The Scully Effect

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The Scully Effect is characterized by a phenomenon that since the beginning of the broadcasting of the X-Files in the early 1990s, lead to an increase where women started careers in the typical STEM = (Science / Technology / Engineering / Mathematics) professions.

The character of Dana Scully is seen as a positive role model of a woman who is able to establish herself a career where women are underrepresented, using her cognitive and professional abilities instead of using their physical attributes. Scully inspired other television characters such as Temperance "Bones" Brennan from the series Bones, Special Agent Olivia Dunham from Fringe, Peggy Carter from the series Agent Carter and Olivia Benson from Law and Order: Special Victims Unit[1].

"t was a surprise to me, when I was told that. We got a lot of letters all the time, and I was told quite frequently by girls who were going into the medical world or the science world or the FBI world or other worlds that I reigned, that they were pursuing those pursuits because of the character of Scully. And I said, ‘Yay!’"Gillian Anderson

"I asked my class, this was probably in 1999, if anyone was influenced to be here by ‘The X-Files,’” Simon recalls. “Two-thirds of the hands went up. I still get email from people who say that they read my book because they liked “The X-Files,” someone bought the book for them, and then they couldn't put it down. And they say 'I want to be a scientist now!'”Dr. Anne Simon, who works as a scientific consultant for the X-Files, also experiences the Scully effect in her lectures[2]

According to Simon, Scully would have been the first time a female scientist had been positively portrayed on television. She did not want faith, but facts.[3]

Sarah Smith, who blogs about depression and mental issues on the site wrote the following about how Dana Scully inspired her on December 21, 2016:

"To Gillian Anderson, the woman who plays Scully: If you ever see this, then I want you to know the “Scully Effect” has done so much more than encourage women to become doctors and scientists. No doubt you have received numerous letters from fans telling you how Scully inspired them to follow their dreams of being a scientist or a doctor.

Please, know for me, Scully has inspired me to keep living. You have played a character who makes a difference in the lives of those who feel a strong social responsibility to help relieve pain but who also struggle. While Scully is never diagnosed with a mental illness, her struggles are identifiable to those of us who also struggle with mental illness on a daily basis.

While Scully inspires us to be strong, she also reminds us that we are allowed to be weak. We are allowed to ask for help. We are allowed to cry. These things do not make us vulnerable. In fact, as we have seen with Scully, they actually help us to grow and become an even better world-saving, butt-kicking, alien-hunting badass."How Gillian Anderson’s Character on ‘The X-Files' Inspired Me to Keep Living
The Scully Effect Study

To find out more about “The Scully Effect,” 21st Century Fox partnered with the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media to carry out a research survey of women across the US. The study found a correlation between women who were familiar with, or fans of, THE X-FILES and its influence on their career choices.

Some highlights include:

- Nearly two-thirds of women in the study who work in STEM say Dana Scully served as a role model.

- More than 90% of women in the study who are familiar with THE X-FILES agree that Dana Scully is a strong female character and a role model for women and girls.

- Women who regularly watched THE X-FILES are 50% more likely to work in STEM than women who watch it less frequently, or not at all.

*Survey conducted February 15th – February 20th, 2018 by JWT Intelligence of 2,021 women in the US age 25 and older.

The "Scully Effect" Study

The Geena Davis Institute surveyed more than 2000 women in the U.S. above the age of 25, a significant portion of whom were viewers of The X-Files (68 percent) and women who had studied for or were in STEM careers (49 percent). While the survey didn’t ask women whether watching Dana Scully on The X-Files directly influenced their decision to be a scientist, the results hint that seeing a character like her on TV regularly did affect them. Women who watched more of the show were more likely to say they were interested in STEM, more likely to have studied a STEM field in college, and more likely to have worked in a STEM field after college.

While it’s hard to draw a direct line of causation there—women who are interested in science might just be more inclined to watch a sci-fi show like The X-Files than women who grow up to be historians—viewers also tended to say Scully gave them positive impressions of women in science. More than half of respondents who were familiar with Scully’s character said she increased their confidence in succeeding in a male-dominated profession. More than 60 percent of the respondents said she increased their belief in the importance of STEM. And when asked to describe her, they were most likely to say she was “smart” and “intelligent” before any other adjective.

The ‘Scully Effect’ Is Real: Female X-Files Fans More Likely to Go Into STEM by Shaunacy Ferro, April 18, 2018

The phenomena is also mentioned in The Fans Are Out There documentary.


Further reading