Too many young people are put off physics because they see limited, outdated portrayals of what physicists look and act like in the media.
The word ‘boffin’, often used by the influential tabloid press as a slang term to describe scientists, is one of the main culprits.
A 2022 IOP-commissioned survey of 1,000 11-17-year-olds and 1,514 adults (18+) shows that the term conjures up a deeply stereotypical image of what a scientist ‘should’ look like.
When asked to describe what a boffin looks like in three words, respondents painted a clear picture: glasses, geeky, nerdy, male, white coat, serious, bald and posh. More than ten times as many survey respondents thought that the term boffin described a man than a woman.
“I never saw anyone like myself speaking about physics on the news.” – Female physicist
And 18-24-year-olds are nearly 80% more likely to view the term boffin as an insult than a compliment, while 15% of 11-17-year-olds surveyed would be put off studying a subject further if they were to be called a boffin because of their interest in it.
That’s why the IOP is calling on the nation’s red-top tabloids to bin the term ‘boffin’ as a catch-all term for all scientists or experts and to provide a more rounded and accurate picture of both what scientists do and the diverse range of backgrounds they come from.
We’re asking the Daily Star and The Sun – which together reach millions of readers a day – to drop the word ‘boffin’ from their style guides. This webpage has been updated to remove the Daily Mirror from the Bin the Boffin initiative, following the confirmation from the publication’s editor, Alison Phillips, that she will remind her journalists to not use the term boffin.
It’s time to... bin the boffin.
Download our pamphlet
We know this is about more than just one word. That’s why we’ve produced some advice for journalists on how to make sure that reporting about physics and physicists is accessible to all their readers.
From who is quoted in a story to how physics is presented in imagery, there are many ways that the media can ensure that their reporting of physics and physicists is as accurate as possible.
By doing so, more young people – and the people whose opinions they trust – will see and feel that physics is for them.
Read our media guide for journalists
What you can do
Use #BinTheBoffin on social media to add your voice of support by:
- Highlighting any use of the word boffin by (re)posting/commenting with the hashtag
- Sharing your experience of boffin and the stereotypes associated with it
- Tweeting the newspapers (@DailyStar, @TheSun) with our gif asking them (politely) to stop using the word
- Adding a Bin the Boffin sticker to your profile
(You can do the latter two either via our Twibbon page, by searching GIPHY, or by downloading the gif and sticker from the assets on this page.)
And if you are a journalist, or know someone who is, use and share our media guide with advice on how to report on physics and physicists in an accurate and accessible way. Please send any feedback to [email protected].
“I can think of a few instances where girls, who had clearly done their research, pointed out that physics has a reputation for male chauvinism... .” – Male teacher
The Bin the Boffin initiative is part of Limit Less, our campaign to support more young people from groups currently under-represented in the physics community to do physics from age 16. The campaign is aimed at those whom younger people trust and listen to, and who help shape their opinions and decisions, such as the media.