I am making a diagram in my paper. In that diagram I use several squares of different colors and one rectangle of multiple colors. An easy way to get a rectangle full of colors is the rainbow flag. I am sympathetic to the LGBT cause, but I am not LGBT. I thought the flag could be a small gesture but I am not trying to make a strong political point.

One labmate told me to not put political symbols in papers (+could make people think I am LGBT, nothing wrong with that, but false); another says it's completely fine. I am considering whether to keep the flag or find an alternative (different colors, structure, or move the colors around).

Any ideas/opions?

  • 10
    A rainbow could just be a rainbow. Commented Jun 14, 2018 at 20:51
  • 2
    Is it an exact copy of the LGBT rainbow or is it just a block of rectangles of random colors? If you are using the exact LGBT rainbow- just change the color ordering if you are concerned that some people may view it as a political message.
    – chevybow
    Commented Jun 14, 2018 at 21:27
  • You are fine. I struggle to think of any possible negative consequences stemming from you having a rainbow in your paper. Commented Jun 14, 2018 at 22:18
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    Whatever you do, make sure your diagrams are still readable when the paper is printed in grayscale. Commented Jun 15, 2018 at 0:18
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    It is my philosophy that research is research and political activism is political activism. The idea of being a researcher is being as unbiased as possible and looking for the truth, political ideologies create bias. It may be completely unrelated to your research, but I personally make it a rule to keep my political ideologies away from my work. Not saying those ideologies should not be fought for, nor defended, but a research paper is not the proper place to be pushing a political narrative.
    – Makogan
    Commented Jun 15, 2018 at 9:48

2 Answers 2


I'm a strong supporter of LGBTI+ rights, but if I encountered a rainbow flag in an article with no particular connection to those issues and nothing else to explain the choice of that symbol in particular, I'd be more confused than anything else. The editors may also be confused about whether you're trying to sneak in a political statement.

Leaving politics aside: rainbow colour schemes are often a bad idea because they're not very good at communicating information.

As Dmitry Savostyanov suggested, it's wise to ensure that your diagrams are still readable in grayscale. Rainbows often fail this test because colours far apart on the spectrum may be close together in luminance (brightness), and vice versa. Even for readers who have full colour vision and are reading the colour version, rainbow palettes can create the illusion of abrupt changes where there are none, and so forth. For those with colour-vision impairments, they're extra-poor. For more information, see Borland and Taylor's Rainbow Color Map (Still) Considered Harmful.


While it is admirable that you wish to promote equality, a scientific work should be as objective and free from bias as possible. Sneaking in an LGBT ‘Easter egg’ doesn’t add anything substantive and in the worst case, may convey a sense of triviality that weakens your actual directive.

To use a silly example, suppose a figure in a paper had a 4x4 grid the cells of which were either filled or empty. Now suppose the filled squares were the American flag. There’s just more potential downside than upside.

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