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Limit Less: Bin the Boffin

Help us to challenge clichéd media stereotypes of scientists and encourage more young people from all backgrounds to change the world through physics.


Text reads: Limit Less

Too many young people are put off physics because they see limited, outdated portrayals of what physicists look and act like in the media.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

Bin the Boffin

The campaign to make physics in the media accessible to all

Download the pamphlet (PDF, 7.05MB)

Media guide

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

Bin the Boffin logo of white text on blue

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

FAQs

Why is the IOP putting boffins in the bin?

We definitely don’t want to throw away our brilliant scientists, experts and researchers – quite the opposite! We want them to get the credit they deserve for their work instead of being described by a confusing and stereotypical word such as boffin.

And we want young people to see that physics is not just for those who fit a narrow stereotype. If young people from all backgrounds see themselves in the media’s reporting of physicists, more of them will consider pursuing physics and enjoy the benefits this brings, both to themselves and to society.

So, why is the IOP trying to get the word banned?

That’s not what we are doing. This is not about censorship or demanding that politicians force the editors of the Daily Star and The Sun to scrap the word boffin. 

We are asking them – politely – to remove it voluntarily, because it mocks and disrespects scientists, and is a word that many of their readers simply don’t understand. It is also very outdated and doesn’t need to be used when there are so many better alternatives!

The campaign has been updated to remove the Daily Mirror from Bin the Boffin, following the confirmation from the publication’s editor, Alison Phillips, that she will remind her journalists to not use the term boffin.

Well, what should journalists use instead of boffin?

They could use “scientist” or even their job title. For example, instead of saying “science boffin”, they could use the much simpler, and more understandable, “scientist”. Similarly, describing someone as an “astrophysicist” or “medical physicist” will give readers more information about the person and their specific expertise, and show them that not all boffins are the same.

When asked what journalists should use instead of boffin, members of the IOP said ‘‘my name?”, “scientist!”, or “terms more specific to the particular activity, e.g. plasma physicist, nuclear physicist, organic chemist, or whatever is appropriate”.

Aren’t there bigger problems to solve than this?

Our focus on the word boffin is part of a much bigger campaign, Limit Less, that aims to ensure that those who young people look to for trusted opinions and advice are challenging the misconceptions and stereotypes that put off some young people from doing physics. 

The media is a huge influence on young people’s lives, and by improving the accuracy and accessibility of the reporting of physics and physicists, like avoiding terms such as boffin, more of them can see and feel that physics is for them. To help journalists do this, we have produced a media guide with practical tips, available at iop.org/MediaGuide.

And supporting this campaign doesn’t mean you can’t support any others! We support, and welcome support, from all walks of life.

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.