politics and job interviews, the more attractive candidate often does better.

But far from being cause for celebration among scientists who think of themselves as less attractive, this most recent study could reveal a significant issue facing researchers today, the study’s lead author said.

Dr. William Skylark points out that at a time when scientists are becoming more and more visible to the public, assumptions the public subconsciously makes about them could impact who gets heard and who is treated with legitimacy.

“Given the importance of science to issues that could have a major impact on society, such as climate change, food sustainability and vaccinations, scientists are increasingly required to engage with the public,” Skylark said, per Mental Floss.

As a result, attractive scientists may get more initial interest from public viewers, but their findings may be viewed as flawed or mistaken, while unattractive ones may struggle to find a public forum.

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