The truth about the Scully Effect is out there, thanks to a new survey

Contributed by
Apr 17, 2018

Thanks to a new report, there's hard data to back up what many fans already know about the show's skeptic scientist Dana Scully: she served as real-life inspiration for many, many women.

"The Scully Effect" has been cited in fandom for several years now; at the X-Files San Diego Comic Con panel in 2013, a fan stated that she'd become a physics major to follow in the footsteps of her on-screen hero, Scully. In turn, actress Gillian Anderson shared that she'd received countless letters from women who had decided to pursue careers in science, medicine and law enforcement after watching the show. 

X-Files science advisor Anne Simon had tested the theory herself while teaching introductory biology courses. According to Simon, half the students in her class had been inspired by Scully.

Now, thanks to a study conducted by 21st Century Fox, the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, and J. Walter Thompson Intelligence, we've got the cold, hard facts (exactly what Scully always preferred) on the fascinating trend. Conducting an online survey, the GDIGM polled over 2,000 female participants to accurately test the "Scully Effect." They also made a point to survey an accurate age range of women who were both old enough to have seen the original series while it was still airing, as well as those who would have been ready to graduate college and enter the workforce around that time. 

The results were enlightening in a number of ways. According to the study, "nearly two-thirds (63%) of women that work in STEM say Dana Scully served as their role model." Not only was she an inspiration, but a trailblazer of sorts as well — 63% of women surveyed said that Scully gave them the confidence to believe that they too could succeed in a field that was male-dominated. 

But Scully didn't just inspire women to work in STEM; she also helped to spike an interest in STEM among female viewers. For 63% of those women surveyed, Scully was the character who clued them in to the importance of STEM work, and 50% said their interest in STEM increased after watching Scully onscreen. 

While the study indeed reaffirms what many fans had already believed, it speaks to a larger message about the importance of representation among the characters and stories that we consume on a regular basis. It means that we shouldn't dismiss entertainment out-of-hand, because the effect it can have on viewers can be even more powerful than we realize. Gillian Anderson said it best, in a quote published within the survey. Thanks to The X-Files, Dana Scully “manifested a woman not yet depicted on TV, and as the fan response soon proved, a desperately needed role model for women of all ages, everywhere.”