Friday, May 29, 2009

Science is sexy

or something like that...

The latest issue of Scientist magazine, has a bit of a blurb about how the most recent issue of GQ has a spread about the Rock starts of Science...putting popular musicians with top scientists for photo shoots. It was response to only 4% of people randomly surveyed being able to name any scientist. They want to make more people think about science...

Although I think it's great to create more awareness of science...and how we're not all (*cough*) complete nerds (*whistle*), and that it's a goal in life for future generations, what rubs me entirely the wrong way is to put them in a photo spread with rock stars. Cause that's what science is all about - fame and fortune and feeling sexy. Yeah, we wake up every morning and put on our sequined lab coats and think "Someday I'm gonna find out something that will make me FAMOUS! I'm going places baby!"

Yeah. Sure.

We all toil away in labs, doing meticulous work, to try and find links for disease prevention, cures and treatments, find better ways to test for impurities and bacteria to make food safer - heck even help students learn more about science...we learn WHY things are the way they are. It's not about fame and entertainment - and the few researchers who are in it for fame are nasty, venomous dicks who will undermine other researchers, refuse to collaborate and work their grad students to near death to have glory of the next big paper, and even skew or make up data for profit or recognition. The thing is - Nobel prizes are given to amazing accomplishments in research - they are not the goal of research, they just happen, because someone makes an incredible leap of knowledge that is so fundamentally enhancing to science that we are all better for it as a society and as a researching group. I'm not knocking music - it brings me great joy, but to compare Cheryl Crow to NIAID director Anthony Fauci ? Well...not a level comparison at all. That's like saying Charles Darwin's ideas could be equal to the incredible leaps ahead that Sir Issac Newton or Albert Einstein brought to physics....PULEEZ!
(sorry - just a little geek humour there...)

And yet, the more I muse over this, the more I realise that there are correlations of rock music to labwork:

Lypsynching a performance - when Principle Investigators go and present projects at conferences under their name and they've done none of the actual work - they're just spouting out their lab slaves data with just a shadow of their former ability.

Grant proposal times are a lot like Canadian Idol - a lot of talented people competing for a few bits of $$ and the ability to go forward...all of them pretty focused and talented and yet only 1 will be given the prize, based on the whim of a few people on a panel

Groupies - Doing cutting edge research in the current hot field of science? (right now-breast cancer). Well, you'll be beset on all sides by grad students and post docs wanting to work with you. Companies will offer you equipment to use in exchange for addition to your publications or patents so they can make billions off you. People will toss your name about at conferences, as tho simply knowing or collaborating with you makes them better workers too.

It all just amuses me in a slightly chaffing way. Putting fame into the mix is insipid and dangerous. We already have to fight the battles of rediculous patenting of ideas with no practical applications that inhibit the average joe researcher from doing new things. We have to all squabble after reduced funding. We have to try and take money from companies and let drug companies fund our research and yet somehow be unbiased and learn without always producing a marketable product.

And perhaps, most importantly: People need to understand that there is just as much value in the experiments that fail. Those teach us things too...we learn how things DO work by this kind of results...yet, noone wants to publish a negative paper. People will try and publish junk research to just get a publication. People refuse to collaborate, wasting money and effort in the quest for the scientific prize, instead of using their ethics to keep their work in check.

We have a long way to go in the field of scientific research in regards to bringing up anew generation of scientists who are willing to shed the crap and bureaucracy and move into the future of research - groups of like minded individuals pooling their effort to best use money and knowledge to solve ideas. Creating open source data like the human genome and online journals. Quality over quantity to increase the field of knowledge - to find cures. To help people live better bit of data at a time.


It all gives a whole new meaning to "I'm gonna rock the lab today". :)

I'm gonna get off my soapbox now and put on my sequins and get back to work...


Magnus said...

I dunno, I'd welcome Serena Kamber to the SHR anytime.
and then there is Dr. Fiorella Terenzi.

Pacian said...

There's something disturbing about trying to populise those involved in a meaningful enterprise by pitching them in the same manner as those trivial idols that usually occupy the public eye.

Magnus said...

Scientific Idol next on CTV!

mago said...

Ta, the Two Cultures are real ... :)