The Scully Effect: Celebrating the X-Files’ Enduring Character Dana Scully and the Scientific Phenomenon She Inspired
One of the longest-running science fiction series in network TV history, FOX’s The X-Files follows FBI special agents Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) and Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) as they investigate unexplained cases set aside by the government. A medical doctor and realist, Agent Scully is the foil to Agent Mulder’s conspiracy theorist character, and served as an early example of a strong female TV protagonist who inspired a generation of women to pursue careers in the sciences and law enforcement.
After learning about the previously-anecdotal “Scully Effect”— which observed the influx of women pursuing STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) as Agent Scully became a household TV name —21st Century Fox partnered with the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in the Media to better understand and quantify the impacts that character had on viewers. The Institute is the first and only research-based organization working within media and entertainment to educate and influence content creators, marketers, and audiences on the urgent need to eradicate bias, gender imbalance, and harmful stereotypes while creating positive role models and strong female characters across the industry.
In celebration of March’s Women’s History Month, 21CF and the Geena Davis Institute carried out a research survey of women across the US, which found a correlation between women who were familiar with, or fans of, The X-Files and its influence on their career paths. This was the first such study to find evidence backed by data rather than anecdote:
- Nearly two-thirds of women in the study who work in STEM say Agent Scully served as a role model and increased their belief in the importance of STEM
- Women who regularly watched The X-Files are 50% more likely to work in STEM than less frequent/non-watchers
- Women who watched The X-Files are 42% more likely to agree with the statement “I would encourage my daughter/granddaughter to enter a STEM field” than non-watchers.
21CF and GDIGM will unveil further findings from the survey in the weeks ahead. The study has sparked prolific discussion on social media, with fans of Scully and the show using the hashtag #ScullyEffect to share how the representation of a respected independent woman in STEM influenced their career paths and lives—in the words of the Geena Davis Institute, “if she can see it, she can be it.”
Learn more here, and share your own story with the hashtag #ScullyEffect across Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram today!
Season 11 of The X-Files is currently airing on FOX on Wednesdays at 8/7c. Seasons 1-10 are available in a variety of home entertainment formats.