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Institute of Physics Survey (seriously, folks)

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"My parents just came back from a planet where the dominant life form had no bilateral symmetry, and all I got was this stupid F-Shirt."

Laugh, you nearly did? Then you're obviously a geek.

Earlier this year a random selection of shoppers on London's Oxford Street were asked to pick out the physicist from a line-up of possible candidates. Guess what: 98 per cent of those asked singled out a white male of around 60 years old, with glasses and facial hair. The obvious stereotype.

While this might have been the image of an typical physicist fifty years ago, the reality is very different. Since the 1960s, the number of young women entering physics has doubled and the average age is now 31.

During 2003 the Institute of Physics completed a large survey to find out what their members thought about physics and their work. That study revealed that members themselves believe that the typical member is a male in a tweed jacket and that if physicists threw a party there would be sweet white wine, classical music, a selection of cheese and, unquestionably, no dancing.

These stereotypes can be damaging to society, some researchers believe. Talented school children might be put off doing physics because they don't see images of people like them on the television, or in magazines.

Would the same apply to the classic computer geek, we wondered. They too are often portrayed as poorly dressed, pasty-faced monomaniacs with coke-bottle glasses, who are more likely to be watching Dr Who reruns than attending the prom.

Unfortunately, the IT industry doesn't seem to have good role models. The world's foremost techno geek Bill Gates is more admired for his wealth than for his appearance. And although we haven't forgotten about the sleek black hair and the power Armani suits, these days Apple's Steve Jobs reminds us of Catweazle, the legendary ancient television Wizard who found himself trapped in the 20th Century. And should we mention zany bug-eyed Steve Ballmer, whose Monkey Boy video hit the Internet like a tornado?

How damaging is this? We don't know. But we can refer you to sundry online tests to determine your nerdity quotient. To see if you fit the description of geek, we recommend this site. ®

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