Nature often illustrates articles reporting on communities and countries that are under-represented in science using generic images, in part because universities, national libraries and commercial photo agencies hold relatively few images of people from such communities.
Although we do our best to work with generic images in such situations, they tend to be less compelling than pictures showing real scientists doing real research. When we do use photographs of the researchers themselves, this can boost the impact of the article — attracting greater social media attention, for example — which, in turn, can benefit those individuals and their work.
Systemic racism and science’s diversity deficit extend to images, creating a distorted and exclusionary picture of science’s past and present. This is an issue that needs attention, and there are several potential ways to rectify it.
Universities, libraries, publishers and photo agencies — the organizations that hold the keys to so much of the world’s photography — must all take steps to diversify our imagery. Science’s historical record will remain incomplete while it is missing pictures of people who have contributed to discovery and invention. Such efforts are also essential to make research more welcoming for people from under-represented communities, and to ensure that future generations of researchers reflect those that science has often failed to attract in the past.