It’s my pleasure

First, let me apologize for my long absence. I’ve been busy at work [1] and at play [2], and have been neglecting my blogging. It isn’t that I didn’t have ideas; it is simply that there wasn’t time to do them (and my readers [3]) justice. And now that I have set an impossible standard, let’s all watch me fail miserably at attaining it!

What I’d like to delve into today is the reason why I am a scientist. If you are a typical person, then you probably think about scientists as one of three types:

  1. The kindly old gentleman: Typified by Albert Einstein in real life and Jacob Barnhardt in the movies. These scientists are nice guys who try to make the world a better place but get lost on the way to the kitchen.
  2. The mad/evil scientist: Typified by Josef Mengele in real life and Victor Frankenstein in the movies. These scientists [4] are not-so-nice guys who are bent on world domination but are too stupid to realize that you never tell the hero your master plan until after you’ve killed him.
  3. The naughty nerd: Typified by Alan Turing in real life and Chris Knight in the movies. These scientists are young, dumb, and full of ideas; it is a shame that they just can’t communicate with anyone who has an IQ under 200.

To be fair, I was raised [5] with those same archetypes. But in my twelfth year, something wonderful happened [6]. I met a real scientist who showed me that the weird things I’d been doing were science. He showed me that when I tried to discover how something worked, I was proposing hypotheses and testing them. He let me amass data for no reason other than because it might be useful someday. And he started me down the long, long road toward rigor and forethought that mark a good scientist from a button-counter. But most importantly, he taught me the real reason that we do science: because it is fun to find things out.

Feynman knew that, and wrote about it often. Franklin knew it, too. Einstein was famed for it. Discovering how something works is fun.

But even more fun is sharing that knowledge with others. That’s why scientists write those papers. We aren’t doing it for money [7]. We aren’t doing it for the fame [8]. We are doing it in order to share the joy with others [9].

The closest analogy that I can think of for this is teaching a child how to tie her shoe. If you have ever done so, then you know that special moment when the child finally understands how to tie her shoe and the pride she has in her accomplishment and the warm glow that it gives you. Now imagine getting that glow over and over again. That’s what happens to a scientist when we share our work and see it being used by others.

And that is why I do science. Not because I want to be the next Einstein or Turing (though it might be fun to be Chris Knight for awhile). I do it because it gives me pleasure to discover something and even more pleasure to have my peers say “Hey! That’s neat! I wish I’d thought of it!”[10]

John

[1] Where data has been going missing or been written over. What is worse is that the bread crumbs that have been left behind make it look as if I am the culprit – even though I have proof that I am not. This still doesn’t stop some from trying to pin it on me…
[2] Where I’ve been working on a statistical analysis of local temperatures for a local newspaper. That may not be your idea of “play”, but it is mine!
[3] Both of them.
[4] Though most of them appear to really be nothing more than mad engineers.
[5] Can’t say that “I grew up”because I’m a Toys-R-Us kid.
[6] No, not that. Get your mind out of the gutter.
[7] Did you know that we have to pay to get our papers printed in most journals? A typical paper runs about $300 to publish (more if you want copies to hand around).
[8] When the author list for some experiments runs to fifty people, it is pretty hard to get “famous”.
[9] OK, so sometimes we do it to rain on other people’s parades. We aren’t saints; we’re scientists.
[10] Which has actually been said to me a couple of times in reviews of my papers. Ego-boosts don’t get much bigger than that!

3 thoughts on “It’s my pleasure

  1. My, but you’re quite the celebrity today. 8:-) That article reads much better than it did before. I didn’t doubt that your data for August would hold, it just didn’t sit well with me to see you stating it as fact when there was still 1/3 of the month to go. Now that all of August is in the books there’s no arguing with it. Nice job.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s