May 09, 2014


Nerd, dork, dweeb, geek – we all use these terms, sometimes for ourselves.

But these names – that conjure up very specific social stereotypes (think thick glasses and suspenders) – can be incredibly harmful. They may even be hurting America’s ability to compete on a global scale, according to psychologist David Anderegg, author of Nerds: How Dorks, Dweebs, Techies, and Trekkis Can Save America.

“All the jobs that we have remaining in this country…I’m talking about jobs for high school grads or people who have a two year degree from a community college,” says Anderegg, “those jobs require much more technical expertise than they used to require.”

And he’s concerned that many kids, and even adults, “are discouraged from taking an interest in science and math and computer courses that they need to take in order to be employed.”

Anderegg argues that popular culture has made some progress when it comes to how these "geeks" are portrayed. At one point in the not so distant past, we got the scientist as evil genius model - a la Dr. Jekyll and Dr. Strangelove.

Now, we've turned to the Steve Urkels of the world mostly to get laughs. Anderegg points out that even the wildly popular current show, The Big Bang Theory — which some view as celebrating nerdiness — in fact leans on the same old  stereotypes: socially awkward, obsessive, prone to rants — and doesn’t do much to change them.

Why is that such a bad thing? Well, for one, other countries are much more encouraging of people who take an interest in algebra and physics.

“In places which have only recently emerged into literacy,” according to Anderegg, “they can’t afford to have that kind of stereotype.”

So what’s the solution? Anderegg recommends an easy place to start – being selective about role models.

When a kid needs a school tutor, in any field, Anderegg tells parents, “to get the the hippest, most attractive college student they can find.”

Body and Mind, David Anderegg, science, stereotypes

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