What’s with these “dye mixing in water” pictures still representing science?

A pretty cool thing happened earlier last week — here’s a summary from the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC):

Washington, DC – Progress toward making taxpayer-funded scientific research freely accessible in a digital environment was reached today with Congressional passage of the FY 2014 Omnibus Appropriations Bill.  The bill requires federal agencies under the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education portion of the Omnibus bill with research budgets of $100 million or more to provide the public with online access to articles reporting on federally funded research no later than 12 months after publication in a peer-reviewed journal.

This is of course a step in the right direction, on a path that extends much further than where we’ve gotten so far. I’m glad that there’s a lot of energy behind sticking to common sense and opening up science, but there’s a lot of really smart people talking about that and so I won’t even try.

Instead, I’ll complain about the pictures we use to represent “science.”

The Switch blog at WaPo wrote a piece about the bill that was passed, and if you click over there, you’ll be hit with a big picture of dyes mixing into water:

Screen Shot 2014-01-19 at 8.06.24 AMI know it’s dye mixing in water, because I’ve done it before:


I took this picture when I was asked to have a photo of me “doing science” during my internship at the NMNH. But hey, I was dumb, and had about 20 minutes to get a picture, and was confined to the lab. What’s a guy supposed to do. Since then, I’ve realized my mistake, and have made it a point to take a lot more photos when I’m in the field (or even when I’m sitting in front of a computer screen that has something cool going on!)

So why the hell do reporters at major news organizations like WaPo still need to use these stupid pictures to represent “science”? Surely there’s more exciting things to show: physicists working at ginormous electromagnets, chemists building 3D models of headache-inducingly complicated molecules, conservation biologists using drones to monitor forests, ecologists dangling around the canopy of a forest,… A lot of scientists have brilliant pictures that they are happy to share with these reporters (#mammalwatching is a testament to this, as are @katefrogg’s wonderful amphibian pictures. There’s a lot lot more too!), to say nothing of the wonderful nature photographers who can be truly professional about this.

Enough with dyes mixing in water!


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