2 guys meet with Dr.M to discuss science! (
2 guys meet with Dr.M to discuss science!   (

This dispatch takes a very different path than the usual!  It features a conversation about science, research, and scientists between 3 very different people: (1) Joe, the street businessguy, who has been featured in many cartoons on this website, (2) Joe’s buddy, a more conventional man whose daughter is a young university scientist, and (3) Dr.M.  I hope everyone will gain some additional perspective and merriment with this dialogue!

Dr.M:  Joe, why don’t we start by having you describe your very successful businesses!

Joe:  After I collect rents, I work every day to sell insurance, loans, numbers, and used cars. Those keep me busy, and provide lots of money.  My all-cash businesses let me be free, independent, well-fed, and happy.  Plus, I don’t have to pay any income tax!

Dr.M:  What about you?  And by the way, what is your name?

X:  Just call me “X”!  I thought we were going to discuss science!

Dr.M:  Yes, but first please tell me what you work on?

X:  I work in the news department for our local radio station.  I am married and have 2 children; my older daughter recently was hired as an Assistant Professor in science at our state university.

Dr.M:  How does your daughter like being a university scientist and doing research?

X:  She is still getting used to it, and tells me she never realized in graduate school that research at universities now is just another business!

Joe:  What kind of science do you work on, Doc?

Dr.M:  I am a biomedical scientist, and usually am labelled as a cell and molecular biologist, a biophysicist, a biochemist, and a structural biologist.  That’s me!

X:  How can you work in so many different fields?

Dr.M.:  I am interdisciplinary and have a very wide curiosity.  These labels reflect my creativity, use of many different instruments and methods for research, and, study of many quite different types of specimens (e.g., crystals, egg cells, minerals, mitochondria, protein molecules, etc.).  I love doing laboratory research!

Joe:  Wow, that’s just amazing!  You must get a fat paycheck for doing all that!

Dr.M:  Not really!  My salary is pretty average.  My starting salary as a new Assistant Professor was less than modern Postdocs get!  It always amazes me that Postdocs now complain so loudly about being underpaid!

X: How can you like scientific research so much?  Looking at Science or Nature, I cannot understand much and it looks very boring!

Dr.M:  Research is exciting for me because one never knows exactly what will be found.  It really is an adventure!  I was blessed to start researching when every time you looked at specimens something  new and interesting was apparent; those days were just thrilling!  Later, I also found that the results in an experiment are largely determined by exactly how one prepares specimens and analyses them; thus, new knowledge is not only discovered, but actually is created by the researcher!  Doing experiments is sometimes frustrating, but research never has been boring to me.

X:  I told my daughter that she should try to cure cancer or work in ‘big science’ instead of ‘little science’.

Joe:  What is big and what is little?  Is that the same as a big cake or a little cookie?

X:  ‘Big science’ costs billions and tries to do the impossible, like going to Mars!  ‘Little science’ is more ordinary and looks at small problems.  That’s all I can understand!

Dr.M: Working on single questions in small projects that can be finished in some months or a few years is ‘little science’, and that is what most university scientists do!  For the special research projects involving enormous money and hundreds or thousands of scientists and engineers, like the new space telescope being built by NASA and some international partners, that huge effort is ‘big science’!  Those terms define differences in cost, number of scientists involved, time spent on the entire research project, and, the importance of the new information to be acquired.

X:  Can scientists win a Nobel Prize for research in ‘little science’ as well as in ‘big science’?

Dr.M:  Yes, indeed!  Both are possible and have occurred in recent years.

Joe:  Why do you and other scientists always use so many fancy words that mean nothing to ordinary people like me and my buddy?

Dr.M:  The terms used in each branch of science actually constitute a foreign language!  The special words in science are used to make meanings extra clear, so as to avoid any confusion or misunderstandings.  Exact meanings are necessary so scientists can discuss their research findings with each other.

Joe:  I don’t understand, and I don’t speak no foreign languages!

Dr.M:  It’s similar to a photofinish in horse races, where the special photograph shows precisely which horse crosses the finish line first by the tip of its nose and so is the winner.

Joe:  Now I get it!  But, I still can’t read about science!

X:  Dr.M, what does  research do for me and Joe?

Dr.M:  Research by scientists and engineers is the basis for just about everything you use and are, ranging from your shoes and eyeglasses, to the food you eat and the bottled drinks you swallow.  In addition, research and development provide your car and portable phone, your mattress and shotgun, and, what tests and medicines your doctor gives you.

Joe:  Who pays for all that research?

Dr.M:  Research is expensive, and is paid for by dollars from 2 sources: taxes, and business profits.  The first pays for scientific studies in universities, medical schools, and research institutes; the second pays for the many research activities by scientists and engineers working in industrial laboratories to develop new and improved commercial products.  Thus, my answer to your question is that you and X are paying for scientific research!

Joe:  I operate only in cash, so I don’t pay no stinkin’ taxes!

Dr.M:  Have either of you ever met and talked to any real scientists besides me?

Joe:  Yeah!  I have sold 4 used cars, one new car, and many numbers to some scientists at the university.  They are my best customers, but they never ask me for insurance or loans!

X:  I have met some science faculty in my daughter’s department at parties.  They were unrecognizable as scientists without their white lab coats!  Many seemed rather somber compared to ordinary guys like me and Joe.  They separated into 2 groups; one smaller bunch was chatting with their Chairman, and a larger bunch was telling stories and laughing at jokes.  When the Chairman left to go home, the groups rapidly merged and the party got louder!

Dr.M:  Well, I guess that is enough for now.  Can I buy lunch for both of you?

Joe:  See, I told you he was rich!

X:  Sounds good!  Where should we go to eat?

Joe:  There’s a terrific new BBQ restaurant over on the new Trump Parkway!

Dr.M:  Sounds great, and I voted for him, too!  Let’s go!