Monthly Archives: November 2013

WHAT’S THE NEW MAIN JOB OF FACULTY SCIENTISTS TODAY?

What Is The Real Main Job Of  University Scientists ?
     What Is the new main job of university scientists ?     (http://dr-monsrs.net)

            Scientific research in modern times certainly is a quite expensive activity.  Scientists researching in  universities must obtain external funding from research grants in order to be able to conduct their experimental investigations in laboratories, in the field, or in hospital clinics.  Doctoral scientists with research laboratories in academia traditionally are thought to spend most of their time with performing experiments and teaching in the classroom.  Today, all of that is ancient history!!  The chief job of academic scientists now is to make money (via research grants) for their university or hospital employer.  The very best scientist now is being defined as that faculty member obtaining the largest total pile of money from research grant awards.  All other faculty activities now are strictly of secondary importance.  

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            Those of us who have seen and smelled this modern change recognize that the search for more new and true knowledge cannot possibly be equated to obtaining lots of money from research grant awards.  Success at gaining more and more new knowledge, proving a controversial hypothesis, or disproving some theory that was formerly regarded as being true, cannot be directly equated to dollars, yen, euro’s, etc.  Similarly, the quality level of research endeavors cannot be measured in units of currency; counting the number of dollars simply is not the same as measuring research quality and significance.

 

          Some readers will not understand exactly what I am describing here.  Of course, everyone understands that they must get external money in order to be able to conduct experimental research in science.  This is reality, and it must be accepted.  But, if one scientist obtains twice the funds acquired by a second scientist, does that by itself mean that the first is twice as good a researcher as the second?  Not necessarily!   Is the scientist with the most money the same as that scientist doing research of the highest quality?  I think not!  And in addition, we all have seen many examples of younger scientists with limited awarded funds perform some really terrific research studies, whereas some senior scientists with a big pot of gold just keep cranking out publications without much significance.   One can also refer to the well-known and very illustrious research scientist, Prof. Linus Pauling, who was a double Nobel prizewinner in science,  Pauling was notorious for being unable to force his creative mind into the rigid format for grant applications demanded by the National Institutes of Health; despite many efforts, that condition precluding him from getting much-needed research funds from that federal agaency; nevertheless, it is widely agreed that Pauling was a brilliant scientific researcher.  .

           

          This modern goal for faculty scientists differs greatly from former times when basic research aimed to find new knowledge for its own sake, develop new concepts, prove a disputed theorem, or establish a new direction in research.  This modern situation is accompanied by the current general spread of  commercialization into science.  Basic research now is largely being de-emphasized in favor of applied research and engineering developments.  The financial targeting of research has always been accepted as being part of industrial research and engineering work, but this was not accepted for basic scientific research in academia.  It now is an important theoretical question of whether grant money is being acquired for its own sake, or for the conduct of research.

 

            When all of this is put together, current university research must be seen to have become just another business activity.  The aim is simply to increase profits of the employer, just as is the case in all small and large businesses.  This change in direction is accompanied by many of the same problems prominently facing all competitive businesses, including (1) cheating, corruption, and dishonesty, (2) waste, (3) counterproductive competitive conflicts between different product developments,  and, (4) personal greed and professional gluttony.  In addition, too many scholarly research publications now are becomming analogous to commercial advertisements.  These negative features are accompanied by the unavoidable cut-throat competition between all scientific researchers in university labs (i.e., since their research grants all come from the same pools of money), and also between all employing institutions (i.e., since each of these seeks to attract research grant awards only to themselves, as contrasted to being used for geographically diverse investigations of a given research problem). 

 

            These modern developments clearly have resulted in large changes in today’s academic science and research.  The entire direction of experimental investigations in universities has shifted away from its classical goals.  Some small portion of science could masquerade as a commercial business without becomming problematic, but the other larger parts (i.e., basic research, theoretical research) lose their identity as science and are incompatible with such a change.  Some even now believe that science has decayed and degenerated so much that it could be dying; this controversial conclusion will be dealt with much further in later dispatches.  

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WHAT DO UNIVERSITY SCIENTISTS REALLY DO IN THEIR DAILY WORK ?

FINAL.Cartoon What is Research#2

HAT DO UNIVERSITY SCIENTISTS ACTUALLY DO IN THEIR DAILY WORK 

          Almost nobody in the general public has ever met and talked with a real living scientist.  Hence, beyond the generalizations that scientists “do research” and “teach about science”,  most people have no idea at all about what scientists work on during their daily job activities.  To fill this gap, the typical daily work of scientists employed as faculty in universities is described here.

 

          To understand science and research, one must also know about scientists.  For the first half of their faculty career, university scientists conduct experimental studies on one or several research projects which are supported by the award of external research grants.  This involves their own hands-on work in a research laboratory, supervision of laboratory staff (undergraduate and graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, research technicians, visiting research workers, etc.), analysis of experimental data, and the publication of research reports presenting the results and conclusions from their investigations.  Appropriate time also must be given to ordering, checking on functionality of research equipment, design and planning of future experiments, problem solving with laboratory co-workers, dealing with questions arising as the experimental results are being collected, writing (research reports, new grant applications, other documents, and, books), etc.  Many faculty scientists additionally teach in one or two courses for undergraduate or graduate students.  As faculty, they also pursue various other academic activities, such as giving and attending research seminars, working with graduate training programs, attending various meetings of institutional committees and departments, attendance in graduation and other institutional ceremonies, participation and attendance at one or more annual science meetings, etc.   And finally, most of these scientists have a spouse and children, and so also need to spend some time working with their family, as well as with personal activities. 

 

          At sometime during the second half of their career, many university research scientists commonly decrease the time spent with their laboratory work, and begin to do more teaching, more writing of books, and/or more administrative work (e.g., as a divisional chief or focus director, vice-chair or chair of a department, committee head, liaison official, university representative to some venture, assistant dean, etc.).  Some also begin working off-campus much more than was previously done, by accepting responsibility for serving on various official external bodies (e.g., review boards, councils, and professional science societies, regional research facilities, publishing houses, accreditation boards, etc.).  In principle, their activities in teaching, administration, and public service all utilize the advanced experience of these senior individuals to directly and indirectly benefit other people. 

 

          The daily toil of scientists working in a university varies depending upon the different individuals, institutions, and local conditions.  Nevertheless, on a typical workday for a youngish faculty scientist, many or all of the following activities take place:

1.   thinking, questioning, and planning;

2.   reviewing the schedule for activities on that day and planned for that week;

3.   confer with laboratory staff about their new results, new problems, and current plans for progress;

4.   review research data: analysis, plotting and processing for presentation, statistics, etc.;

5.   hands-on research experiments at the laboratory bench;

6.   lectures, examinations, meetings, etc., for courses taught;

7.   administrative tasks, including filling in required forms and reports, interactions with the

safety office and the financial office, attendance at committee meetings, etc.;

8.   research grants: preparation of annual reports and forms, advance preparations for next

renewal application, review of progress and pilot studies, etc.;

9.   work on journal or review publications, abstracts for meetings, internal documents, etc.;

10.  library work, reading activities, studying a few selected recent publications in detail, gathering

            references and citations for manuscripts; and, 

11. miscellaneous: commuting, lunch, telephoning, e-mail, other individual activities, etc. 

 

          It should be very obvious that this daily work schedule requires a whole big bunch of time!  For the many other doctoral scientists doing research and development in commercial settings, their daily schedule is made slightly more reasonable because they usually share some work duties with co-workers, and are effectively assisted by a dedicated administrative, secretarial, and technical staff.  Those researchers working as faculty scientists in universities and hospitals often find that they have severe problems with time management, and necessarily must decrease the amount of time allotted to normal extraneous activities.

          The very busy daily schedule of university faculty scientists is compensated by their receiving a decent salary, working inside a scholarly home with other doctoral faculty and professional researchers, having access to good students, and utilizing the resources provided by an on-campus well-equipped science library.  In addition, they hopefully will achieve the thrill of being the first to acquire some much-desired research discovery, and, all are able to have the fun of doing research within “my own laboratory”. 

 

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FUNDAMENTALS FOR BEGINNERS: WHAT IS SCIENCE? WHAT IS RESEARCH? WHAT ARE SCIENTISTS?

 
What is Science?                           What in the world is Science?     (http://dr-monsrs.net)

          Science is an organized search for the truth.  We can know that something is true by virtue of the evidence acquired by examiners of some object, process, or concept.   Science is divided classically into 3 component parts: biomedicine, chemistry, and physics; each of these large divisions is further broken down into many discrete subdivisions (i.e., bacterial genetics, human carcinogenesis and oncology, invertebrate zoology, mammalian physiology, plant pathology, plant proteomics, virology, etc., in biomedicine; analytical chemistry, nanochemistry, organic chemistry, physical chemistry, polymer science, radiochemistry, solid state chemistry, etc., in chemistry; astronomy, atomic physics, geophysics, magnetism, materials science, mathematical physics, optics, rheology, etc., in physics). Some other large parts  of science are situated in all 3 divisions of science, and have to do with methodology and technical practices (e.g., crystallography, mathematics, microscopy, spectroscopy, statistics, etc.).

 

            Research is the scientific examination of some subject, and usually is produced by conducting experiments in a laboratory or in the field.  Scientists are specially trained people who perform  research studies as part of their search for the truth.  Everything and anything can be examined and analyzed, even if it has been very widely accepted as being true; the more that experimental results point to the same conclusion, the more we can be satisfied that some statement or concept really is true.  Research and science classically are divided into 2 fundamental types: basic science/research seeks new knowledge for its own sake, with no reference to any practical usage; applied science/research seeks new knowledge that enables known facts, materials, processes, or devices to be modified such that they acquire new or improved capabilities.  The scientists performing these 2 activities often are correspondingly labeled as being either basic scientists or applied scientists. 

 

            The experimental investigation of any research subject involves asking research questions (e.g., what are its size and structure, composition, component parts, genesis, functions and operation, relation to others of its type, interactions with the surrounding environment, assignment into somelarger category, etc., etc.).  The laboratory investigation or field study of one or more subjects or questions via many experiments constitutes a research project.  The experiments produce different types of research data (e.g., counts, images, measurements, observations, spectra, etc.).  The desired end results of experimental studies are research discoveries; these typically are a new concept, mechanism, cause or effect, analytic characterization, or interrelationship; the results from experimental research lead to publications, patents, new understanding, and new concepts, as well as to additional new research questions.  Scientific research thus is a means to the end of  discovering new truths. 

 

            Several related terms also need to be distinguished here.  An inventor is the discoverer of a new device, mechanism, principle, or process; some scientists also are inventors, but many inventors are non-scientists (i.e., often they are ordinary people without advanced education and special training in research).  Technology is a detailed development of some invented mechanism or process; typically, it begins from scientific discovery and then proceeds to modify the initial subject or object to become faster, cheaper, more specific, less dangerous, easier to make, etc. (e.g., a newly synthesized chemical coating applied to an existing fluorescent bulb makes the emitted light brighter and the lifetime of the bulb longer).  Engineers have advanced professional education and training, and work to modify (i.e., improve) some known device or process so that it has improved or new properties; engineers typically produce patents and commercial products, as well as professional publications.  The most common sequence of technological work leading to some new and wonderful commercial product starts with pure basic research, then shifts into applied research, and ends with engineering developments. 

 

            Ideally, science, research, scientists, engineers, and inventors all work to produce results that help people, society, and the entire world. 

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WHAT IS WRONG WITH SCIENCE EDUCATION FOR CHILDREN?

FINAL.Cartoon What is Science #2                              What is science to children? (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

          Education of children about science in grade/primary schools is supposed to provide some fundamental body of knowledge about major concepts in science, including specific real examples for each branch and sub-branch.  This key background is needed to enable their later learning about more complex and detailed treatments in subsequent science courses in high/middle school.  At present, most science education for young students still involves memorization, watching demonstrations and  cartoon presentations, working with models, playing “science games”, “doing research” with some search engine on the internet, and, going on a field trip to some place like a natural history museum or some science exhibits featuring more models and games for entertainment.  All of this scenario deals with what I call “empty science”, and is inherently boring and misleading to young students.  The fundamental fact that science is real people is ignored.  Somehow, science teachers should remember how these same courses and activities came across to them when they were only youngsters many years ago.

 

          Quite frankly, I do not blame very young students going through the usual introductory courses for feeling that science must be an amusement and is some kind of game played by peculiar adults in laboratories.  If the nature of research is included, it is seen by the children as being some sort of game played for money, and it is clearly very inferior to playing sports or musical instruments.  These early strong conclusions later are cemented into adult minds, where science and research today very commonly are viewed as an entertainment, as something that normal average adults just cannot possibly understand, and, as a nonsense that has no importance for daily life.  These very wrong views have led to the large estrangement of the modern public from science, and their lack of personal interest in science progress; most people just do not feel that science has any role in their personal life.

 

          Dr. M is convinced that science education for children should involve very much less memorization and very much more hands-on work with actual materials, using examples that are more strongly  related to everyday life.  As a minimum, science courses must show basic interrelationships between the different sciences, introduce simple quantitation and statistics, and, feature hands-on collection and examination of measurements (data) for some real variables in everyday life (e.g., age, gender, body weight, body height, etc.).  In addition, they should present some interesting biographical stories about how real scientists actually made their research discoveries and why they now are considered to be very famous; this will enable the understanding of how scientific research today consists of real people working on important unsolved problems and developing amazing new technologies.  Outside the classroom, visits to such local features as nearby landscapes, zoos, farms, water treatment plants, mines, weather stations, etc., rather than only to dry museums, will show students hidden features of nature, geology, ecology, chemistry, and even astronomy.  Class visits to an industrial research center will provide valuable personal examples of scientists working right now in the real world.

 

          As part of these revised educational goals and activities, it first will be necessary to re-educate the educators.  Adult teachers must learn or re-learn about (1) the essential nature of science and research, (2) organization of science, and interrelations between its many subdivisions,  (3) the value of a question and answer format even for grade school classes, and, (4) how principles, examples, and derived reasoning can replace the standard need for learning only by memorization (i.e., unlike knowledge, memorization only rarely leads to increased understanding).  In my view, the effects of these new learning modalities will be well worth all the new efforts involved.  From the corresponding changes for science courses within high/secondary school and college, ordinary adults then will stop being afraid of science, will become more interested in research activities, and, even will be able to perceive that scientific research is a vital and interesting part of daily life. 

 

          Different aspects of the important topic of science education will be discussed further on this website in the coming weeks.

 

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FinalWEBSITE image.5x6.signed    How is science done?  How do scientists ask research questions?  What are they seeking to do?  What do they want to know?           (© http://dr-monsrs.net)

WHAT IS HERE FOR YOU?

          You will learn here all you ever wanted to know about science, research, and modern scientists.  Dr.M aims to teach everyone, and does not fear to reveal both what is good and what needs to be changed.  It is surprising to realize that research in university laboratories now is so distorted and decayed that science even could be dying.  If the causes and consequences of the major problems in today’s scientific research are identified, then therapy must follow so that science will once again be wonderful for all people.  Dr.M aims to educate by explaining what is going on and proposing how to resolve these very serious problems.  My goal is simply to get this needed curative effort underway.

WHO IS THIS AUTHOR TO MAKE SUCH PROVOCATIVE STATEMENTS?

          Dr.M is a basic scientist with several doctoral degrees, including a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. He loves doing laboratory research and has performed hands-on experimental studies in biomedical science during over 35 years as a member of the faculty at 3 academic institutions and one government laboratory center in the USA.  Although tenured and receiving several NIH research grants, Dr.M considers himself to be only one of very many ordinary scientists who are dedicated to working on experimental research.

ALL THIS IS FOR EVERYBODY!

          The public needs to know about real science, not pseudoscience.  If you are a raw beginner or an adult having curiosity without any background, you will find helpful introductory materials here.  If you are a graduate student in science or a Postdoc wondering what is in store for you as a faculty scientist, you will find much here that is not often presented or discussed.  Current faculty scientists will discover why their job is so frustrating and unsatisfying, whether they are doing experimental research in biomedicine, chemistry, or physics.  Dr.M holds nothing back, and examines the biggest problems faced by modern academic researchers, no matter how shocking or disgusting they are.  Since these major issues produce grave consequences for the public and our world, we must start to rescue science and research right now!  

ABOUT COMMENTS!

          I regret that the many thousands of Comments have evolved to become 99% spam, so after one year I have closed all Comments and will respond to none from now on; those with genuine questions should please try to understand why I must do this.  

   http://dr-monsrs.net                                            Dr.M                                       November 19, 2013

 

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