Has anyone ever seen a good science stock photo?

I was once drafted to be an extra in a commercial for the University of Oregon. First thing they did was hand me a white lab coat. Second thing was to complain that they’d looked around the lab they were filming in, and couldn’t find any colored solutions in the refrigerator — could I get them some? I at least managed to stop them before they started mixing up random reagents from the shelves.

Public misconceptions about how science is done are terrible. How terrible? Here’s a whole collection of terrible stock photos. This one was my favorite.

There are a lot of botanists in my department. I should ask them if they have a stethoscope.


  1. says

    Though in a sense you can hardly blame them.
    I suspect that much of science (or Science, if you prefer) is pretty-well un-photogenic to an extreme.
    Of course you are lucky compared with us computer geeks. From the outside watching most of what I do all day only just beats paint drying.

  2. blf says

    Science Photo Library, perhaps? From their blurb: “Science Photo Library (SPL) provides creative professionals with striking specialist imagery, unrivalled in quality, accuracy and depth of information.”

  3. woozy says

    My screen resolution is such that I saw only the top half of the photo– a (conventionally attractive) woman in a white lab coat and stethoscope in her ears– and had to scroll down to see the rest.

    It was a laugh out loud moment when I did.

  4. woozy says

    I think a photographer and model had a sense of humor and a collating editor had a tedious job where they only gave a casual glance to composition and balance and… this is what happens.

  5. woozy says

    Okay. My personal favorite was the chicken (it’s the very first one). Just how many observers does it take to notice a chicken? I guess they really don’t want those quantum waves to collapse.

  6. blf says

    The photo in the OP has achieved the rare feat of even baffling the mildly deranged penguin. She is currently trying to devise a theory where the researcher, stethoscope, and/or plant are not, in fact, a researcher, stethoscope, and/or plant (not necessarily in that order), but keeps staring at the picture and then laughing & laughing, repeat ad infinitum

  7. birgerjohansson says

    Want a new stock photo?
    1: Get lab coats.
    2: Get a hunchback.
    3: Get a cadaver.

  8. lotharloo says

    Yeah me too. I could only see the top half and I was thinking it’s a terrible artificial stock photo .. then I saw the bottom half.

  9. komarov says

    That picture clearly shows a counter-espionage operation against the mole people that have infiltrated the lab. We must always be vigilant! Loose lips sink ships Err.. loose roots kill shoots?

    To be fair, I thought the chicken picture was an interesting take on the chicken/egg problem. Anyone who considers using it as a serious science stock photo should be egged. (Repeat offenders should be thrown in the wild chicken pit.)

  10. jrkrideau says

    The woman in the photo is a naturopath offering homeopathy for plants. Sheesh, it’s so obvious.

  11. jrkrideau says

    Re stock photos, I always used to laugh at the person at the computer carefully pointing at the screen as obvious superior stands beside them and peers intently.

    Then, one day I looked over and there was the exact pose but in real life as the two people discussed the figures on a spreadsheet.

  12. screechymonkey says

    [James Damore]
    “See, this is why girls can’t do science!”

  13. Dr. Pablito says

    My lab coats are white for about five minutes, and then they get filthy with oil, grease, dye, and non-toxic reagents. Can’t tell you how many shirts I’ve ruined. It seems like every time there’s a day when I have to dress nicely for the grant officer or some administrator touring or seminar or some other occasion — that’s the day some major piece of lab equipment goes on the fritz and requires major, filthy overhaul.

  14. chuckonpiggott says

    I love the headline.
    @jrkrideau. I’ve been in that position. Sitting at my desk with a coworker intently staring at a spreadsheet.

  15. whomever1 says

    This is obviously a photo of a political scientist. She’s listening to literal grassroots as a control.

  16. Artor says

    It’s whispering, “King Midas has ass’s ears… King Trumplethinskin is an ass…”

  17. blf says

    I’ve been in that position. Sitting at my desk with a coworker intently staring at a spreadsheet.

    So have I (roughly), albeit rarely a spreadsheet, usually log / diagnostics and/or the relevant code. And usually using the mouse to point, albeit the mouse doesn’t like being picked up off the desk and tapped against the screen. You can tell because it flashes its laser a lot, and the cursor drunkly zooms all over the screen.

  18. rietpluim says

    I used to like stock photos, until they started popping up everywhere adding nothing to the article they are posted with. Every time there is a crime or an accident in the local newspaper, they add the same photo of the same police officer who has nothing to do with the crime scene or the accident that is being reported. Stock photos are laze journalism.

  19. photoreceptor says

    scientists do get a rough deal in terms of public (mis)conception. I remember as a kid watching this TV commercial on some brand of aspirin, the scientist who was behind this breakthrough discovery was a wizened old fart in a white lab coat holding four test tubes labeled (strangely enough) 1, 2, 3 and 4. And the voice over on the commercial said “product X has four active ingredients – 1, 2, 3 and 4 with the grim old guy methodically pointing to each (probably colored, don’t remember) tube in turn. It used to make me laugh at the absurdity even as a kid – but maybe it made me decide to become a scientist…

  20. Chakat Firepaw says

    I’ve actually encountered a reasonable use of a photo like the one in the OP, but it was knowingly, (and clearly), making a play on the idea of a “plant doctor”. IIRC, it even opened with something like “now obviously she doesn’t use a stethoscope….”

  21. mostlymarvelous says

    Ha! Check out Judi Dench’s program on trees.
    1) I know it’s not actually a stethoscope
    2) Go to 12.15 if you don’t want to watch the whole thing
    3) Not sure whether people outside Australia can view it from this link …