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"It's hard to make microbes, telescopes, and math calculations appear sexy," write +Dina Spector and +Jennifer Polland at +Business Insider, introducing their list of fifty "sexiest" scientists alive. They assure us: "These aren't your typical lab coat-wearing, messy-haired brainiacs -- with the exception that they're all pretty brain-y ... We thought this was important, to highlight the brains along with the beauty. But, they're not bad to look at, either."

Social media has provided a great platform in the push to make science more relevant to the general public. Throughout these recent efforts, many have played with different approaches, including the classic advertising strategy of "sex sells." It is questionable, based on my experience, whether this technique has engendered the sort of result that advocates of science and intellectual curiosity would consider helpful.

The problem with this particular breed of "science can be sexy" is multi-pronged: it ignores people doing great work who are not perceived as "sexy," it shifts the focus away from the great work being done by people who are perceived as "sexy," it feeds toxic notions that certain people are succeeding or getting more attention because they are perceived as "sexy," and it implicitly suggests to everyone in science that they need to put energy, not only into their work, but also into their looks, including (but not limited to) the task of halting the aging process (which is, according to Business Insider's +Jennifer Welsh, "unsexy," despite the outlet's inclusion of some people over the age of optimal fertility. Welsh writes: "Evolutionarily speaking you wouldn't want to mate with someone who can't bear you children"). 

Don't get me wrong -- there is nothing wrong with putting time and energy into looking a certain way, whether you are in science or not. And there is nothing wrong with using what genetics (or your doctor -- hey, I'm from L.A.) gave you to bring science to the table if that's what works with your audience as a science communicator. The problem is that this sort of list, compiled by people who are not in the fight for science education, takes that autonomy away from individuals. This sort of list exploits them. It's possible that some people on this list are very flattered to be included -- and that's fine -- but let's not pretend this is a real attempt at getting the public interested in science. 

The most important thing that I have discovered in my short and somewhat limited time working to amplify science education is that, while sex is a great Trojan horse, science doesn't have to be sexy. Science has to be accessible and approachable. There are a great number of scientists and science communicators who are doing that in the world -- what they look like is not important, their power is in their initiative and the creative and beautiful ways they work to present science, whether this is in their books, their status updates, their blogs, their hashtags, their YouTube videos or their Hangouts here on Google Plus. 

Give me a list of people worth following who provide good content on various social outlets. Give me a list of people who will answer when I have a science question in the middle of my lunch hour even though I'm just a layperson with a slightly scandalous blog. These are the people who have the power to make science relevant to me -- no matter what their bilateral symmetry, age, gender or hip-to-waist ratio. 
Khadijah Britton, JD's profile photoAllison Sekuler's profile photoA.V. Flox's profile photoRat Xue's profile photo
As usual, +A.V. Flox, nicely put: "...while sex is a great Trojan horse, science doesn't have to be sexy. Science has to be accessible and approachable."  
+Ellis Booker, if that's sexy, then sign me up. Somehow, though, I don't think "accessible and approachable" is what they were talking about when the authors compiled that list. 
Hi. Thanks so much for your great thoughts on this. I know some people are upset by the list, and while that's unfortunate, I can't say it wasn't expected. To that end, we took into account many factors in deciding what is "sexy" — weighing a lot on the individuals accomplishments and their intelligence, not just how overtly physically attractive they are. We write a lot about unsexy science too, don't worry!
Scientists--and those of us who follow the sciences for work or pleasure--are the first to say that the great scientific theories are profoundly beautiful in their simplicity, elegance and explanatory power. But I'm drifting from the point of your essay, +A.V. Flox.  My bottom line: If hinting to horny teenagers that they might meet a "sexy" physicist or engineer gets a few more of them interested in the sciences, I'm all for it. 

And don't get me started on the bill working its way through the Oklahoma legislature right now that would forbid science teachers from penalizing kids who prefer religious "explanations" to scientific ones. "But my Daddy says Jesus rode a dinosaur!" Please. America is getting lapped by 20-odd other countries in science education, ladies and gents. Keep your articles of faith in church (where they belong) and out of the classroom.   
Jake Kern
+A.V. Flox I have to admit that when I saw this flash by my stream, I was worried. I don't have a problem celebrating people who have achieved a balance in their lives with their gifts & looks. The problem is that so many of these lists create glass ceilings for everyone involved. The "non-sexy" are not able to live up to this new standard. Those fortunate enough to be sexy find their work minimized.

This isn't just a problem with science, either. We all have something to offer. Again, it's great to celebrate those who have found a balance. But it becomes hurtful & frustrating to me to be "unimportant" because I'm not "pretty." Also, I can only imagine it would enrage you to hear, "You're a great writer for a hot chick." No! You are a great writer, and your abilities shouldn't be qualified by your appearance any more than my abilities should be qualified by my appearance.

So much respect for your approach to this topic. Thank you. 
I would have preferred it if there was a list of people whose work is considered influential in their area, or "sexy" in that their work represents potentially groundbreaking stuff, but it feels to me that inclusion in this list is heavily dependent on physical appearance which is a shame. 
This is just all wrong for me. Pictures of more attractive than average people along with "and she/he's a scientist too" aren't really very inspiring.

People I meet in real life that express curiosity and excitement about new knowledge; that's exciting. I'm way more interested in the thought that I could share a sense of discovery with a partner than whatever some profile pic says. I could give a rat's ass if the person sharing with me has a Ph.D or own's a company. What's the quality of the experience we share. 
Not to mention that the men profiled skew older than the women. Argh.
A.V. Flox
+Jennifer Welsh, the main problem with this piece is that it begins from the perspective that science couldn't possibly be appealing to the average person.

The fact that a media organization is going out of its way to find people in an industry who are appealing (since science is unappealing, scientists must also be unappealing, except! Extra! Extra! We found some who aren't!) reinforces the stereotype of people in science as "lab coat-wearing, messy-haired brainiacs." This doesn't make science more appealing.

A list showing scientists as people with hobbies, families, pets and lives outside of their work would do a lot more to combat the idea of scientist as Other, which is what may have been the intention (if I were to be charitable about this). A list of some sexy scientists, unfortunately, doesn't. Your piece, which is linked at the end of this article, "What Makes People Sexy" ( suggests a much different set of criteria for how the people on this list were selected than "accomplishments and intelligence." 

What's more, saying that you write about "unsexy" science too (don't worry!) doesn't address how exploitative this list is and if editors at Business Insider were expecting, as you say, such a backlash, I would have to elevate my criticism from exploitative to outright link-baiting. 
A.V. Flox
+Ellis Booker, I don't understand how we arrived to a place where science has to be "sexy." There are many critical scientific advancements that are everything but sexy and that doesn't make them any less interesting or important. The fact that we even have to have this conversation when we could be talking about some of the brilliant work being done is deeply unsettling. 

And you're right -- there is a war going on, and sitting around talking about which soldier is prettiest really doesn't help anyone.
+Jake Kern, I have heard people talk about the glass ceiling as being a "sun roof" for women with a certain look and it absolutely does make me crazy. Whether male or female, such an approach does minimize a person's contributions and excludes people outside the ever-changing definition of what's sexually appealing in one fell swoop. 
A.V. Flox
+U-Ming Lee, I am with you. I would much prefer a list of people in science communication who are accessible on social media and who bring science to the masses on a regular basis. Unfortunately, that's not what we got. 
+John Poteet, I love this: "I'm way more interested in the thought that I could share a sense of discovery with a partner than whatever some profile pic says." Me, too! And well-said.
+A.V. Flox in response to "linkbaiting" the number of people who are upset about the post is a very small percentage of those who read/liked/shared the post, so I'm not sure that's fair. I expected a backlash from the science blogging and communication community, which is what I got. 
"These aren't your typical lab coat-wearing, messy-haired brainiacs..."

That quote summarizes my concerns with the article, really:

1) The idea that the typical brainiac wears a lab coat and forgets to comb his/her hair is a myth, and one best not perpetuated.

2) The underlying idea that this would be a problem, even if true, concerns me.  What if scientists really did tend to have bad fashion sense?  So what?

3) This one will probably meet with some controversy here, but when it comes to talking about the importance, fun, excitement, or applicability of scientific thought, the critical thing is the ideas and the methods, not the people.  I know, that's terrible of me and every journalist here probably thinks I'm out of my mind, but why does everything have to be a human story?  Who I am personally should matter to people that know me, but it isn't relevant to my science.  Every time I do a media release for a paper I end up struggling with the writers because they want to tell my "story".  Folks: my story is relevant only if you're doing an interview about me personally (which I've also done some of, and that's fine, too).  But if you want to report on what I do for a living, just keep it to that.
A.V. Flox
+Jennifer Welsh, if you expected a backlash from the people about whom you were reporting, doesn't that say something about the sort of reportage? It's been a while since I was in a newsroom, but I'm pretty sure I remember "Minimize harm" among the top three items on the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics.
The people we featured were contacted about the list beforehand. It wasn't a list of science bloggers. 
+Jennifer Welsh, I do have to give you props. I'll admit that I'm not happy with the article, but at least you are here talking about it instead of ignoring us.
+Michael Habib, I think there is a lot of good to be done in bringing people into the story. Yes, ideas and methods are important, but stories about people are wonderful conduits.

+Deborah Blum's Poisoner's Handbook is great, for instance, but its the story of Charles Norris and Alexander Gettler that carry the narrative. +David Dobbs's Reef Madness is a wild ride through the history of science that rests firmly on the intersecting stories of Charles Darwin, Louis Agassiz and Alexander Agassiz. 

There are so many more. The story matters. That science is more than a set of tenets matters. That many people contributed to what we know now matters. It matters because it has the power to bring us into the story no matter how far science is from some of our lives.

The trick is knowing how to tell this story. 
A.V. Flox
+Jennifer Welsh, your comment dismisses people who communicate about science online -- many of whom aren't just bloggers but scientists. I find that dismissal deeply unfortunate. 
Now I'm curious - curious enough, I think, to go see how many of the featured scientists are active in social media somewhere.  I'm always looking for more good science blogs to follow.
+Jennifer Welsh you were expecting a backlash from scientists, but still thought this was a good thing from science? how does that work, exactly?
I expected a backlash from a certain segment of the science blogging community. Which is what we are seeing here.
+A.V. Flox: I thought you might take issue with that particular suggestion :) 

And to be honest, I don't altogether disagree: stories are important, and the history of people and how they have developed ideas is also important.  Here's the thing, though: the books/stories you cited were not really about science, per se.  They're about the history of events and people from which scientific discoveries emerged.  That's different than writing a press release about new research. 

I would argue that science, the methodology, is a set of tenets only.  But science, the profession (and/or unpaid activity) is more than that.  I have no problem with bringing people into the story if the story at hand warrants their inclusion.  What worries me is that we live in a culture that thinks 'science' is "the stuff scientists do".  I think it is important that a wider audience is allowed to see that science is a way of thinking, and that anyone can be a scientist (and that professional scientists aren't always doing science).
P.S. One of my most cherished items is an original, 1857 copy of Louis Agassiz's "Essay on Classification".  Hell of a gift.
How would you characterise that segment of the science blogging community?
(Sorry, I'm not trying to be difficult, I'm just always curious about how these decisions get made)
I work in an organisation primarily responsible for managing and providing scientific expertise and data.  Sometimes I see science outreach and science education done well, sometimes spectacularly badly.  I think your piece falls somewhere in the middle, but find it tedious when we feel the need to sex up our subject matter. (I can't see '10 most sexiest senators' working, but do you?)
I'm glad you consulted with your subjects before including them - I wonder if any chose not to be included?
Actually it's the kind of list we've done in every one of our verticals. "Sexiest CEOs" "sexiest advertising blahdiblahs" "sexiest political commentators," "sexiest people in tech" so, yeah we've probably done sexiest senators or something akin to that. I knew going in that the science blogging community is a very tight knit group who idolizes science over almost everything else. I also know that many have very tightly held beliefs about sexism and objectification. Those weren't the people we were trying to reach. 
Some did opt out from being included in the list and we respected their wishes 
+Jennifer Welsh, I guess my questions would be:

What's the purpose of the article?
How do you feel the article benefits the science community & your readers?
The purpose was to get science into the minds of people who may not normally read our posts - the same people who have no clue there IS a science blogging community. Yes, they are out there. theres a huge segment of the world/internet who doesn't follow the science news. If they click through and learn one thing about science, that's a good thing. We focused on intelligent and accomplished scientists for that reason. We took a lot of time to write interesting summaries of their research. These people are sexy because of their brains and ambition, not just because of their looks. 
+Jennifer Welsh i've been watching the outrage to this post all day on twitter and elsewhere, and mostly i thought there might have been some middle ground here. I don't see that middle ground anymore. Here's why.

When you write "the number of people who are upset about the post is a very small percentage of those who read/liked/shared the post, so I'm not sure that's fair," i can't help but infer that you and/or your editors at BI didn't just anticipate the outrage, you actually didn't care about it. If they anticipated a backlash, I might expect that the writers and editors at BI might have prepared to properly address it. But this sort of response is problematic because that it communicates that only the opinions of majorities matter, which is precisely the sort of silencing and other-ing that some of us are working hard to address.

That a majority accepts or encourages an otherwise oppressive message isn't all that surprising, when you think about it.
Walking to school one time, stopped at a light, two of the most prototypical nerd guys I'd ever seen were gawking at a girl who walked by them. I overheard one of them say:

"Why can't hot girls just love me for my mind."
Thanks for talking this out everyone, but it's past my bed time! I have to be fresh to instill more hatred and rage tomorrow! (Sarcasm!) Feel free to message, tweet or email me with further thoughts. Jwelsh at
I was quite taken aback when I saw the article this morning as well, although not for quite the same reasons as +A.V. Flox. I've spent most of my life in these fields – first as a physicist, and now as an engineer – and this surprised me because it so violates the cultural norms of the fields. Scientists dedicate their lives to being known by their work; towards a work which is supposed to be greater than they are as individuals. And the fields can be utterly brutal; scientists quite literally dedicate their entire lives to what they do, often at the expense of nearly everything else, and their success among their peers is defined entirely as the reputation of their name – generally their last name alone.

So a "sexiest scientists" column is deeply disruptive in a few ways. First, it tries to establish "sexiness" – and despite the various things +Jennifer Welsh listed as factors, it's quite clear that simple media-worthy attractiveness was the lead factor – as a legitimate arena of competition. When people are already stretched to their limits with a competition over the field they have dedicated themselves to, to add a new one can be deeply unsettling. (Most of all for those who don't feel like they could win at such a thing – and that's the overwhelming majority of scientists) This is somewhat mitigated by the fact that the science community, by and large, has never heard of Business Insider, and this entire thing is likely being taken as a joke within the community; but (as with most jokes in that community) it has a sharp edge to it, where those who were picked now have some extra bit of "edge" over the others. 

The consequences in this regard are potentially more serious to those outside of the community, and wondering if they should join in. I find it hard to read this as saying "oh, you can be a scientist and be sexy, too!;" it reads more like "want to be a scientist that people talk about? You have to be sexy, too!" I wouldn't show this article to a high school student or a middle school student, or even to an undergrad, considering a career in the sciences.

There's a more deeply insidious aspect to it, though, around gender. As a few commenters have already pointed out, while there is a rough gender parity here, the selection of men and women was very different: the men skew significantly older, and are of a range of levels of physical attractiveness. They all share a certain rugged look, and all of them are certainly people you could feature in print, but they have the "established" look about them, a look which conveys power and authority. The women skew significantly younger, skew less senior in their fields, and skew much more physically attractive. And that's, fairly roughly, the power dynamic in most of these fields: older, very established men, with considerable power, and young men and women, trying to work their way up. And in a lot of these fields (not least string theory, my own former field) there's an unsubtle theme of sexual predation going on; but a woman who ends up in a sexual relationship with a more senior physicist has permanently been branded as his extension, as one of his "girls," and has basically shot her career to hell. This is not a field known for its subtle power imbalances.

And in that context, to see the women as overtly sexualized – women who are every bit as competent as their male counterparts, but who are struggling to define themselves in a field which is simultaneously viciously competitive and trying to push them out by redefining them as purely sex items – to signal to them that their power comes, at least in some measure, from their appearance – is deeply irresponsible, something which threatens their careers and their futures. It's subtle, but it's the sort of thing that (now that I have a large team of my own) I have to work hard to repel and make clear is not a part of how we play the game.

(And to understand this fully, it helps to understand another unspoken rule of the sciences: You must be utterly and solely dedicated to your particular field. The mere possession of side interests, unless you are extremely established in the field, is enough to effectively disqualify you from your career; if you can be something else, by the cultural norms of the field, then you are that something else, and not a scientist. This is considered one of the major means of filtering people out from the levels of grad school through assistant professorship. Being good at being sexy is no less of a threat – to the junior people)

I completely understand why BI would want to run this column, as well as parallel columns of "sexiest CEOs," "sexiest actors," "sexiest PR representatives," or the like. But it's a very different matter to run those about fields where the presentation of one's public face is core to the work, and where "sexiness" has a rather specific (and career-aligned) meaning, than to do it in the sciences or in engineering.
What the hell? They missed me off!?!
"I expected a backlash from the science blogging and communication community, which is what I got." o_0

As a non-scientist (lawyer and literature degree), +Jennifer Welsh , I want to be clear that it's not just "scientists" in your "backlash."
There are so many angles to approach this article and the conversation being had about it that it's really difficult to know where to start. 

I suppose, let's start with the most obvious (to me): +Jennifer Welsh  Why would you choose to alienate those within the STEM fields who are the active voice in this medium? It makes no sense to me how you could make "science bloggers" the acceptable collateral damage of this piece, when they're the ones that are able to actually make some noise against what this post was saying. Sure, there's no such thing as negative publicity and my Google Analytics can't differentiate between people who are pissed and people who love reading my posts, but I really hope that this wasn't a motivating factor. From a completely editorial standpoint, alienating a group of people who are active in this field and know how to communicate with the public is not the best course of action.

Being involved in science and being considered sexy isn't inherently a bad thing. Scientists are people and people are multifaceted creatures. I'm not only allowed, but very capable of presenting research at a conference during the day, then shake my hind quarters in the club that night. Drawing this line in the sand and stating the pure shock that these scientists are ::gasp:: sexy as well as smart is offensive to me on the same level that a scientist is able to do their work and ::gasp:: have ovaries. Obviously there is a difference between gender and sex, but when you state an issue as being against the norm, a gross stereotype, you don't do anything but solidify the stereotype. 

Now don't get me wrong, I'm all about connecting the public with the people doing amazing things in science. I do it on a regular basis in written and video medium. I don't know many people who got into the science fields because they fell in love with the esoteric abstract science, but that there was some person who had a profound impact on their life, which brought them into the field in question. A human connection is indeed relevant to doing outreach for science, especially trying to get the public at large to even consider the importance of it in their everyday lives. 

I think being considered sexy is something that is positive, but is also up to me to feel sexy about myself. It's an opinion. My self-image is something that I'm responsible for and something that I must own. Some days I feel my brain is sexier than my body, while others it's vice-versa. Some days I don't feel sexy at all. There's nothing wrong with either of those cases. Making sexy the qualifying attribute for someone's success is walking down a dangerous path which can add even more fear, uncertainty and doubt onto someone who's struggling to think scientifically in a society that does not think on a scientific level. Let the person be sexy. Let their work be their work. Let their science be effing awesome.
A.V. Flox
The most unfortunate part of this discussion is the dismissal of science bloggers -- as though science communication is unimportant and the people who work at it are simply a group of antagonistic hecklers who don't support the good journalism being done by BI's sexy listicle staff. It is absolutely mind-boggling. 
+Yonatan Zunger thank you for saying the nuanced things i couldnt articulate. all of those points occurred to me as i considered if i wpuld participate.
and yes, i considered. i have tickets on myself :-)
This is the 21st century, and western society is still focussed around the shallow outside of way to many things, I am very unsurprised and yet still greatly disappointed at the Business Insider article. I can imagine very few topics where a list of "sexiest X" would be appropriate and/or desirable, with perhaps the exception of Sexiest Porn stars, since they are in the business of actually selling sexual content (if this is an inappropriate thought, feel free to tell me, I try to keep an open mind!). 

I am not a scientist, and I have only limited interest in science (I find the topic interesting, but I don't spend a lot of time on it). I am however very grateful for the effort made by scientists around the globe on a daily basis. If it weren't for "unsexy" science I would have a much more difficult life, here's just a few things that I can think of:

- Without science I would have suffered a great deal recently. I have a herniated disc, without serious pain killers and an MRI machine... well, I don't even want to go there. Suffice to say that these products of science really reduced my pain and my worries significantly!
- Without science there would be no way to fix my eyesight, without my glasses I'd be blind as a bat and that would make my life a great deal harder
- Without science there would be no computers and no internet, and I would be able to do what I love (being a software developer)

To all you scientists out there reading this: Thank you for all the work you do and have done. Please don't stop rocking on and please don't think that you have to be sexy to be successful based on shallow media.
I think +Yonatan Zunger nailed it when he mentioned the public-persona aspect of the work of actors or senators. There is a kind of career path where one's appearance and overall presentation are vital to success. But the sciences are not that kind of career path. Charisma is useful in presenting one's results in an engaging way, and there's certainly a place for that - as the science bloggers here demonstrate, with fun and intriguing posts that can capture the imagination of the general public and draw us in to learn more. But there is an equal place for the woman or man who spends a lifetime away from the limelight in a lab or at a desk or behind a computer constructing new theories and methods.

Celebrating a group of scientists as "sexy" is absurd - as strange as singling out the ten hottest theologians would be. Who cares what they look like? It's what's in their brains that matters. U.S. culture is already overly obsessed with appearance as a measure of worth. This damaging stereotype does not need any help. Feeding this obsession in the name of widening the appeal of science is naive at best. 
+Christina Talbott-Clark its not just the US, its a general thing in western society. If you look at how Italian media portrays women, well... I don't even have words for it :/
+A.V. Flox I disagree about missing out science bloggers/communicators. Telling people about science is really, really important, but is a different thing from actually doing science.

It is an arbitrarily selected group (scientists) measured by an unrelated metric (attractiveness). What next? Heaviest trombonists? Nicest smelling airline pilots?
you know, i am on my phone, and maybe my google fu is failing me, but i could not find any sexiest politicians listicles on bi...
+Drew Thomson, I approached the issue from the assumption that BI was doing this to get people interested in science (as the opening of the listicle suggests in its language "making science sexy"), that's why I brought science communicators and educators into the discussion. I'm not making a statement about who or what is more important. 
+Yonatan Zunger Challenge accepted. I'll get back to you on that. Do they have to be theologians whose ideas I find palatable? I suspect there will be more conventionally attractive people among the wingnut crowd.

Oh, and I had best make it the top twelve if it's going to be a calendar. 
+Mark Kremer I'm aware that objectification is not just a U.S. thing; I just try not to speak authoritatively about cultures other than my own. I appreciate the support, though. 
+Kristin Milton, don't get me started on how fun the exploitation of Sexy! Things! makes the task of sex-positive educators...
That's fair enough +Christina Talbott-Clark. I guess I feel less inhibited about that on occasion (such as on this topic), because I have seen a bit too much objectification in different western societies.
+A.V. Flox in that case it would make sense to bring educators into it.

I went with the idea that the whole thing is really, really silly. Also, Lee Cronin? Really?
+Drew Thomson, it'd be more silly to me if the othering of scientists wasn't so pervasive. 
+Mark Kremer Absolutely. I just see so much Western, and particularly American, hegemony in the discussion of social trends and assumptions (among other things) that I try to avoid adding to it. 
I wish I could +1 +Christina Talbott-Clark's comment more than once. Don't even get me started about Western hegemony in the discussion of social trends....
+U-Ming Lee I saw something earlier today (and did not have time even to plus it, let alone read it or note who'd posted it - maybe even you?) that said, only more concisely, that Americans are not an appropriate study demographic from which to draw conclusions about the global population. 
+Christina Talbott-Clark It wasn't me but that sounds like something I would have shared if I'd seen it. It's true not just for Americans but for any culture, of course. I've moved around a lot over the past two decades or so and one thing I've grown to appreciate is that so much of what people assume to be true, or to be just the way "things are done", are in fact dependent on the cultural context.
The only theologians in this century that I could come up with off the top of my head was Reinhold Niebuhr, Paul Tillich, and Hans Kung. In Google images, it looked like Hans might appeal physically in a Robert Mitchum sort of way, and I also came across this:

I hope I'm not compounding the problems mentioned here, but that challenge was like a laser beam to a cat's eyes. I felt almost compelled to look up the three names that I did, and I don't know of any modern female theologians except Betty White.
it feeds toxic notions that certain people are succeeding or getting more attention because they are perceived as "sexy,"

Well said, +A.V. Flox!
Since the article has been taken to task for it's gender bias, why not add ethnicity to the list of complaints. For the majority of non-whites in the list BI seems to have picked the lightest available photo. Which just seems wrong.
Then there is the featurette 'What makes someone sexy'

While people often think that sexiness is in the eyes of the beholder and is inextricably linked to cultural norms, that isn't completely true.

Hold on tight as BI lays some Cosmo-style universal truths on us: 

When you dig down into the human brain there are a few things that almost everyone uses to determine a person's attractiveness, at least, on the physical scale.

Note excessive use of weasel-words (often, not completely, almost everyone), but this sound ends as we get to the hard and fast rules of attraction:

Our bodies and brains have been tuned to spot these genetic traits through physical features in the face and body. Upon first attraction, these are what we all look for:

Some of the highlights:
The ideal face of an attractive woman has high cheek bones, big eyes and a thin jaw.
Men also prefer a waist-to-hips ratio of 7:10. Weight doesn't matter.
Hip width and breast size are important factors in fertility, child birth, and rearing, so there's definitely an evolutionary connection there.
The ideal male has a big jaw, a broad chin and an imposing brow.
A BMI (Body Mass Index) of 20.85 has been determined as the most attractive weight for a woman.

Apart from the suggested scientific accuracy (up to two decimals!) it also suggests that these "evolutionary truths" hold across place, time and culture... 
I feel I should point out that at least one person on the list was added to the list without her consent or prior knowledge. She is an astronomy graduate student who has had to deal with her image being misused due to her attractiveness in the past. She is VERY unhappy about being put on the list. After she got in touch with +Jennifer Welsh, they removed her from the list. I should also point out that it appears that this all occurred before +Jennifer Welsh stated here that all the people on the list had the option to opt out.

As you can imagine, my faith in the good intentions of the list authors is rather low at the moment.
Naturally, because actually CONTACTING 50 people and WAITING for replies would take too long!  It'd be like they actually have to act like JOURNALISTS or something. /sarcasm
They should have taken a cue from the "Science, It's a Girl Thing" fiasco. /smh  
+Yonatan Zunger nails it. If the editors of BI don't offer to publish his post as a column, they'll reveal themselves as cynical and opportunistic. (Rather, more cynical and opportunistic than I already believe them to be.) 
The entire premise of these kinds of lists is bogus. It doesn't make it better just because they do the same for a bunch of other careers. I'm imagining a "sexiest programmers" list (I work as a software dev) and I'm upset. It reduces all of the work someone does in a field to their sex appeal. Those that aren't sexy are, I guess, not very good.

Worse, as noted above, these lists inherently re-inforce gender stereotypes where older, powerful more successful men are profiled alongside younger women. Meanwhile the older women peers (similar age, experience, etc to the men) do not generally make the list. If you're a woman looking at a career in software (as would be the case for me), the list would contain men who are older (probably senior execs, CTOs and senior devs at startups or big companies like Google) and younger attractive women. You would have re-inforced the idea that women can't make it to the high ranks of tech. After all, there aren't many (any?) on the list.
+A.V. Flox, thanks for a thoughtful response to BI's list. I'm not going to repeat everyone else's arguments about the fundamental problems with using such a list to create scientific engagement, especially for women in our society. I generally agree with you, dislike these lists & have nothing new to say on that front. I do think intent does matter. I'm also a make lemonade out of lemons cliche kind of guy. I also think scientists are humans, not special. 

Why does intent matter? Making mistakes with good intention means opportunity for engagement, dialogue, education & improvement. If we think BI was only being exploitative, there is almost no point to our response. We are not BI's target audience. Based on page views, we are numerically irrelevant. No one is going to get hired/fired, resources at BI are not allocated based on making our community happy. +A.V. Flox writes, "Give me a list of people...", but the list isn't being made for +A.V. Flox or me.

The lack of sexualization in the actual profiles, male/female balance, efforts (though there was one mistake in this) to get listed individuals to "opt in", and +Jennifer Welsh trying to engage in the discussion suggest positive intent, albeit misguided.

This list is a lemon. It is clear that many of us really hate lemons. But, given that lemons exist, what can be done with them? Vilifying BI is satisfying, but will it change anything? How can we address the mistakes? How can we teach them why this is specifically offensive.

The second paragraph of the introduction serves only to reinforce stereotypes and set up the people on the list as rare, exceptions. That's a specific issue we can raise (and I have) with +Jennifer Welsh. I know you don't want to drive page views to this list, but maybe engaging in the comments to humanize scientist on and off the list, help people in BI's audience understand why we are offended, convince the audience to demand better...

Are we going to take to task the scientists that did not opt out? Power dynamics due to the attention BI could offer play into the decision, but if none of us said "yes" (for better or worse I once agreed to be on a "sexy" scientist list), this list could not have been created with the fig leaf of consent. Some of us participate in these exercises.

Is it ever ok to boil people down to one trait & rank them? Is "50 Smartest Scientists" ok? +Rachael Ludwick nails it. If we don't feel that objectifying lists respect the dignity of the people in one field, it is not appropriate for any field. Scientists aren't special. Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity. That right is not conditional on the profession you have chosen.
Hmm.... I feel like my comment will just be pieces and bits of what has been said several times already, but I think the overall message hasn't been clearly stated yet (or not often enough).

The article authors write in good-faith, but their main assumption is somewhat strange, when you really think about it: "there's a myth that people in science are not good looking, thus some people aren't joining the sciences because of that."

As others pointed out, sexiness has nothing to do with participating in the sciences. But, on a broader sense, why should sexiness  have anything to do with any career that does not involve sex? Why is there an expectation that secretaries be sexy? Why should bartenders be sexy? Why should anybody that faces the customers be sexy?

Yes, we enjoy eye-candy, as the visual creatures we are, but this cultural view that "beauty" matters in the workplace really has to go (note: from here on I will use the terms beauty and sexy interchangeably). Leave the beauty contests for night-clubbing or even for people taking a stroll in the park, but they really have no place in the workplace.

This is a bit of a complicated issue with no obvious solution, because there are people who enjoy being beautiful, and it is their free-will right to display their beauty to the world. At the same time, people who enjoy admiring such beauty have a (at least subconscious) bias at the time of hiring. "If you have two people of equal qualifications, it can't harm to pick the sexier one, right?" And that's how we (as a society) build pressure to be good-looking for the workplace.

Unless we are going to isolate work colleagues from directly engaging with each another (by working from home, engaging only through voice-only meetings, or just forcing everybody to wear burkas?), the bias towards beauty can probably never be truly eliminated.

In a way, it is already a bit like that in the scientific community, since participants may only know of each another from a last name and their articles written, in many cases maybe not even knowing the gender of each another! But this only works at a large scope, not on small research teams, and certainly doesn't apply to most other fields.

Granted, even if I can't conceive of a solution to this dilemma currently, the article's focus on "sexy in the sciences" is a step in the wrong direction. We should be focusing on removing the term "sexy" from all (maybe except porn/sex-services related) careers, instead.
Just this morning I realized that intelligence is far more attractive than physical beauty. Agreed, you need a bit of both to round out the equation, but for long-term entrapment sustainability, the intelligence wins almost every time.
+Karen James courageously posted on twitter links to some posts she did in 2008 promoting "sexy scientists":

While it seems her views on whether these were a good idea or not may have changed (and fair play on that), it does highlight the actual difficulty in establishing a clear line for when it is appropriate to use "sex/sexy" as a hook for science engagement. This list is over that line & BI seemed to have known that to an extent. But we are ok with using titillating headlines related to odd duck penises & talking incessantly about a guy's hairstyle. +Carin Bondar has a web show that is all about sexy & sex.

This isn't a situation where we have a clear cut Code of Conduct. Do we have the same standards inside our community and outside, and should we?
Discussion of this post on the drive to work this morning led to the following observations: 

Here we have a demographic historically designated as, by definition, unattractive: the nerd. While it's no fun to be the designated wallflower, it does provide some relief from the pressure to look good that pervades American society. But it hardly seems fair to continue to insult the poor nerds (and the implication of physical unattractiveness is, indeed, an insult; perhaps, in this culture, the insult). Let's bring them into the fold: let's allow them to be part of the beautiful people! And how else to introduce them to their new status but to call out the conventionally attractive among them?

It's not a coincidence that "geek chic" is on the rise as the economic power of those employed in "geeky" fields increases. There is a powerful untapped market there, and, as my husband put it, the creation of insecurity also creates a marketing opportunity. This is seen in, for example, the increasing number of personal grooming products or services designed for men, or the rise in the frequency and type of surgical body modification procedures: a demand is created, and a market, where none existed before. 

An article celebrating "sexy scientists", therefore, invites (or shoves) scientists into a cultural expectation they may neither be accustomed to nor want. It may have been written with good intentions, but those intentions are extremely culturally compliant and don't look beyond the social veneer of "pretty is good" (hence my previous description of such an article as "naive at best"). The net effect is to put increased pressure on a particular group: again, in my husband's words, Now, not only are you a nerd, you can be the only unattractive nerd.

Well, who in their right mind wouldn't want that?
Thanks to +Josh Witten for kindly calling me 'courageous' for sharing my 2008 'Scientist Pin-Ups' series of blog posts (complete series listed and linked below).

I'm conflicted about how I feel about my 2008 self. On the one hand, as we've seen today, the sexiness of scientists as a topic is all kinds of problematic if not offensive. On the other hand, my 2008 posts have a very different purpose, style and even venue than the Business Insider piece.

So, I'm very interested in what people think of my 2008 posts in light of today's discussion. Don't worry about flinging a little mud (or whatever) my way. Hell, I sort of feel like flinging some at myself right now.
+Walther M.M., this is outside the point, but I thought I'd mention that established porn stars tend to be listed by their ability with regard to certain niches (girl-girl, anal, medical fetish, etc. See the AVN Awards or XBIZ Awards) and, as any cursory browse of a providers review site might suggest, sex workers are considered by the kind of service they provide.

A "sexy" list wouldn't be damaging (and indeed, inclusion in larger skin rags can launch a career), but it wouldn't necessarily be helpful to people interested in porn or in finding a provider.

And the truth is that there is little news value for an outlet like Business Insider to report sexy people in a field that is very much about sex.
+Karen James, I just had a moment to look at the posts you linked. I agree that the topic is problematic and see how your premise is a little different (that sexy librarian isn't the only sexy type of nerd). That said, I do think the pin-up focus detracts from the work, especially in the last pieces, which are mostly photos instead of celebration of what these women did. 
I think I know how to begin resolving this rather unpleasant business, +Jennifer Welsh. If I convinced +Tommy Leung to draft a listicle of the 50 Sexiest Parasites, would Business Insider run it? 
+Kee Hinckley, you don't know +Tommy Leung? Oh, I'm so happy to bring him to your attention. He's brilliant. You'll really enjoy his posts. 
+A.V. Flox Thanks for the feedback. Even though I wrote those posts, I agree with you, which is a gives me a strange tingle of cognitive dissonance. It's interesting to contemplate what was going through my head five years ago vs. what's going through it now. I must have been in a completely different place then in relation to the topic.
I don't know why they wouldn't pick up a post about parasites. As the science page has a variety of stuff on it. Amongst all that stuff though, the list in question is approaching 2 million hits. Next best thing recently is at like 12000. Given the incentive structure for a place like BI, not sure our disapprobation counts for much.  
+Karen James, I think we're always changing and learning new things. It's not surprising that some of those lessons would throw into question previous efforts.

I can't even begin to describe how much I've changed since I started writing about sex. I hated how political all the columnists seemed to be and had a strict "no politics" rule for myself. The luxury of my privilege as a straight woman in a monogamous relationship! I'm very fortunate that it didn't last.

ETA: I'm glad being blinded so thoroughly by privilege didn't last, that is. I'm still a little blind, of course, and as a result have cone to deeply appreciate reminders. 
Now that the number of comments are nearing 100, I'd like to propose we stop beating the +Business Insider dead horse. Mark my words: BI will not apologize for this fluff piece or stop publishing such silliness in the future (although it may steer clear of the scientific community, given the shitstorm it encountered thanks to our own +A.V. Flox).   

If BI would like a serious topic to investigate related to the sciences, how about this: Why are some wealthy conservatives funding the dismantling of science education in the United States? Are their motives purely driven by fundamentalist religious convictions? Could there be a business motive too? 

True, this topic--the strenuous attempt by some to gut America's STEM capabilities--isn't sexy. But it IS profoundly important, and I'd encourage BI to put its crack editorial team on it. (You can push back the "Sexiest CFOs Alive!" feature for a month, right? :) )    
Thanks for the mention +A.V. Flox, parasites can indeed be sexy (in their own fascinating and subversive and horrifying ways), and 50 of them would barely be scraping the tip of the iceberg (as many more than that have been featured on the Parasite of the Day blog). I think what makes the list so problematic is that on a list featuring people as scientists, I'd think they would like to be recognised for their scientific achievements rather than a physical characteristic which has no bearing on their ability to do science.

Sadly, I think I'm going to have to agree with +Josh Witten - given that BI just seems to be interested in hits rather than the reaction that community is supposed to represent, I am also not sure if our reaction will count for much in their eyes.
Ten Hottest Theologians:
Michael Servetus, Jan Hus, Girolamo Savonarola, Patrick Hamilton, John Frith, William Tyndale, Hephaestus Amphigúeis, Giordano Bruno, Thomas Cranmer, Hugh Latimer
+A.V. Flox , you hit the nail on the head on all counts.  (signed), Sexy Scientist Who Is Only Appreciated For His Looks.  :)))
Not to steal credit from +A.V. Flox, but I first heard about this yesterday via +Michael B. Eisen, +Karen James & +Khadijah Britton. I may be wrong, but they started the "shitstorm".

The 2 million hits are what's going to influence hiring, firing & resource decisions at BI. While we may feel we are yelling at the folks who did the writing & made decisions, addressing the structure that drove them is much higher up the food chain & extends beyond BI. 
Thanks, +Josh Witten. Yes, +Ellis Booker, I saw the response to the piece already brewing (especially on Twitter) long before I sat down to write this.

I don't think this is stealing anything from me. I am just here to share my perspective and make conversation. The credit is the science communications community for bringing it to my attention and continuing the conversation on this platform. 
+Ralf Haring The only name I recognized in your list was William Tyndale, and even then I had to look it up to confirm. That feels like cheating, though, like adding St. Augustine or Thomas Aquinas. I thought we were looking for 20th-century pinups, even if that wasn't stated as such.

If you got even half of those names without looking them up, I bow deeply to you.
Rather, I kneel before you. ^^
The stealing bit, +A.V. Flox, was that your post helped transition the response from reactionary to more thoughtful. 
+Josh Witten, I need no credit whatsoever. I'm just here to amplify what I can. :) 
+Thomas Kang Oh don't worry, I think I'd be some kind of freak if I remembered all of those. Instead I'm a different kind of freak that would look them up. I knew maybe two or three (not counting the obvious black sheep). If you're looking for religious pin ups, there's one really famous one from a couple millennia back. Take my wife, please.
+A.V. Flox, unlike placing you on a "50 Sexiest Whatever" list, I don't think I need your consent to give credit where it is due. 
Two or three still gets a respectful bow, not the full-on kneel. I knew zero, not counting Tyndale. ^^
As for looking them up, what do you mean by freak? That comes across as a terrible judgment on the very reason for my online existence! ^^
+Josh Witten, I'm lucky that mostly I only rank on lists of people who write about sex -- where, incidentally, no one mentions what the sex writers look like.

Actually, even Mashable, which had a gallery instead of an article, had screengrabs of tweets written by their chosen top ten "sexperts" instead of photos of the people they were listing. Yes, our avatars showed up, too, but the emphasis was on the sort of stuff we tweet. I thought that was really neat.
+A.V. Flox, I spent too many years doing genomics work to do anything but sigh when viewing an arbitrary ranking system, especially one based on a single variable. 

I like the twitter screen grab idea. Maybe a "50 Funniest Scientists" with proof. Well, maybe 15, to make it realistic.
In the spirit of +Jacquelyn Gill reminding us on twitter about a lesson from +ScienceOnline - if we don't self-curate our identity someone else will do it for us - I nominate science comedian +Brian Malow as list curator, but only if he puts me on it. :) 
Sounds like a great idea.  For someone to do.  Off-hand, I'd say Neil deGrasse Tyson, Lawrence Krauss, and Phil Plait are strong contenders.
Was anybody else totally bummed that that list wasn't full of scientists who STUDY sex? I was totally expecting like Helen Fisher and Frans de Waal and shit.

Ok, disclaimer: I'm a woman, I'm a scientist, and I'm NOT beautiful, so there may be a slight "jealousy" bias here. However. As I was reading this, I kept thinking: as a woman, I'd be totally flattered if somebody posted a photo of me with a comment, "this is sexy." BUT, as a scientist, I'd be totally offended if somebody portraid my work just because I'm beautiful. 
For what it's worth, +E.E. Giorgi, I think you're absolutely beautiful -- your photos, your posts, and your profile pics.^^
awwwww.... thank you +Thomas Kang , you're so sweet!!! hey, but I make good science, too, eh?? ;-)  lol, joking!
+Thomas Kang I notice you implied you had not heard of Savonarola! He would be a pleasant diversion to your day if you are not otherwise preoccupied with matters of greater importance. He was a somewhat itinerant, mendicant preacher whose sermons excoriated the rich and attracted throngs of followers among the poor and downtrodden. Along the way, he somehow managed to prophesy fire, brimstone, death and destruction to those he saw as corrupt and ultimately was executed for his efforts. There's something eminently sexy to all that (having the benefit of 6 centuries of hindsight perhaps).
+U-Ming Lee I am always preoccupied with matters of the utmost importance, and once I become preoccupied with learning about Savonarola, that preoccupation will be the matter of greatest importance. I've read The Little Prince, you see, and I've learned that watering my dying grapefruit sprout in the morning is also a matter of the greatest importance.

Execution for standing up for what one believes in -- that is very sexy; I agree. Looking at the list of names again, I vaguely seem to recognize Jan Hus. Hugh Latimer also offers up vague stirrings of recognition, but that could just be coming from the list a second time. Either way, I would have missed a multiple-choice question on their profession.
+E.E. Giorgi I have you in six of my primary circles, yet it's amazing how many of your beautiful posts I've missed. I'll be honest: there's probably some good science stuff in there, but I've been conditioned to look for eye and word candy when I visit your posts. Of course, nature and science for me are the flip sides of the same coin, so in my book you are one of the most wonderfulest of scientists in my book. ^^
+Brian Malow Someone should get their rear in gear making this "N Funniest Science People, where N=10" list, and I think Scicurious needs to be on it. 
Cate C
No Dr. Sheldon Cooper????  Boo! Hiss!!!
"I completely understand why BI would want to run this column, as well as parallel columns of "sexiest CEOs," "sexiest actors," "sexiest PR representatives," or the like. But it's a very different matter to run those about fields where the presentation of one's public face is core to the work, and where "sexiness" has a rather specific (and career-aligned) meaning, than to do it in the sciences or in engineering."
"I think Yonatan Zunger nailed it when he mentioned the public-persona aspect of the work of actors or senators. There is a kind of career path where one's appearance and overall presentation are vital to success. But the sciences are not that kind of career path."
"I think what makes the list so problematic is that on a list featuring people as scientists, I'd think they would like to be recognised for their scientific achievements rather than a physical characteristic which has no bearing on their ability to do science."

Wait, what? I know a few people have railed against these lists as a whole, but the general tone of the comments here (especially from the +ing of the first comment) is that somehow it's ok for People to do sexiest man alive because those are just actors and such, but scientists are somehow uniquely exempt. This strikes me as incredibly elitist and dismissive of every other career. Since when is a CEOs face "core to the work"? Are we really saying Daniel Day Lewis won a best actor Oscar because he looked the part, and that there is minimal intelligence or thought used in his field? What kind of message are we trying to send?

I'm not saying we should do 50 sexiest lists, but if (as a culture) these lists are going to be made, scientists shouldn't get special treatment. Yes, we're a smart bunch, but so are many other fields, and dismissing their work as somehow ok to portray as sexy because they "don't use their brains as much" seems just as offensive.
Thank you, A.V., for expanding this conversation on G+. It's a much more appropriate forum than Twitter, where we were trying to have it before. I will share my thoughts later on tonight. :)
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