Monthly Archives: January 2018

FUN AND GAMES WITH SOME VERY FAMOUS SCIENTISTS! 

 

Science teachers and famous scientists sometimes can be very funny! (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Science teachers and famous Nobel laureate scientists sometimes can be very funny! (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

The Nobel Prize in science now is 117 years old and still remains the highest honor any scientist can receive (see Nobel Prize website at:  https://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/ ).  Most people in the public view very famous research scientists with disdain, fear, helplessness, and wonderment because they don’t understand how research investigations are done or realize why the prize-winning research findings have immense significance.  Accordingly, it is very difficult to get the public to have interest in science, research, and scientists!

Scientists do indeed have some fun conducting research studies and being a part of the global science enterprise (see “What Is the Fun of Being a Research Scientist?” ).  Today I will relate some amazing and amusing true stories from the recent life of several very renowned scientists, in the hope that everyone will laugh heartily!

Nobel Prize medal of Dr. Francis Crick was sold for a big  pile of money! 

The late Francis Crick codiscovered the structure of DNA with James Watson and Maurice Wilkins, leading to their winning the 1962 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine.  All Nobel laureates receive a special solid gold medal as part of their Nobel award.  In 2016, Dr. Crick’s Nobel medal was sold at auction for over 2 million dollars [1,2].  Even more amazing is the fact that a handwritten personal letter by Dr. Crick to his young son was purchased at auction for more than double the sale price of his Nobel medal [1,2]!  These sales by Crick’s heirs will be used to help support research at the Salk Institute (La Jolla) where he worked, and the recently established F. C. Crick Institute (London).

Nobel Prize medal of Dr. James D. Watson was sold for several million dollars! 

In 2014 the renowned codiscoverer of the double-helix structure of DNA, Dr. James D. Watson, sold his solid gold 1962 Nobel medal at auction for over 4.7 million dollars (including the commission for the auction house) [2-4].  Why would he sell his golden medal?  Dr. Watson is quoted as saying he now needs some money because he receives only limited income after becoming an “unperson” by making a politically incorrect statement about human heredity and IQ in 2007 [4].  He reportedly will donate part of the proceeds from this sale to charity, including gifts to support scientific research, his educational institutions, and research centers where he studied and worked [3]. Today, Dr. Watson now is in his eighties and remains a flamboyant individual scientist!

The purchaser of Dr. Watson’s Nobel medal now is known: Alisher Usmanov, a major industrialist who is said to be Russia’s wealthiest citizen [5].  His motivation in making this purchase was to return the medal to its rightful owner [5]!  The happy end result is that Mr. Usmanov donated a giant amount of money to Dr. Watson’s intended gift recipients, and Dr. Watson gets his special Nobel medal back [5].  How wonderful!

The Nobel Prize medal can’t easily pass by airport security!

Dr. Brian Schmidt is a famed astrophysicist who won the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics for discovering dark energy and relating it to the expanding universe.  After visiting his grandmother in 2014 at Fargo, North Dakota, USA, he entered the airport security check-in line prior to boarding a flight on his way back to his home in Australia [6].  The mandatory scanning detected a very dark small object in his carry-on bag, so a security agent demanded to know and see what that was [6].  When Dr. Schmidt opened a small box containing his heavy golden Nobel medal, the suspicious agent asked who had given it to him?  Dr. Schmidt answered truthfully that it was bestowed on him by none other than the King of Sweden [6]!  The security agent was dubious and probably thought Dr. Schmidt was either a big criminal or some sort of nut case!  These agents in the USA are similar to almost everyone in the public who knows nothing at all about Nobel Prizes and Nobel-winning scientists.  Winning a Nobel Prize for excellence in research simply is completely off the radar for almost all nonscientists!

Concluding remarks!   

I consider these stories to be both amazing and hilarious!  Why am I bringing these to your attention?  After you laugh, they serve to help non-scientists see what sort of people are famous scientists.  The winners of a Nobel Prize in science have to deal with the same real life problems (e.g., money) and issues (e.g., airport security) that ordinary people run into, so exalted scientists actually are just people like all the rest of us!

Yes, there is some big money in science for becoming a very celebrated researcher!  In the case of Dr. Schmidt, his golden award aroused suspicion that he must be a terrorist, drug dealer, or money launderer!  In the case of both Watson and Crick, their big pile of dollars received from selling their Nobel medals must be recognized as not even coming close to the true value and gigantic importance of their celebrated discovery that revolutionized genetics, molecular biology, and modern medicine.

References —

[1]  Associated  Press, 2013.  Letter from scientist who discovered DNA sells for $5.3m.  The Telegraph, Telegraph Media Group, April 11, 2013, World News page (  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/9986107/Letter-from-scientist-who-discovered-DNA-sells-for-5.3m.html )

[2]  Crilly, R., 2014.  James Watson to sell Nobel prize medal he won for double helix discovery.  The Telegraph, Telegraph Media Group, November 27, 2014, Science News page ( http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/science/science-news/11257066/James-Watson-to-sell-Nobel-prize-medal-he-won-for-double-helix-discovery.html ).

[3]  Reuters, 2014.  James Watson’s Nobel Prize for DNA discovery sells for record £3m.   The Telegraph, Telegraph Media Group, December 5, 2014, World News page ( http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/11275085/James-Watsons-Nobel-Prize-for-DNA-discovery-sells-for-record-3m.html ).

[4]  Perry, K.,2014.  James Watson selling Nobel prize ‘because no-one wants to admit I exist’.  The Telegraph, Telegraph Media Group, November 28, 2014, Science News page ( http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/science/11261872/James-Watson-selling-Nobel-prize-because-no-one-wants-to-admit-I-exist.html ).

[5]  Ensor, J., 2014.  Russian billionaire buys James Watson’s DNA Nobel Prize to return it to him.  The Telegraph, Telegraph Media Group, December 10, 2014, Science News page ( http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/science/11284192/Russian-billionaire-buys-James-Watsons-DNA-Nobel-Prize-to-return-it-to-him.html ).

[6]  Prince, R., 2014.  ‘What is in the box?’  Scientist questioned by incredulous Fargo TSA agent for having Nobel Prize in his carry-on.  The Telegraph, Telegraph Media Group, October 12, 2014, World News page (  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/11157117/Whats-in-the-box-Scientist-questioned-by-incredulous-Fargo-TSA-agent-for-having-Nobel-Prize-in-his-carry-on.html ).

 

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HOW IS THE TRUTH IMPORTANT FOR EVERYBODY? 

 

Determining what is true can be either easy or difficult! (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Determining what is true can be straightforward or difficult!  (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

It always is risky to accept pronouncements from bankers or used car salesmen, billionaires or bums, bishops or generals, kings or presidents, talking heads on TV or elected politicians as being truthful.  Although all of us make assumptions about what is true or false in our daily lives, science demands that the truth be based upon research results answering the key question, “What is the evidence?”  Much of scientific research depends upon accuracy, analysis, controls, interpretations, and reproducability, in order to try to preclude errors, falsity, partial truths, and uncertainty.  Science uses the results of research experiments and careful observations as evidence for truthfulness.  Today’s dispatch looks at how the truth leads to making better decisions both by individuals and by everybody.

One example of how the truth has consequences! 

Two good friends go to a racetrack and place bets that two different horses, X and Y, will win the fourth race.  These horses cross the finish line closely together.  One person says, “I saw that X was very slightly ahead of Y”!  The other person says, “I couldn’t see which horse was crossing the finish line first, so we must wait until the stroboscopic photographs are available”!  A few minutes later the photo’s are displayed along with the message that Y was first by about 3 mm.  That camera is more accurate than is anyone’s eyesight, provides objective photographic evidence that Y crossed the finish line first, and decisively indicates that the true winner is horse Y.  This truth has the consequence of determining which bettors get paid and which have lost some of their money.

An example of how the truth can be very difficult to determine!

Jenny and Miranda are twin sisters in high school who are applying for admission to several different colleges.  Each has very good class grades and lists numerous examples of outside activities and accomplishments while in secondary school.  Both are applying to one highly regarded private college.  At a meeting of the Admissions Committee, there is active discussion on the candidacy of both girls.  The Committee votes to admit both sisters, but the Committee Chair announces that the college has strong rules against accepting siblings, so only one can be accepted for admission.  One Committee member then states, “Jenny is on more sporting teams, scored more points than her sister, and wants to become a lawyer, so she is a better candidate than is Miranda!”  A different Committee member responds, “But Miranda played for more minutes on the soccer team than did Jenny, and wants to get a doctoral degree in psychology, so she is a much better candidate than is Jenny”!

The Chair restates that only one sister can be accepted, but the Committee can see no significant difference in their potential to succeed in college and life.  The truth about which sister is superior cannot be determined because the available evidence is not sufficient, so the Committee finally votes to accept neither!  The rigid rule at this college for never accepting siblings precludes the best practical decision, to accept both!

Can the truth be very important to everyone? 

The foregoing examples deal with individuals, but the truth often is important to everyone in the public.  Almost all people sometimes get sick and rely on the training, experience, and expertise of an experienced physician to restore their state of health.  When doctors make a diagnosis and then prescribe some therapeutic medicine as the treatment ofchoice they base their judgment both upon published clinical research results from the manufacturing company and reports from other doctors who previously administered that same medication.  Thus, the outcome for all patients having the same diagnosis and treatment largely depends on the truthfulness of the previous research findings.  This very general dependence emphasizes the general importance of accuracy, completeness, and fidelity of the pharmaceutical manufacturers and the results obtained by other physicians.

Can the truth have importance even for simple everyday problems? 

All of us encounter small situations where questions arise about what is true or false.  A common example happens when we notice that the battery warning light in our car is on, raising the practical question, “Should I not drive in to work so I can get my battery fixed or replaced right now, or should I drive in to work as usual and hope my car will start for the return trip home?”.  This question is difficult to answer because we don’t have any evidence that the warning signal is either true or false (i.e., falsely positive).  Because of that unknown, some people simply hope they will be lucky and continue driving in, while others decide to get evidence for the truth of the warning signal by having a service center measure and evaluate the condition of their battery; the results of that examination will provide some reliable evidence about whether their battery is still functioning normally or needs to be recharged or replaced.

Whether this problem with the battery warning signal occurs in a car driven by a scientist or a non-scientist has no significance!  Both must deal with this common question.  The practical question about whether the battery signal is true or false remains the key to deciding what to do!  This example emphasizes that the truth can be important for each of us as individual people, as well as for the multitude of other drivers.

A very  brief discussion! 

When evidence does not exist or is poor, then there is no objective way to determine the truth.  In such cases, only subjective judgments and decisions can be made.  Deceit, deception, dogma, egos, emotions, money, politics, wishful thinking, and other subjective factors easily can enter the case and begin to cloud thoughts, leading to unresolved controversies and indecision.  A well-known example of that unfortunate situation occurs in the ongoing long controversy about global warming and climate change (see “Yes or No for Global Warming?  What Is True?” ).

Concluding remarks! 

Science uses published research results to gather evidence for what really is true. The Truth for scientists is determined by the evidence; most of their research studies are intended to gather the needed evidence.  Controversies in science usually can be resolved by acquiring more or better data; on  the other hand, controversies in the public realm often result from subjective considerations rather than objective scientific findings.  The importance of The Truth often extends to everybody!

 

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SHOULD MODERN RESEARCH SCIENTISTS AIM TO WORK IN ACADEMIA OR INDUSTRY? 

 

 

Trying to decide where to do research work often is not easy! (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Trying to decide where to do research work often is not so easy!   (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

On the surface, working as a professional researcher at academia (universities, medical schools, research institutes, government research centers) or at industry is a matter of personal choice.  Research jobs at either location have both good and poor operational features.  As I have written earlier, many faculty scientists now are increasingly dissatisfied with their serious job problems in academia (see “Why Are University Scientists Increasingly Upset with Their Job?  Part I”, and “Part II” ).  For the industrial scientists I have known personally, all seemed to be quite happy with their employment, unlike their academic counterparts.  It remains uncommon for any faculty scientist to move into a new research job in industry.

As part of a group of interesting articles about current interactions between industrial research and development activities with scientists in academia, Nature (07 December, 2017: vol. 552, number 7683) has just published a brief dispatch by the science writer, Elie Dolgin, “In Good Company” (https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-017-07425-z).  This article describes 4 selected faculty scientists who ended their dissatisfaction in academia by moving into a new position researching in industry.  Although the very small number of scientists surveyed does not permit any valid statistical examination, I will give an overview of these individuals followed by a closer look at their motivations (i.e., what were their chief dissatisfactions with university research, and what were they looking for when they moved into industrial research).

Overview of scientists who moved from academia into industry! 

The 4 scientists surveyed include both males and females, have varied backgrounds, conducted research in quite different parts of science, and were employed at various institutions within the United States.  One is a cancer cell biologist, another is a neuroscientist, the third is a tumor immunologist, and the fourth is a physicist now working with large-scale computation for weather predictions.  No common characteristics of age, chief research interest, or cultural background are notable.  Some had researched in academia for several decades before moving.  All were quite successful with their research career in academia, but developed reasons and feelings for wanting a big change.

Announced causes for dissatisfaction with researching in academia! 

Motivations of all 4 individuals for moving out of academia into industrial research include recognition that their research findings then will have more practical outcomes and impact for people needing help.  One experienced academic scientist strikingly put the feeling behind his move as, “It’s an opportunity to make drugs instead of papers.”

Perceptions about their new industrial job! 

These individual scientists all found more satisfaction researching within industry due to the presence of several different new opportunities: larger salaries, more possibilities to extend basic studies into applied investigations, no need to get research grants to fund their experiments, and the presence of active training programs for postdocs at larger industrial institutions.  One scientist who worked on basic research in academia stated about the new job, “I (now) get to see my work come alive.”

These individuals also are aware of a few disadvantages for working in industry, such as needing to attend internal meetings more frequently, absence of graduate students, and the strong role for senior administrators in industrial research projects.

Not announced, but very real, advantages for making this move! 

Although not specifically announced in Dolgin’s report, inspection of what their new industrial positions involve indicates that all 4 scientists now have a much larger leadership responsibility (i.e., leading a large research group or serving as an administrative supervisor of an entire research program).  Thus, they all advanced their professional status to a large extent.  The academic environment for research usually restricts such possibilities to whatever can be funded by individual success in acquiring large or multiple awards of external funding.

Some needed discussion about researching in academia versus industry!  

The strong general dissatisfaction currently felt by many faculty researchers underlies what prompted these successful professional researchers in academia to want to move into a better job in industry.  The 4 cases described in this report clearly indicate that moving from academia into industry can be a realistic way for faculty researchers to improve their job situation.  Basic research in academia simply no longer is being encouraged because research now is viewed only as a profitable business activity at most universities.  Since they are profit-seeking institutions, they now value faculty scientists much more for getting money from research grant awards than for making important new discoveries.

Just as there are limited opportunities for university faculty to have charge of anything beyond whatever their own research grants can support, industrial researchers can more readily be part of and supervise dedicated teams working on some specific aspect of research.  The “industrial team approach” to lab research is made very difficult in academia  because all faculty scientists are forced to compete with all other scientists in the current vicious hyper-competition to acquire more research grants (see “All About Today’s Hyper-competition for Research Grants” ).  That counter-productive atmosphere distorts all research in academia today.

Utilization of the industrial team approach for scientific research recently has been initiated at several new biomedical research centers supported by large philanthropy instead of by research grants (see “A Jackpot for Scientific Research Created by James E. and Virginia Stowers!  Part II: The Stowers Institute Is a Terrific New Model for Funding Scientific Research!”, and, “Getting Rid of Research Grants: How Paul G. Allen Is Doing It!” ).

This provocative and fascinating short article in Nature can be read profitably not only by working research scientists, but also by ordinary people!  It clearly points to the need for a much larger survey of faculty scientists who have moved into industrial research, so that some statistical measures for evaluating motivation and outcome can be made.  In addition, the implications of this brief survey raise very important questions for postdocs and graduate students, such as “Should I aim to start my professional research career working in academia or in industry?”

 

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