There continues to be very much controversy about warming of our planet between commercial, environmental, financial, and political interests. Scientists also have differing opinions. I have previously examined what happens when some scientists disagree with other scientists, and concluded that judging what is true often is made more complex and difficult by the agitated involvement of non-scientists bearing emotional appeals (see “What Happens When Scientists Disagree? Part II: Why is There Such a Long Controversy About Global Warming and Climate Change?”. That is exactly the status of the ongoing disputes about whether there actually is any global warming, whether human activities are causing it, and whether this is a crisis situation.
This dispatch looks at key points raised by Prof. Ivar Giaever, a solid state physicist who won a 1973 Nobel Prize in Physics for his breakthrough discoveries on electron tunneling in superconductors. Dr. Giaever offers a very informative, readily understandable, and enjoyable video presentation about this controversy, which I urge all readers to view now (see: “Ivar Giaever: Global Warming Revisited (2015)” at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TCy_UOjEir0 ). His judgment is that some small global warming and global cooling do occur, but those are just part of normal cycles of temperature changes on Earth.
Let’s look at both sides of this dispute!
The standard viewpoint in today’s media is that global warming is occurring, is caused by human activities that raise atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide, and will result in undesirable elevation of sea levels due to disastrous melting of arctic and antarctic ice. Dr. Giaever’s video centers on examining the quantitative evidence for global warming, its origin, and the proposed consequences of this shift in temperature. To aid visitors in reaching a solid viewpoint, you should also watch a shallow video trying to trash Dr. Giaever and his conclusions, and favoring the standard viewpoint (see “Climate Denialism BS: Review of Dr Ivar Giaever’s ‘Expertise’ “, at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jNLvG4c9F38 ). Hopefully, you will try to form a more objective personal opinion about this very long-lived controversy.
Coming to a more objective evaluation about this controversy!
When evaluating this ongoing dispute, watch for the most fundamental question asked by all research scientists, “What is the evidence?” And, watch for insertion of opinions and emotions coming from commercial companies, ignorant individuals, and politicians. Although most scientists agree with Dr. Giaever’s conclusions, it does not matter at all how many expert scientists or public figures are willing to support any opinion. What matters to science is cold hard evidence!
Several levels of questions must be raised about global warming (i.e., How much global warming is there? Are the methods used to measure the ‘global temperature’ valid, and are enough locales being measured to make this a meaningful average? Has such warming ever happened before? How much temperature change is normal variation and how much is abnormal? To what extent are human activities causing elevated temperatures? Are raised levels of carbon dioxide bad or good? Are expectations about the predicted effects of global warming realistic and verified by historical or current measurements?). Prof. Giaever explicitly considers many of these in his presentation.
For myself, I see the conclusions of Prof. Giaever as being objective, and very convincing. You are welcome to disagree once you have examined and rated both sides of this dispute; the Internet provides an easy way for you to do that! Time will tell what is true!
Since many people and some doctoral scientists currently have disagreements about global warming, the actual evidence for judging its amount, cause(s), and effects must be carefully examined in order to judge what is true and what predictions are realistic. The traditional means for dealing with disputes between scientists is to acquire more and better new research data, and that will be very helpful here!
For readers wishing to learn more about Prof. Giaever’s personality and activities as a research scientist, a very good video is available on the Internet (see “A Story of Research: Ivar Giaever – 1982” at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dEzRfWM9gXo ).
Everyone knows that science and research now are active in almost every country all over the world. Many graduate students in science, and very many doctoral scientists employed to conduct research here, were born in foreign countries; thus, science and research in the U.S. have a distinctively global character. These facts commonly lead to a false assumption that scientific research is proceeding and progressing nicely everywhere. Actually, history shows different examples where events completely outside science can disrupt the practice and progress of research!
This dispatch considers the present situation for professional scientists and science students in Venezuela. I bring this up because many academic scientists in the U.S. and other Western countries complain loudly about the recurring shortage of money for support of their research, but fail to see that faculty scientists at certain foreign universities now must struggle just to get enough food to eat; that situation completely overwhelms all the many ‘normal problems’ in today’s academic research!
Brief background about Venezuela!
Venezuela is an independent constitutional republic of some 31 million people located on the Northern edge of the South American continent. It is nominally a rich country due to its very large deposits of oil and other natural resources; despite the recent political conflicts, some gasoline produced from Venezuelan oil is widely sold here in the U.S. Venezuela has several universities and big hospitals in its largest city, Caracas. Its current national leader, Nicholás Maduro, is a socialist who has responded to increasing economic difficulties (hyperinflation) and popular disapproval of current government policies by imposing dictatorial rule, capital controls, and political repression.
A university scientist describes how the current turmoil in Venezuela affects research and teaching in its universities!
Faculty scientists in the U.S. often remain blissfully unaware that their own career misgivings are minuscule compared to scientists in certain other countries that are seized with such a great turmoil that daily life descends into a struggle only to eat and survive. Venezuela now is the prime example of such an unfortunate situation.
Prof. Benjamin Scharifker courageously has just authored a dramatic description of current university science in Venezuela, “Science struggles on in my ravaged country”, published within the May 11, 2017, issue of Nature (volume 545, page 135). He is an Emeritus Professor continuing to conduct research at the Simón Bolívar University, and also serving as a Rector at the private Metropolitan University; both institutions are located in Caracas.
He describes the present difficult situation in graphic detail and with heartfelt anguish. A sampling of quotations from his published report includes: “concomitant shortages of food and medicine”, “annual inflation rate in excess of 500%”, “A full professor makes much less than US$100 a month”, “we did not have running water in the laboratory”, “the brain drain in Venezuela is staggering”, and, “How do we cope? We don’t; we just try to survive.” Most reading his story have never personally encountered the extreme situation described by Dr. Scharifker, and probably cannot readily believe or even imagine that any faculty scientists and science students could be facing this in 2017!
The large crisis in Venezuela soon probably will advance to cause the shutdown of universities and all their activities for teaching, scientific research, and other scholarly pursuits, despite the determination of students and faculty to carry on no matter what happens. Nevertheless, a large number of university faculty and graduate students already have left Venezuela in order to be able to continue conducting their research and education; this brain drain is very sad, since I know that Venezuela previously has produced some renowned research scientists! Prof. Scharifker comments that he hopes there will not be further bloodshed of university students in their public demonstrations and protests!
What are the main messages for scientists in the West?
This situation in Venezuela is gory! Let us hope that it does not spread to any other countries! Many of us who sincerely complain about the decayed and degenerated current condition of scientific research at our universities, must recognize that our own troubled situation is drastically better than what our fellow scientists and students in Venezuela must face every day!
Science never exists in a vacuum, but always takes place within some social and political context. Scientific research can be corrupted either internally (e.g., by scientists and science companies with dishonesty or greed) or externally (e.g., by economics, politics, or society). Scientists everywhere should simultaneously be citizens, and so must take part in national and local disputes, governmental issues, and politics; just because we are always busy with researching and teaching is no reason to avoid participating personally in these areas.
In turn, science and research interact with the external milieu to produce some changes that help everyone (e.g., advanced technology, better education, improved public health and safety, innovative new concepts, new medical and dental therapies, the internet, etc.). Thus, science and society usefully interact with each other!
From my viewpoint, I believe the following conclusions are warranted. (1) Scientists are privileged people who should actively accept their simultaneous role as citizens in their country! (2) Complainers about not enough money for research, or counterproductive policies in modern academia, must recognize that everything could get very much worse! (3) Let us give our fellow faculty scientists and science students in Venezuela our hopes for their better future!
Chris Woolston reports that Nature’s latest survey of job satisfaction by professional researchers “uncovered widespread dismay about earnings, career options, and future prospects”, and found that 1/3 of the respondents are unhappy  (see “Salaries: Reality Check” )!Such a high level of job dissatisfaction by professionals is truly shocking!
Today, I am updating my dispatch from last year, “Job Problems for Scientists Get Bigger in 2016!”, because there is far too little effort by government officials, university administrators, leading research scientists, science societies, and the public to stop this very destructive situation!
What exactly are the biggest problems facing today’s research scientists?
The largest problems currently damaging research are: (1) money (i.e., government agencies for science do not have enough money to support research by the ever-increasing number of doctoral scientists), (2) modern universities regard science departments as business entities where money is everything, and making important discoveries is not the primary goal, (3) applied research is being emphasized to the detriment of basic research, and (4) corruption in research is increasing and threatens the integrity of science. This situation is much worse in academia than in industry (see “The Biggest Problems Killing University Science Still Prevail in 2016!” ).
Working research scientists begin to speak out!
Harsh opinions of the ongoing problems for science and research are held by many faculty scientists, research associates, postdocs, and graduate students around the world. Woolston’s figures reveal that 39% of all the different scientists responding wouldnotrecommend a research career!
“There is no future in a research career in Italy” is stated by a female Italian molecular biologist working in Naples ! A Ukranian postdoc working on physics in Australia does not recommend a science career to people who ask him ! A faculty geneticist in Germany states, “Many people who wanted to do research end up as salespeople at some company” !
Won’t more money for science solve these current problems?
The public gives money for research via paying their annual taxes (i.e., all money in U.S. research grants comes from the taxpayers!). Many people also donate money in response to repeated tearful cries for ‘more money to support more scientific research’. Unfortunately, history shows that increased research funding never solves these grave problems! More money is not the answer!
My view is that any giant new increase in research support only makes the current problems get even bigger (see “Huge Additional Money for Research Will be Bad for Universities and Their Science!” ). Effective maneuvers, such as reducing the number of new doctoral scientists produced every year, and emphasizing quality over quantity when evaluating scientists and their research, are overwhelmed by the ongoing commercialization of science at modern universities.
The large practical problems with money are directly caused by bad policies of universities and the federal science agencies. These causes and their effects are strongly interwoven, and combine into nothing less than a system problem! Providing more money or reforming one or two destructive conditions are not enough; instead, the entire system must be remodeled or replaced!
My answers to a few important ‘why questions’!
(1) Why do scientists work for years to earn a Ph.D., just to have so many job problems in academia? My best answer is that new doctorates in science increasingly are using their degree and research skills in jobs outside academia!
(2) Why is science at universities and medical schools now a business? The best answer is both simple and direct: because it provides big financial profits!
(3) Why don’t professional scientists complain and try to change the system for funding research? In the U.S., they are very afraid that any such activity would doom chances of getting their research grant(s) renewed!
(4) Why don’t members of Congress and the presidents of national science societies act to change the present system for funding research? Everything is very entrenched, and it always is extremely hard to change the status quo. As the traditional saying goes, ‘Do not rock the boat’!
Will career problems for faculty scientists become even bigger in 2017?
For FY2017, the proposed budget for all federal expenses increases by 4%, which is $4.2 trillion dollars [2,3]! Science and research will receive a small portion of that total [2,3].
In addition to funding for research projects, there are several special targeted research programs termed ‘initiatives’. Those include the ‘Precision Medicine Initiative’ prompted by the former President, and the ‘Cancer Moonshot’ urged by the former Vice-President [2-4]. For just these and several other initiatives, the U.S. could spend over $6.9 billion dollars in FY2017 ! The funding for initiatives is on top of the nicely increased governmental funding for regular research projects [2-5].
It is anticipated that the new budget of $8 billion for the National Science Foundation in FY2017 will permit thousands more new research grants to be awarded to faculty scientists . That sounds like a very substantial increase, but the rate for applications being funded will only increase from 22% to 23% ! Thus, the intense hyper-competition between all academic scientists to get research grants will hardly be lessened!
All the well-publicized debates and arrangements made by Congress for 2017 do not really concern science and research, but are only posturing and trade-offs of political favors [e.g., 5]. My conclusion is that the new large increases in funding for research will only make the big problems in science become even bigger, so 2017 will be much more distressing for scientists than was 2016!
Several big and very difficult problems confront today’s research scientists, and are getting even worse in 2017! If the present downward course is not changed soon, the end result will be the death of science and research at universities (see: “Could Science and Research Now be Dying?” ). To rescue academic science,big changes must be made to the entire system for modern scientific research! The system is not able to resolve its own problems, so much more external help is needed.
For 2017, I want to work on writing a book or two! To do that I must use all the time I have been spending on this website (i.e., many hours every day!). Therefore, I am taking a leave of absence, and will be issuing only a few new posts very occasionally during 2017!
Most people believe that doing scientific research must be very boring because all activities are conducted by the so-called “scientific method” and thus proceed exactly as planned. Nothing could be further from the truth! Actual research is never guaranteed to work as expected, and there is a considerable amount of chance involved in successful scientific investigations; research experiments often are quite akin to adventures! Here, we will take a look at the importance of careful attention to some key factors which contribute to having success in scientific research.
What gives success in research experiments?
Scientific studies aim to find answers to research questions. To become a celebrated research scientist, investigators must make some discoveries that are recognized to be important by other scientists. Usually this involves designing research investigations in a good manner, conducting the data collection in a way that is statistically valid and repeatable, and, analyzing and interpreting the experimental results so the conclusions are solid. It should not be thought that doing good research is easy, since it requires much dedicated effort and emotional input by the Principal Investigator (i.e., the director of the research project) and all research coworkers. Outside problems that do not involve research directly, such as deadlines, politics, presentations for science meetings, seeking patents, teaching of courses, writing and revising manuscripts, etc., always keep scientists quite busy.
Even good research plans often undergo changes for what is done in the laboratory. Sometimes, new research publications from other scientists will necessitate adding additional experiments which had not been planned earlier. Success with research partly depends upon special factors and circumstances that can increase the chances for getting a good outcome: (1) keen awareness of what the experiments are showing while the data are being collected, (2) appreciation that luck and serendipity in addition to vigorous efforts can facilitate success, and (3) acceptance that eliminating distractions is valuable to permit full concentration on what is being done. Of course, there also are many other factors needed to gain success with doing scientific research (see “How Do Research Scientists Become Very Famous?”.
Unexpected results from experiments can be very difficult to evaluate if the scientist does not know all the details about exactly how they were acquired. Such awareness is often ignored by senior researchers who supervise many grad students and postdocs only from their desk. These faculty then cannot critically evaluate what technical operations are being done and exactly how the data were produced.
Other kinds of awareness also are significant. Research scientists must strive to know what other researchers in their field are doing; this requires attention to the new literature, attendance at sessions in science meetings, and making contacts with other scientists. Awareness of the business aspects of research has become quite important in recent years. Awareness can pay off big time if it results in doing or not doing something that other researchers have not recognized. Good awareness in scientists commonly is a sign of an active mind.
Having full concentration while working on data collection requires strong personal discipline. Very many scientists, whether working in industrial or academic labs, do not realize or accept that listening to the radio or conversing about politics while running an experiment necessarily reduces attention to what is being done. Those very common distractions decrease awareness and inevitably cause carelessness! In my experience, maintaining full attention, a high degree of alertness, and absence of distractions all help avoid making mistakes and foster producing good results.
Non-scientists often are amazed to see the large impact of good luck and bad luck in scientific research. Good luck can bless any researcher, but for unknown reasons seems to occur more frequently in some than in others. Wishing to have good luck unfortunately will not increase its appearance. However, having awareness and mental sharpness can serve to make good luck less important for achieving success in research. Bad luck also can occur to any scientist, and too frequently is blamed for causing all kinds of problems in conducting research experiments.
For scientists, serendipity is a surprise research finding, realization about the collected data, or event. It can have the form of a chance observation, an unusual beneficial turn of events, or the wonderful recognition that a piece of research data has a special significance. Some explicit examples of serendipity include when a scientist (1) finally realizes that some acquired result unexpectedly also answers a different research question, (2) has a research publication that appears a full 6 months before competing scientists publish their very similar results, and, (3) gets an unexpected invitation to present a lecture at a science meeting.
Today, getting and maintaining a research grant is a matter of life and death for university science faculty. Most scientists in modern universities will admit that they do not understand why certain applications for research grants get funded, but others seeming to be even more deserving are not funded. Undoubtedly, the most supreme serendipity that any university scientist can have today is when their research grant application is funded in full!
Awareness, ability to strongly focus one’s attention, and, being visited by serendipity are valuable for any scientist to have. Along with strong mental activity, personal determination, and technical skills, these might even help encourage having good luck!
Traditional careers in academic science increasingly are recognized by many grad students and postdocs as being restrictive and problematic. Rather than drop out of science, many individuals escape the negative features of the traditional faculty job in academia by finding more satisfying positions permitting research and teaching of science to be continued long-term. Since this escape requires thinking new thoughts and a willingness to be unconventional, it is never easy.
Today’s dispatch covers an explicit and inspiring story of how one postdoc overcame these difficulties. A heartfelt biographical note by Dr. Matthew Tuthill describes how he found satisfaction and fun with both research and teaching at a somewhat unusual job position, after being progressively disheartened when pursuing the usual path to get a Ph.D. and advance up the academic ladder. His story emphasizes that hunting for a new science job in science is never hopeless!
A postdoc becomes dissatisfied!
Matthew Tuthill was following the traditional route for young researchers to obtain a job as a university scientist, but after several years researching as a postdoc he began to have serious doubts about his possibilities for landing long-term employment as a faculty scientist and getting research grant awards It was disheartening that the research grind was diminishing his interest for continuing to work at science. Many other postdocs today have exactly the same difficult feelings.
What to do?
He then made the difficult decision to abandon the stock academic path and try to find a new career that would better satisfy his ongoing enthusiasm for being a professional researcher. His choices widened when he looked at the work of his graduate school mentor, who had made important contributions to society by founding a Cord Blood Bank, and of a professor at a local 2-year college, who advanced student training in scientific research by involving them in the lab production of monoclonal antibodies.
He met with that professor, who worked at a 2-year community college, and came to see that the standard view about the limitations of working at such institutions is very wrong. Those realizations opened his mind to recognizing that there are some good science careers with research and teaching outside of big universities and medical schools. These opportunities had not been apparent earlier because they are wrongly considered unworthy for serious researchers; that realization emphasizes that job seekers must consider all possibilities for their job hunt (see: “Other Jobs for Scientists, Part I” , “Part II” , and “Part III” )!
A new job with both research and teaching opens up!
Dr. Tuthill then was appointed to a faculty position at the same “quiet junior college in the middle of the Pacific” (i.e., in Honolulu) . His employment involves both teaching science and scientific research, and provides the opportunity to help the young science students to develop personally and learn to conduct research. He states that “many of my research mentors and peers considered it career suicide” to work at a community college ; however, for certain individuals this unconventional choice really is a dream come true.
After 10 years of working in this small academic institution, Dr. Tuthill concludes that his job there has helped him grow as a dedicated academic and as a science mentor. His earlier dissatisfaction has been replaced by renewed enthusiasm for science and growing self-satisfaction for being an unconventional academic. Thus, there is a very happy ending to this story!
Lessons to be learned from Dr.Tuthill!
This true story nicely illustrates several directives that young scientists often overlook! (1) There are many jobs outside universities and medical schools that are open to Ph.D.s in science; some involve research and/or teaching, while others do not involve direct research (e.g., in advertising, finances, industries, law, media, sales, software, etc.). (2) The more you talk with other working scientists, the more you will learn about which unconventional job possibilities are available. (3) Always be open minded and think creatively when seeking a new job; sometimes you even can create your own new position. (4) Never give up your hunt, and, be open to unexpected and unconventional options. (5) Your final goal is to find a position that suits your abilities, your ambitions, your interests, and your skills; all individuals are different, so concentrate on finding a position that .will be good just for you!
I enthusiastically encourage all graduate students and postdocs to read Matthew Tuthill’s fascinating biographical story for themselves. “Making a difference, differently” is in a recent issue of Science (December 2, 2016, volume 354, page 1194), and is available on the internet at: http://science.sciencemag.org/content/354/6316/1194 . Good luck!
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!
Are you a raw beginner? It is hard for beginners to understand science, research, and scientists, so most just ignore them! In this dispatch I explain some points so you will be able to understand more on what science and research are all about!
Why is scientific research needed?
We need to know more about ourselves, our world, and our universe in order to be able to do more (e.g., treat and cure more diseases, rescue everyone from pollution, produce healthier food, make cheaper gasoline, etc.).
How does science differ from engineering?
Scientists work to discover new knowledge. They evaluate the truth by observing, measuring, and experimenting. Engineers work to develop or improve some commercial product (e.g., better batteries, steam-powered autos, more sensitive and safer machines, faster trains, etc.). Both are very useful to society!
Are inventors the same as scientists?
Inventors make some new object or device. Anyone can be an inventor, even you! Some scientists also are inventors (i.e., by making a new attachment for one of their research instruments). Inventors generally are not scientists (i.e., they do not have graduate degrees or teach at universities).
Why are salaries for scientists so much more than I get?
The average doctoral biomedical scientist working as an Assistant Professsor at U.S. academic institutions in 2015 received a salary of about $91,000 per year . The average salary for senior biomedical scientists working as a Full Professor was around $152,000 per year . Please note that these are averaged figures that ignore regional locations, science subspecialties, years of employment, etc. Salary levels for faculty scientists are based primarily their highly specialized expertise, ability to do both teaching and research, and very extensive education taking over 10 years (i.e., after 4 years in a college, they typically spend 3-8 years in graduate school, plus 2-5 more years as a postdoctoral trainee).
Why is modern research so expensive?
Research to make discoveries of new knowledge requires obtaining accurate results from measurements and experimental tests by salaried research workers (e.g., professional scientists, postdoctoral fellows, technicians). Most experiments use special supplies, expensive instruments, and special facilities within a laboratory. Since the experiments in a typical research project last from weeks to years, the total costs are substantial.
Who pays for scientific research? Do you pay?
Payment for research expenses primarily comes from 2 separate sources: taxes paid by the public, and business profits in industrial companies. Yes, you pay for research!
Why is money so important in modern science?
Everything costs and someone must pay! No research gets done unless expenses are paid for! Awards of taxpayer dollars are given by governmental science agencies to support worthy research studies by scientists. These awards are termed research grants, and all scientists at universities, medical schools, and technology institutes compete for them so they can conduct research investigations.
Why do some scientists kill animals for their research project?
Research on diseases, nutrition, and toxic chemicals often is impossible to conduct directly on humans, so the needed studies must use experiments with laboratory mice, rats, or other suitable animals. Since humans are not mice (and only certain humans are rats!), the results from animal-based studies must be extended by clinical researchers onto humans. Computer models can be used for some research, but those results later must be verified by tests on animals and humans. Scientists I know feel bad about using animals for their research, but accept that such is necessary to get the needed new knowledge.
Scientists on TV always are either weird or maniacs; why are all scientists like that?
They are not like that! The phony Hollywood model for scientists is only aimed to be entertaining! Unlike in TV and movies, real scientists are strongly individualistic, very dedicated to their research work, want to make important discoveries, like to laugh, and work very hard. A real scientist might be one of your neighbors (if so, see if you can chat with them or visit their lab)!
Why are scientist so evil (e.g., nuclear bombs, genetically modified organisms (GMO), fraudulent drug studies, hidden poisons, etc.)?
Your view of scientists confuses what they actually discover from research studies, with what practical outcomes develop later. The instances that you cite were developed in response to making advances in agriculture, developing new chemicals for specific purposes, producing the needs for warfare, etc. What you view as evil, other people see as being useful and even good! Never forget that scientists are people, and they do make mistakes and have some faults. I join you in damning cheaters who hide or change test results and market new drugs that actually harm patients, hiders of labeling GMO foods, and, commercial vendors of disguised poisons.
Why can’t all research be focused only on making the next really big discovery?
Research discoveries depend upon scientists who work best as individuals or in small groups. Forcing all scientists to work only on one super-project and giving them unlimited money for research, is not likely to reach the desired goal because that condition limits freedom of individuals to think, explore, and ask questions. Those characteristics are basically required in scientific research! Consider the analogy where everyone is forced to drive a Chevy, and no other cars are permitted on the roads!
I don’t understand the Nobel Prizes! Wasn’t Nobel a destructive monster?
Alfred Nobel (1833-1896) was a scientist in chemistry, and also a builder, businessman, engineer, industrialist, inventor, traveller, and writer. He made lots of money from inventing dynamite after years of work, and willed his fortune to establish several ongoing big prizes for scientists whose research provided the greatest benefit to all humans (see: “The 2016 Nobel Prizes in Science are Announced” ). Dynamite remains very useful for construction, levelling mountains, and mining. Regarding your question, you should know that his brother was killed by an unplanned explosion during the development of dynamite, Nobel lived and workedk on several continents, and he wanted to benefit humanity. His very eventful life is nicely described in 2 illustrated pieces (see: “Alfred Nobel – St. Petersburg, 1842-1863”, and, “Alfred Nobel – His Life and Work” ).
What does science and research mean to me, a raw beginner?
Please see my earlier article: “What Does Science Matter to Me, an Ordinary Person?” ! You will be surprised to learn that scientific research impacts everything you do and are (e.g., aging, dreams, health, internet, personality, sex, success at sports, travel, your job, etc.).
What does modern science need to produce more important research discoveries?
In my opinion, modern science needs the addition of more freedom, more curiosity, asking many more questions, longer research grants, better honesty, lots of patience, plus its separation from commercialism, government, and political correctness!
I hope the above has given you a better understanding about science and research! Once your curiosity is stimulated, you can have lots of fun looking at many videos, articles, and stories about science on the internet!
I have earlier described the necessity for all scientists to ask very many questions while they are doing research studies (see: “Research Scientists Must Ask Myriad Questions!” ). That article was for working scientists, but this one is for all who are not scientists!
Here you will take a closer look at the frequent questions beginning with “What if?”, and examine how those queries are helpful to researchers. The what-if kind of questioning is nothing less than mental experimentation involving curiosity, imagination, judgments, and predictions, as well as ordinary worrying and wishful thinking!
On the nature of common what-if queries by research scientists!
While conducting experiments for a research project in a university or industry lab, scientists often ask themselves what-if questions about what will happen if something is changed (e.g., the concentration of a reagent used in an assay, the means for preparing a sample to be examined, the operation of a research instrument, the statistical methods used for data analysis, etc.). Such queries are usually considered only in thought, rather than being conducted in the lab; however, these deliberations later can lead to actual changes. This questioning is simply the mental testing of an idea or possibility.
Other frequent what-if questioning by scientists concerns specific causes and effects in their work activities. These include asking oneself about the possible consequences of making some change (e.g., what if I could have another student working in my lab, what additional work could I do if I woke up an hour earlier, what if I ask Dan G. or Judy W. to collaborate with me, etc.)? Many of these are wishful thinking about making choices for conducting research investigations or finding success with applications for research grants. While such questions sometimes lead nowhere, they also can help make better decisions of practical importance for being a good researcher.
How does what-if questioning help scientists do good research?
It should be obvious that the what-if questioning described above is an inherent part of doing research. What-if questions take only a small amount of time, but often recur again and again a few minutes or days later. This questioning usually is an innate activity rather than something learned in graduate school courses. What-if questions typically occur all the time and reflect worries or conflicts. Asking these queries helps research scientists to (1) make stronger decisions, judgments, and conclusions, (2) critically evaluate alternative possibilities, and, (3) incisively develop new ideas.
Interpreting data and deciding which conclusion is best are important targets of what-if questioning (e.g., what would be the acceptance by other scientists if I concluded X instead of Y; if my new interpretation is later found to be wrong, what would I do?). These worries help scientists to think critically about their research activities, to be more careful not to make a mistaken judgment, and to consider alternatives. Although many what-if queries are not easy to answer (e.g., what if I leave this experiment for later?), such mental debates often help research scientists make good decisions and better plans.
Almost all adults (non-scientists) commonly have been taught that research is designed using “the scientific method”, and that experiments always should go exactly as planned. In my experience, both dogmas are not true! Research investigations are inherently chancy, and conclusions often change and evolve. Asking many questions helps make science better!
Part of being a creative scientist is to make discoveries and to develop new understanding. I am convinced that the mental efforts to accomplish those goals strongly depend upon being curious and having a questioning mind! This is true for grad students and postdocs, as well as for professors!
What-if questions with mental experiments and debates help research scientists to adopt changes, anticipate problems, develop new ideas, examine alternative possibilities, and, refine conclusions. Being a successful scientist and productive researcher depends upon asking many questions, as well as running good experiments in the lab. Good questioners become good research scientists!
Seven scientists from the many thousands worldwide have just been announced to share the 2016 Nobel Prizes in Physiology or Medicine, Chemistry, and, Physics. Alfred Nobel (1833-1896) had a very eventful life in addition to discovering dynamite; fascinating details about his adventures are well worthwhile for you to read (see: “Alfred Nobel – St. Petersburg, 1842-1863” and, “Alfred Nobel – His Life and Work” )! Nobel conducted scientific research in chemistry, and also was active as an engineer, industrialist, and inventor. His will bequeathed his fortune to set up ongoing global prizes for scientific work providing the greatest benefit to all humans. Details about all the Nobel Prizes in science and in non-science are described at: http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes .
All scientists would dearly love to win a Nobel Prize, but only a very few ever attain this most prestigious honor in science! The new awards will be bestowed at ceremonies and events during the special Nobel Week festivities at Stockholm, Sweden (December 5-10, 2016). The latest Nobel Laureates should be much appreciated by the general public, and congratulated by other scientists for the excellence in their experimental research! A brief summary of the 2016 Laureates and their honored research achievements follows.
Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine [1,2]!
The 2016 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine is awarded to Yoshinori Ohsumi, Ph.D. (Tokyo Institute of Technology, Japan), for his research determining the detailed molecular mechanisms for the functioning of autophagy (autophagocytosis) in cellular health and disease. Autophagy provides the controlled destruction of old or damaged subcellular organelles (e.g., mitochondria) or other objects inside eukaryotic cells; after cytoplasmic membranes rearrange to surround the targets, those bodies merge with lysosomes (small packages of hydrolytic enzymes) so the targets are completely broken down without exposing the rest of the cell to that destruction. Most eukaryotic cells use autophagy as the primary means to keep everything renewed, fresh, and functionally active. Autophagy complements heterophagy (phagocytosis), where cells internalize external targets (e.g., bacteria) and subsequently destroy them by lysosomal hydrolysis.
Ohsumi’s breakthrough research using molecular genetics discovered how autophagy is activated and regulated, how mutations in proteins controlling autophagocytosis can cause disease states in humans, and how the functioning of autophagy has a wide importance for cell biology and cell pathology. His discoveries with basic research have solved longstanding questions in cell biology and have led to new investigations with applied research by numerous other scientists.
Nobel Prize in Physics [3,4]!
The 2016 Nobel Prize in Physics is awarded to 3 scientists for theoretical investigations about unusual states of matter: David J. Thouless, Ph.D. (University of Washington, Seattle, WA, U.S.), F. Duncan M. Haldane, Ph.D. (Princeton Univ ersity, Princeton, NJ, U.S., and J. Michael Kosterlitz, Ph.D. (Brown University, Providence, RI, U.S.). They fundamentally advanced condensed matter physics by studying the topological organization of atoms kept in highly unusual states (i.e., by extreme heating or cooling). Under such conditions, matter can have different states of organization than the usual gases, liquids, and solids. Using mathematical analyses, they were able to explain their findings and make detailed theoretical proposals that were later validated by further experimental studies.
This new understanding about matter is anticipated to provide a good basis for future research and engineering development of new superconductors and quantum computers. The 2016 Nobel Prize in Physics nicely exemplifies the importance of theoretical research studies for stimulating advances in experimental investigations (see “Towards Understanding Theoretical Research in Science” ).
Nobel Prize in Chemistry [5,6]!
The 2016 Nobel Prize in Chemistry is awarded to 3 pioneering chemists who designed and produced controllable machines made from molecules: Jean-Pierre Sauvage, Ph.D. (University of Strasbourg, France), J. Fraser Stoddart, Ph.D. (Northwestern University, Evanston, IL., U.S.), and Bernard L. Feringa, Ph.D. (University of Groningen, The Netherlands). Using experimental formations by different types of newly synthesized chemical molecules, they showed that their designed molecular interactions could repeatedly produce lifting, moving, or rotation in response to provision of energy; these new constructs can form molecular machines, motors, and even a “nanocar”.
Miniaturization to the level of molecules gives chemistry an innovative new dimension. Many researchers and engineers now are working to develop new applications of the technology established during decades of investigations by the 2016 Nobel Laureates in chemistry. Anticipated developments include new materials, sensors, systems for energy storage, and even computers.
Brief discussion and comments about the 2016 Nobel Prize winners!
The Nobel Prizes in science continue to bring forth excellent researchers and outstanding experimental studies to the attention of the public worldwide. Several of the latest Nobel Prizes follow from earlier Nobel Prizes awarded for outstanding research in related subject areas. Most discoveries by Nobel Laureates began with studies in basic research, which opened the door for later applied research, engineering developments, and industrial productions. The individual Nobel Laureates in 2016 have some features that commonly characterize winners of all the big honors in science (see: “What Does It Take to Win the Big Prizes in Science?“ ).
The 2016 award to Prof. Ohsumi is notable because most Nobel Prizes in Medicine or Physiology have been awarded to multiple scientists, rather than to only one person. He deserves lots of credit for his dedication to long investigations and innovative research leadership!
A frequent criticism of the Nobel Prizes in science is that they do not usually give credit to the research workers associated with the Laureates. The Breakthrough Prizes, which compete with the Nobel Prizes for being very important honors in scientific research, awarded their 2016 Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics to 3 scientists, plus to 1012 other individual workers who travailed on a very large and long research effort in big science !
Check out further information about the 2016 Nobel Prizes in Science!
All readers, whether scientists or non-scientists, are encouraged to explore more information about the winning researchers! Many good written and video presentations soon will be found on the internet!
Dishonesty in scientific research hurts everyone and seems to be increasing. Cheating and corruption are especially notable for research activities at universities and medical schools (see “Why Would Any Scientist Ever Cheat?” ). Most steps aiming to reduce research misconduct sadly are not very effective, due in part to the well-known tendency of universities to stonewall and deny any wrongdoing.
This article discusses how research fraud by a staff employee at the Duke University Medical Center now has expanded with a lawsuit filed by a whistleblower alleging that many millions of dollars of research grants from several federal agencies were acquired based on research results known to be falsified [1-4]. This new legal case is unusual and could force this prestigious university to return up to 3 times the awarded research support funds to the U.S. government [1-5].
Brief background about the U.S. False Claims Act  !
The False Claims Act (FCA) lets a U.S. citizen file suit on behalf of the federal government, to recover awarded funds that were fraudulently obtained. Previous use of the FCA against research fraud has been very limited. This new case at Duke not only will involve faculty and academic officials, but also invokes participation by the U.S. Department of Justice, officials at the National Institutes of Health and other federal agencies, several institutions having research collaborations with Duke, and very specialized lawyers. A whistleblower winning an FCA lawsuit can obtain up to 30% of fraudulently acquired funds mandated to be returned to the government!
Nothing is simple in research misconduct, because others always are involved [1-4] !
To its credit, Duke University formally investigated the research staff employee, Erin Potts-Kant, suspected of producing fraudulent research results, and found that over a dozen research publications involving her with coauthors, including the Principal Investigator, Prof. William M. Foster (Division of Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care Medicine, at the Department of Medicine) were retracted or “corrected”; some published data was admitted to be unreliable.
The new FCA lawsuit recently has been filed (and unsealed) against this researcher, her supervisor, Duke University, and Duke University Health Systems by Joseph Thomas, formerly employed as a research coworker with Potts-Kant. He earlier had expressed his concerns about research integrity to officials at Duke. This FCA suit alleges that fraudulent published data was knowingly included in over 60 research grant applications, yielding awards totalling some $200,000,000. Trial for this FCA case currently is pending.
What does this FCA case mean for dishonesty and corruption in academic science?
The new legal situation using the FCA can result in a university actually having to pay big dollars for not having adequate control of dishonesty in its science activities. The possibility that universities could face substantial financial penalties for research misconduct by any faculty cheaters and unethical employees now worries all private academic institutions; that’s good news! Dealing with this grave problem of cheating in research publications and grant applications finally is given some teeth!
Whistleblowers are very significant!
History shows that science cannot police itself. The False Claims Act provides a strong pathway for whistleblowers to make their case known for research misconduct observed at universities and medical schools. The new FCA case at Duke has the very positive effect of calling everyone’s attention to the important role of whistleblowers in reporting unethical science. Dr. Peter Wilmshurst, a courageous clinical faculty researcher who has successfully blown the whistle on several cases of shameful misconduct by faculty scientists and medical industries (see “Whistleblowers in Science are Necessary to Keep Research and Science-Based Industries Honest!” ), provides an inspiring model for having the guts to struggle with protecting honesty in clinical science. If the new FCA trial verifies the alleged misconduct at Duke and forces that large university to refund research grant funds awarded on the basis of falsified publications, then the vital role of whistleblowers in keeping academic science honest will be made more widely recognized.
The increasing incidence of research misconduct in academic science is one of the gravest problems facing modern university scientists. The pressures on science faculty from the hyper-competition for research grants are just enormous and causes some scientists to cheat. Unless this hyper-competition and the conversion of university science into just another business entity both are stopped, then academic science will continue dying (see “Could Science and Research Now be Dying?” , and “The Biggest Problems Killing University Science Still Prevail in 2016!” ). The extensive changes needed to accomplish that must involve the entire system for modern science!
Theories play a big role in science! I recently presented a short introduction for beginners about science theories (see “Towards Understanding Theoretical Research in Science!” ). Here, we will look at some current research developments in Astronomy that illustrate examples of theories within space research.
A brief background for beginners on the science of Astronomy!
Knowledge in ancient times about our planet, Earth, our Moon, our Sun, and the stars came from direct observations with the naked eyes. The early development of telescopes, photography, and other ways to record positions of celestial objects permitted measurements to be made; that was the real start of astronomy as part of physical science.
Astronomy today has the tools and technology to examine everything from the other planets circling our Sun, to distant galaxies and energy emissions in outer space. Modern research in astronomy has been expanded by the development of space science with its explorations using robotic labs sent on distant travels, space telescopes and new large terrestrial telescopes, and, numerous advanced spectroscopes. These tools and methods gather quantitative data that go far beyond what could be done by researchers only a few decades ago. The new availability of direct measurements means that theories in astronomy now can be tested against real data.
Do exoplanets exist!
Humans have long wondered if we are alone, or if there are other planets with life somewhere out in the universe. A theory that exoplanets (i.e., planets circling other stars) do exist is mirrored by a theory that there are no others! The validity of any theory must be tested by evidence from research results. Due to their limited size and great distance away from Earth, exoplanets cannot yet be directly imaged by any terrestrial telescopes; space telescopes should be able to do that, if exoplanets actually exist. Instead of using light waves to form images, telescopes and radiotelescopes now can detect other wavelengths and types of radiation, and record spectra rather than images; much development in this research methodology has resulted in good confidence for interpretating spectroscopic data, although confirmation from adjunctive results always also is sought. Recent discoveries of hundreds of planets orbiting many other stars [e.g., 1] establishes validity of the theory that exoplanets do exist.
Proxima b is discovered!
One exoplanet, Proxima b, has just been reported by an international team of scientists, after analyzing research data back to 2000 ! It is slightly larger than Earth, and encircles our neighboring star, Proxima Centauri, with a periodicity of 11.2 days; its equilibrium temperature permits liquid water to be present. There is much excitement in astronomy over this new research finding, because its relative closeness to Earth means that it will be a prime target for future fly-by missions. A new article for general readers about the discovery of this exoplanet, written for CNN by Ashley Strickland , now is available (see: “Proxima b: Closest potentially habitable planet to our solar system found” ).
Does water exist on any exoplanet?
Liquid water is a key component of all forms of life on Earth. Any theory that life exists on exoplanets generally requires the presence of water there; this links one theory to another theory! Space scientists are already defining the width of a zone around some stars as being habitable if its temperature range includes that required for liquid water to be present; however, such an estimation does not establish that water actually is present. Much more direct research data is needed to be able to resolve this important question.
Does life exist on any exoplanets?
The enormous distance of exoplanets from Earth makes any theory that life is present there extremely difficult to test. The distant locations make it impractical to send scientists or robots out to any exoplanet via a spaceship. Several innovative ideas for how to obtain direct images of exoplanets now are being developed and activated (e.g., see “Can Research Travel Out to the Stars? Yuri Milner Says “Yes, Let’s Go!” ). Advanced spectroscopy perhaps is the only currently available means to detect life forms on exoplanets, since direct imaging is not yet possible.
How to interpret images from exoplanets?
Direct imaging of exoplanets is eagerly awaited! All images in science must be interpreted, but the interpretation of future direct images from exoplanets is guaranteed to be a major controversy since images showing either creatures resembling those we all know on Earth, or something wildly different, will provoke vigorous doubts by other scientists and the public! Life might exist that utilizes other means for energy mobilization, and does not need either water or oxygen; thus, exotic life forms imaged on exoplanets might not be recognizable as such! Objective interpretation of those images might be nearly impossible!
Nothing is written in stone, and everything can be questioned by scientists! Theories are particularly useful in science as targets for new research experiments. All theories must be evaluated on the basis of their ability to explain direct observations and measurements. Theories can be proven or disproven by evidence from research results; valid theories have a predictive ability. Even proven theories can be modified as more research data becomes available. Speculative ideas and imaginative proposals differ from science theories because they are judged largely on the basis of popularity and subjective promise, rather than by direct evidence.
Theories in science always are controversial and hard to prove. In space science, new research results now permit the validity of some theories to be tested directly. These indeed are very exciting times for space scientists!
The Kavli Prizes are awarded every 2 years to scientists whose research investigations have made seminal advances in science. These Prizes were established by Fred Kavli (1927-2013), a physicist, inventor, and industrialist. Kavli Prizes have the same level of high honor as the Nobel Prizes, but are restricted to 3 large areas of science (astrophysics, nanoscience, and neuroscience). For 2016, 9 pioneering scientists were announced as awardees in June, and next week the Kavli Prizes will be presented at a special ceremony in Oslo, Norway, during the Kavli Prize Week festivities.
Today’s dispatch briefly gives information about the newest Kavli Prize Laureates and their important research achievements.
Kavli Prize Week and the Kavli Foundation!
The Kavli Prize website presents much information about the Kavli Prizes and Kavli Prize Week, including the selection of awardees, biographies and information about the newest and the previous Laureates, recordings of presentations by the Laureates, and, several other items for viewing by the general public (e.g., Popular Science Lectures). This website is highly recommended and very worthy for you to explore independently!
The schedule of events for the 2016 Kavli Prize Week and abstracts for the 2016 Laureate Lectures by the new awardees are given in “The Kavli Prize Week 2016 – Program”. The Kavli Foundation issues educational videos explaining the 3 areas of modern science involving the Kavli Prizes.
The 2016 Kavli Prize Laureates!
The Kavli Prize in Astrophysics (see “2016 Prize in Astrophysics”) is shared between Ronald W. P. Drever (California Institute of Technology, United States), Kip S. Thorne (California Institute of Technology, United States), and Rainer Weiss (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, United States), for their recent direct detection of gravitational waves after many years of controversy about whether these features of cosmology actually existed (see “Brian Greene Explains the Discovery of Gravitational Waves”; also see “Rainer Weiss”). By persisting in their studies when confronted by failures to detect any gravitational waves, they finally succeeded; their discovery translates theory into practice, and thereby creates a whole new branch of astronomy.
The Kavli Prize in Nanoscience (see “2016 Kavli Prize in Nanoscience: A discussion with Gerd Binnig and Christoph Gerber” ) is shared between Gerd Binnig (IBM Zurich Research Laboratory, Switzerland), Christoph Gerber (University of Basel, Switzerland), and Calvin Quate (Stanford University, United States), for their invention and development of the atomic force microscope. This new tool for research greatly advances imaging of the molecular and atomic structure of nonconducting surfaces, and permits directly measuring surface properties at the level of different atoms. Research with atomic force microscopy now is widely used for nanoscience investigations of many different materials in all 3 branches of science; this instrument is wonderfully versatile, so unexpected new applications continue to develop (e.g., usage for medical diagnosis of cancer patients). Atomic force microscopy took decades of dedicated work to be fully developed and explored. Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer were awarded the 1986 Nobel Prize in Physics for their invention of the scanning tunneling microscope; that innovative new instrument necessarily preceded the invention and development of the atomic force microscope.
The Kavli Prize in Neuroscience (see “2016 Kavli Prize in Neuroscience: A discussion with Eve Marder, Michael Marzenich, and Carla Shatz” ) is shared between Eve Marder (Brandeis University, United States), Michael Marzenich (University of California at San Francisco, United States), and Carla Shatz (Stanford University, United States), for their research showing that the adult brain changes its architecture and functioning from experience and learning (i.e., brain remodeling and neuroplasticity). This new concept is derived from study of several different model systems, and replaces the traditional view that the adult brain is static and can no longer change. Their new model of the brain encourages development of new therapeutic approaches to treat adult human brain dysfunctions (e.g., Alzheimer’s disease, senility, trauma, etc.).
All the 2016 Kavli Prize Laureates exemplify the expectation that scientists should be creative individuals who are not afraid to explore new ideas, concepts, and approaches! Their celebrated work has included both basic and applied research, theoretical and experimental studies, and, development of new research methods and instruments. Their outstanding discoveries were the result of persistent dedication to research as a source for new knowledge; their use of collaborative investigations is prominent. The 9 Laureates in 2016 are outstanding researchers, and all serve as good role models for young scientists just beginning their professional careers.
The 2016 Kavli Prizes admirably fulfill the intention of the late Fred Kavli to honor excellence in research, to emphasize the importance of basic science, and to promote public education about scientific research. All people should join in celebrating the new Kavli Prize Laureates!
Despite the efforts of education and media, most people still do not know or understand much about science and scientific research. The understanding I am referring to does not involve facts and figures so much as activities, aims, and rationales. Research in theoretical science is particularly viewed and rejected as being a total waste of money and time. Those mistaken viewpoints are largely due to an absence of knowledge about the usefulness of theories in science. This article tries to illuminate the value of theoretical research so you will understand how it plays an important role in the advancement of science.
Theories in science!
Science wants to know more about everything! Most research in biomedicine, chemistry, or physics deals with subjects and activities that can be examined directly or indirectly (e.g., animals or cells, polymers or monomers, and, minerals or atoms). Theories in all branches of science deal with subjects that are not able to be examined directly or indirectly, but can be investigated at the level of what is known already, what could be possible, what can explain something that is not understood, what would happen if and when, and, how can some valid estimate be made for something that cannot be measured directly. Theories in science basically use what is known to try to investigate or explain something that is unknown and unavailable for direct studies; their validity is judged on the basis of evidence from research experiments.
Theory versus practice!
Scientists usually are very specialized, but all can be divided into being either theorists or experimentalists. The boundaries of this division can be changed with time, when more new knowledge by experimentalists is discovered. A good example of this dynamic occurred recently when research probes and very special research instruments began to be sent far out into space (e.g., see: “The New James Webb Space Telescope!” ); all of a sudden, astrophysicists working only at the level of theoretical physics had to confront their theories with real data! Some of their theories about planets, stars, galaxies, and dark holes were validated, others had to be modified, and some were disproved. Note that even established theories that are later shown to be invalid still had been helpful for temporarily filling gaps within scientific knowledge about outer space; by proving or disproving a theory, the newly acquired experimental data advances the scientific search for truth.
My own thesis advisor was an experimentalist in cell biology, and once told me that he had seen a certain senior professor walking along a walkway on campus with his head bent forward looking only down at the pavement. That individual was a pioneering theoretical biologist who analyzed subjects with mathematics; anyone could readily imagine all kinds of equations bouncing around his head as he walked along! My advisor said all that was very well so long as the theories agreed with practice (i.e., with direct experimental data). I then asked him what he meant. He answered that this theoretician had developed a mathematical study of eukaryotic cell division, and had come up with an extensive conclusion about how that activity operated, including that the entire process took place in 24.3 seconds; this number does not match actual direct observations with microscopy showing that it takes some hours!
What is the value of theories for science?
Theories are good for science because they provide discrete points of study for new research, can give estimates where direct measurements cannot be made, and, help understand complex activities and relationships which are impossible to examine directly. For science, theories are useful as targets for research questions and for designing new experiments.
Scientific theories are more than just fanciful ideas. They are somewhat similar to large conclusions from direct research studies in that they: (1) always are subject to revision (i.e., due to new research results), (2) often last a long time, but some vanish when they are completely disproved, and, (3) stimulate new directions for experimental researchers to work on.
A classical example of the value of theories for science is the heliocentric theory of Copernicus, proposing that the Earth revolves around the Sun, unlike the older standard theory that the Sun circles around the Earth. As time passed, more and more experimental research data provided evidence that the standard theory is wrong and the heliocentric theory is correct. Many modern researchers in astronomy and space science now follow what has developed from the ancient theory of Copernicus.
Another good example is Darwin‘s theory of evolution. That complex proposal cannot be directly examined today because the eons of time during which it operated are unavailable. This extensive theory can explain very many observable details about similarities, differences, and specializations in animals, plants, microbes, and fossils. The large amount of solid evidence from research for the validity of this classical theory does not prevent ongoing questions and criticisms from being raised. That is good and is essential for science’s mission to find the truth based upon evidence from research results!
Everything can and should be questioned, even well-known theories, dogmas, or popular sacred cows! Science always seeks to evaluate and test accepted conclusions, concepts, and theories when new research experiments make additional data available. Theories and research in science are complementary, and both are very useful!
Anyone can come up with an idea for a useful new device, but it always is uncertain whether that can be converted into a new product for sale. Typically, there is a long chain of interactions between the original idea for a new device and the marketed new product! This chain of events is quite general, and is good for everything from a new refining process that generates cheaper gasoline, to new expensive diagnostic kits for identifying specific diseases. This article will outline the general sequence whereby scientific research, engineering development, and industrial modifications lead to new commercial products, using the important example of producing drinkable water from seawater.
Background on desalination [1,2]!
All humans get thirsty every day! Water to be drinkable (i.e., potable water) must be freed from bacteria, dissolved salts, sediments, and various chemicals. Ocean water is much more plentiful than natural fresh water, but cannot be used directly to quench thirst. Desalination (i.e., removal of salts from the starting liquid) has primary importance for purifying water, and is increasingly important as the global human population increases and the amount of natural fresh water decreases.
Removing dissolved salts can be accomplished by several different ways. Most people are familiar with water purification by distillation (i.e., boiling water to produce steam, followed by cooling to condense the steam into salt-free liquid water). Where large numbers of people need to have potable water for drinking, simple distillation is not usable because it has insufficient speed and capacity, as well as a high energy cost.
In practice, physical filtration of salty source water is used commonly for pre-treatment to remove sediments and microorganisms. The processes utilized to separate filtered water from dissolved salts involve chemical or physical mechanisms working at the level of molecules and ions (e.g., adhesion, ion exchanges, permeation through very small pores, precipitation, etc.). One of the processes frequently being utilized is reverse osmosis (i.e., pressure forces water molecules through minute pores that are too small to allow passage of hydrated salt ions). In countries having little natural fresh water, desalination of ocean water often is conducted by special facilities inside large buildings that use reverse osmosis to produce many thousands of gallons of purified water every day.
Involvement of research and engineering [1,2]!
Commercial devices for desalination now are available for individual people, and very large-scale plants are providing potable water for substantial populations. Success of desalination is evaluated with regard to costs for energy and operation, efficiency, environmental effects, final purity, rate of purification, stability, suitability for human consumption (e.g., deficient iodine content), etc. Research and development into all these aspects is ongoing, and involves everything from materials science (e.g., new or modified membranes with pores having better selectivity) to systems engineering (e.g., using heat generated from nuclear reactors to facilitate desalination processes). Many investigations into desalination already have been conducted; the science journal, Desalination, is now approaching publication of its 400th volume! As availability of natural fresh water in our world diminishes, the importance of making yet further improvements in desalination continues to rise.
Basic research by scientists seeks to answer questions without regard to later practical uses. For desalination, basic research has established the physics and chemistry of the different mechanisms involved (e.g., detailed characteristics, purity and residual salt content, ion selectivity of pores, capacity, energy required, etc.). Applied research then examines the fundamentals of desalination with regard to using modifications and different kinds of materials and processes to give better results.
Development of desalination products and processes seeks to modify and combine the results of applied research so the activities of each part of desalination are optimized for commercial production or industrial usage. The goal is to obtain the largest volume and best purity with the least cost in the shortest time. This area of work is done by engineers, and commonly takes place in industrial research centers. Testing of prototypes often necessitates further changes in design. Scaling is evaluated for applications with different volume requirements for pure water output from various salty sources. Finally, industrialists work to offer commercially viable new or improved versions of desalination both in small personal devices and in large plants for public installations.
The long sequence of work needed for any new commercial product or process (e.g., better and cheaper batteries, shoelaces that last longer, safe new pharmaceutical medicines, self-driving automobiles, etc.) is general and much the same as was just described for the example of desalination! The entire sequence requires the efforts by many different people working as individuals, teams, and companies. All of this research and development leads to new products or processes playing a very important role for making our lives better!
A common sequence of input from computer specialists, inventors, research scientists, engineers, technical workers, and industrial developers is needed to enable new commercial products and new industrial developments to be offered to the public. Although one individual can have key importance, completing the entire sequence requires input from many people!
This will be my very shortest dispatch, since here I only want to urge everyone to read about the fantastic life of the physicist, Rainer Weiss, in a masterful account by Adrian Cho (see: “The Storyteller” in August 5, 2016 Science353:532-537)! No understanding of physics is needed! Just read and enjoy it!
What a life! What a wild fellow! After flunking out of college, he used his creativity to survive and become a celebrated researcher! What a creative tinkerer and experimenter! Very unconventional! Awesome! What a distinctive individual! Yes, scientists are people!
TED is a very successful information and education business originally formed to foster the spread of ‘great ideas in Technology, Entertainment, and Design’. It now has greatly expanded to include ideas and issues in science, culture, education, and philosophy. The video output by TED features short talks by experts, thinkers, and doers at the annual TED Conferences; these video presentations are freely available to a global audience on the web. Videos showing TED Talks now have been viewed by billions and have achieved prominence in bringing science to the public, and bringing the public to science. This success has led other organizations and distant countries to get licensed by TED to sponsor their own TED-like projects.
TED videos dealing with science are high-quality productions with direct relevance both to ordinary people having interest and curiosity about science and research, and to working research scientists. In this article, I describe the organization of TED, summarize its many activities, explain how TED is financed, and discuss how a few TED videos with controversial ideas have been banned.
The organization of TED!
TED as a business has been sold several times and now is a private nonprofit organization (see “Our organization” ). The Sapling Foundation (New York, NY.), has been sponsoring the activities of TED since 2001 and offering free internet viewing of the Conference presentations since 2006 (see: “History of TED” ). The Chief Curator of TED activities since 2001, and owner of the Sapling Foundation, is Chris Anderson. This media and publishing entrepreneur has considerably expanded the topics and activities of TED, resulting in greatly raising the number of viewers of TED videos and of attendees at its many different events. The TED organization is global with major branches in Europe and Asia, and employs over 100 staff workers within the U.S.
The TED Conference and TED Talks!
The annual TED conferences continue their long tradition of enthusiastic gatherings. Prospective attendees at the TED conferences must first be approved (see “Conferences” at: https://www.ted.com/attend/conferences ), and then must pay an admission fee for the week-long event (see “TED Conference Standard membership” at: https://www.ted.com/attend/conferences/ted-conference#h3–ted-conference-standard-membership ). Invited speakers are selected by TED, and are not paid for their presentation. Each 18-minute presentation is professionally recorded and subsequently published on the internet; videos of over 2,000 TED Talks now are available gratis to the public (see listings of TED Talks on science at: https://www.ted.com/topics/science ). New videos are published each week. This huge collection of talks and performances now generates more activity than the main conference itself; the TED videos are seen as amplifiers of the conferences. TED videos are thought to be watched by over a million people every single day!
Other TED activities!
A growing number of other programs and activities now are organized by TED (see: http://www.ted.com/about/programs-initiatives ). TED Global organizes international conferences with the TED format. The TED Open Translation Project started in 2009 and aims to enable the billions of people not speaking the English language to watch TED videos. Thousands of volunteer translators thus far have made numerous TED videos available in over 100 languages, thereby vastly increasing the outreach of the TED video collection. The TEDx Program is focused on licensed TED-like events organized by local independent non-profit sponsors. Some live presentations of music performances are included in the TEDxMusic project. The very successful organizational concept for presentations at TED Conferences now has been expanded to include events for TEDxYouth, TEDxCorporate, and TEDxWomen. Other newer official or independently licensed TED activities include TED Fellows (young persons who attend and later organize TED events in their native country), and TEDMED (sessions for health professionals). Recordings from these other activities are added to the TED video catalog.
Newer TED activities (see: http://www.ted.com/about/programs-initiatives ) include TED Books, which publishes shorter volumes in hard copy that can be read in one sitting. TED-Ed presents conferences by teachers and students about new ideas to improve youthful education (see: http://www.ted.com/about/programs-initiatives/ted-ed ); its output includes videos with lessons and pathways for many different levels of education in science and non-science. TED sponsors the TED Prize for the developer of the most outstanding new idea for improving our modern world; the winner’s award currently is set at $1,000,000.
Financing to support all the TED activities and programs!
In 2017, each approved regular attendee at the TED Conference must pay $8,500 (see: https://www.ted.com/attend/conferences/ted-conference#h3–ted-conference-standard-membership ). Several levels of higher fees also exist. With over 1,000 attendees at each annual Conference, this provides a very solid financial foundation for TED. Corporate supporters of TED generally are very large companies; these are not involved in organizing the events or choosing the presenters. Speakers at a TED Conference or other event receive no money for their participation.
Critical discussion about TED!
My opinion is that TED is very good for science and science education! Its videos furnish a giant opportunity for the public to see science and scientists as being something other than a Hollywood-type amusement, and to learn about how the truth is sought by research activities in science. The scientists presenting at TED conferences mostly overcome the difficult problems with bringing science to the poorly-educated adult public.
Certain TED video presentations feature ideas that are so provocative that they have been withheld from the TED catalog. To view some actual examples, see listing by Ravindranath Shrivastava at: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL2Y8qeLGzzd_P_5xxwDesKuyrAemRfxUk . This kind of censorship is both unnecessary and worrisome, particularly with regard to science. Controversy and questioning are inherent parts of scientific research, and are both expected and welcomed by scientists; these disputes serve a good purpose for science and society!
I believe that the controversies generated by a few TED speakers would be better understood and valued if pairs of opposing speakers, or panels of presenters and critical discussants, could hold forth at the TED conferences. Opposing positions both should be given side-by-side instead of having only one individual presenting his/her viewpoint.
Several of the ‘banned TED videos’ still can be viewed, and those provide evidence suggesting that some things just are not seen rightly at TED. It is good to note that the banned presenters and their critics sometimes subsequently offer non-TED videos with rebuttals, explanations, and discussions; these are freely available at Shrivastava’s listing (see above)!
The TED videos are indeed useful and very special! TED makes a very good contribution to all of adult education in the modern world by enabling the public to obtain a much better awareness of new ideas, alternative solutions, and unconventional beliefs. That is very beneficial both within science and outside science. TED obviously should be highly praised for making all their videos available to the public without charge.
The internet makes numerous videos about famous scientists available to all. I have already recommended some as part of a group of biographical dispatches about the life of several renowned scientists (e.g., see: “Scientists Tell Us About Their Life and Work, Part 8” ). Many good videos showing interviews with awarded researchers are contained in the websites for the Nobel Prize and the Kavli Prize ; these feature both their modern and older prizewinning scientists working in many different fields of science. Here, I recommend a few fascinating videos about research scientists to get you started!
ANCIENT RESEARCH:“How simple ideas lead to scientific discoveries” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F8UFGu2M2gM ) is nicely presented by Adam Savage and features several amazing examples of excellent scientific research in ancient times. Very informative and interesting!
RADIOACTIVITY AND FINDING NEW ELEMENTS:“Marie and Pierre Curie (50 – Video special)” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=82Oj5qyY1F0 ) explains how these 2 European research scientists overcame many difficult problems in life and career to conduct investigations about the nature of radioactivity and to discover 2 new elements. Modern scientists clearly are usually less dedicated and determined to working at research than were the Curie’s! A delightful and inspiring video presentation!
DNA: “(RARE) Interview with James Watson and Francis Crick” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NGBDFq5Kaw0 ) shows a 1993 interview with the co-discoverers of DNA structure, Watson and Crick. Both these extremely famous scientists speak with candor about their lives, careers, personalities, and science, including their current views about controversies and misunderstandings of events. Bravo!
MATERIALS SCIENCE:“Being a materials scientist at NASA Ames Research Center – Dr. Bin Chen Interview” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VFOpYnRvsBE ) presents the life and research work of Dr. Bin Chen, a Principal Scientist at a NASA Center in California. She presents very forthright answers about her education and earlier life in China, being a postdoc in the U.S., and finding a good job; her understanding of what it takes to be a research scientist is very similar to mine, and will be valuable watching for youngsters wondering about going into science. Terrific!
NANOTECHNOLOGY AND MOLECULAR ENGINEERING: “Bionanotechnology – New frontiers in molecular engineering: Andreas Mershin at TEDxAthens” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sjV7NNwm1GU) shows a young research scientist dramatically describing what he does in research and how he does it (2013). This is an excellent exposition for non-scientists and deals with a very current research approach, but unfortunately many slides are not enlarged for the video; viewers might want to interrupt the video to enlarge each of those.
These videos vividly illustrate how: (1) even the most renowned scientists really are just people, (2) ancient scientists successfully conducted important research investigations without having modern instruments and laboratory facilities, (3) all scientists are stimulated by curiosity and imagination, and, (4) persistent determination and dedication are extremely significant to achieve good results with scientific research.
These 5 recommended videos are just a small sample of what is available! Please go ahead and find some other internet videos about scientists that deal with whatever interests you! Have much fun exploring and learning!
The total science enterprise in the U.S. is humongous! (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Although many are aware that science and technology are extensive, few people realize just how very large they are. Everything from the number of scientists and engineers currently working, to the amount of money spent for research activities, are gigantic! This article brings the latest official figures into view so that all of us can grasp the present size of the current science enterprise in the United States (U.S.); of course, the corresponding figures for global science are even larger.
How many scientists and engineers work here? What do they work on?
For 2012, there were 6.2 million scientists and engineers employed in the U.S., accounting for 4.8% of the total workforce . 56% worked in occupations involving computers, 25% worked in engineering, and the remaining 19% were employed for many other categories of research (e.g., 2% worked in mathematical occupations) .
For which kind of employers do doctoral scientists work?
How much money was spent by the federal government to support all the different research studies and activities in the U.S.?
A total of $132.5 billion was useds by the federal government to support all aspects and different activities for non-commercial research in Fiscal Year (FY) 2014 .
Which branches of research receive the most federal funding support?
For FY2014, research in life sciences, which includes biological, medical, and hospital studies, as well as agricultural investigations, received federal support of $30.7 billion . Research with engineering received $11.9 billion, research in all physical sciences received $6.5 billion, and, research in computer science and mathematics received $3.9 billion in FY2014 . In the same period, $65.0 billion was used to support all military research and development (R&D) activities by the Department of Defense .
How much money is spent by the government versus by industries to support research studies?
In FY2013, U.S. commercial industries spent a grand total of over $322.5 billion to support all R&D activities by their scientists and engineers ; for the same period, agencies and programs of the U.S. federal government spent over $132.5 billion to support all the different aspects of non-business R&D .
An extensive load of statistics for research support by the federal government is gathered and analyzed every year by the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, and subsequently published by the National Science Foundation. These yearly data listings are invaluable and used widely to analyze changes, identify imbalances, and reveal needs for intervention.
Using just the figures cited above [1-5], some interesting and surprising conclusions can be made. (1) An enormous number of scientists and engineers work in the U.S. (2) Over half of all scientists and engineers in the U.S. now are employed to work with computer science. (3) The federal government spent $132.5 billion to support research studies in all the different branches of science during FY2014. (4) Almost half of the total support funds from the U.S. government in modern years is used for biomedical, hospital, and agricultural research studies. (5) Commercial concerns spend more for their R&D activities than the federal government expends to support non-commercial R&D. (6) The grand total funding support for all R&D from both industrial and governmental sources was almost $0.5 trillion in FY2013.
My grand conclusion is that the size of the total budget and all activities for research and development in the U.S. during any recent year is nothing less than humongous! Most funding to support this immense R&D effort comes from U.S. citizens via their tax payments to the federal government, and from the profits spent by large and small commercial businesses.
 Sargent, Jr., J.F., for the Congressional Research Service, 2014. The U.S. science and engineering workforce: recent, current, and projected employment, wages, and unemployment. Available on the internet at: http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R43061.pdf .
 Yamaner, M., for the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, 2016a. TABLE 1. Federal obligations for research and development and R&D plant, by type of R&D: FYs 2012-16. Available on the internet at: http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/2016/nsf16311/ .
 Yamaner, M., for the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, 2016b. TABLE 4. Federal obligations for research, by broad field of science and engineering and agency in rank order: FY2014. Available on the internet at: http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/2016/nsf16311/ .
 Yamaner, M., for the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, 2016c. TABLE 2. Federal obligations for research, by agency and type of research in FY 2014, rank order: FYs .2012-2016. Available on the internet at: http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/2016/nsf16311/ .
For those people who feel that simply visiting a research lab is not enough to satisfy their wish to actually do some science work (see: “Can I Volunteer in Science? Can I Visit a Research Lab? How Do I Do That?” ), there are opportunities to work on research in what is termed citizen science, people-powered research, or crowd-sourced research. This article describes this science activity for the public, discusses its difference from traditional lab-based investigations, and summarizes its value for science and society.
What is people-powered scientific research?
This consists of many non-scientists using their personal computer (PC) and individual abilities to work on specific research tasks under the supervision of professional research scientists. A multitude of volunteer workers is needed because huge amounts of data are generated by some modern Big Science projects; those data must be processed before further analysis by the scientists, but no-one is able to hire some hundreds or thousands of research techs to do that work. Without this input by very many helpers, the same tasks would take an individual scientist years or decades to complete.
This participation in research by groups of volunteer collaborators does not involve previous experience, swirling millions of test tubes, synthesizing exotic new organic chemicals, use of special research instruments, or wearing a white lab coat! Rather, it involves donation of time and directed effort by individual participants at their convenience. Typical activities involve use of a PC for specified research tasks in data processing, interactive discussions with other participants and supervising scientists, and, subsequent use of the processed data by the directing researchers. The people-powered results and their derived conclusions are published as regular research reports in science journals.
What is Zooniverse?
Zooniverse is the largest and most popular PC platform for people-based scientific research (see: https://www.zooniverse.org/about ). Many thousands of people around the world already have worked on wide-ranging research projects with Zooniverse. Some new projects are added each year, and the number of volunteer workers continues to grow.
Zooniverse makes notable efforts in both scientific research and science education (see: https://www.zooniverse.org/about/education ). It has a number of good associated activities for the public: several discussion boards for conversations and discussions (e.g., Zooniverse Blog, Zooniverse Talk (i.e., covering all aspects of Zooniverse, and a good place to ask questions), Zooteach (i.e., lessons and resources for teachers of science, mathematics, humanities, and arts), Galaxy Zoo (i.e., research in astronomy by class groups of students), and, several others). A gratis newsletter, Daily Zooniverse, about its activities is available at: https:// dailyzooniverse.org/ . Zooniverse involves people around the world, and some programs are made in collaboration with external science or educational institutions, such as the Adler Planetarium in Chicago (see: http://www.adlerplanetarium.org/citizen-science/ ).
How can I join to work on scientific research with Zooniverse?
Research with Zooniverse can involve youngsters or oldsters, and includes projects for all 3 main branches of science (biomedicine, chemistry, and physics). Registration and sign-in boxes are located on home pages of Zooniverse and the Citizen Science Alliance (see earlier listings!). After you choose from the many available projects, you can begin right away!
What does people-powered research do for science and society?
Several distinctive outcomes can result from citizen-based research. These collaborative efforts provide: (1) a practical means for data processing where it is necessary to utilize some huge number of research workers, (2) an excellent way to introduce more adults and young students to research and science, and (3) an effective approach to counter the utterly false depiction by Hollywood and TV of scientists as weird creatures from some other planet, and of scientific research as only an entertaining amusement. All of these outcomes make Zooniverse and other people-based research activities very valuable for both science and society!
How does people-powered research differ from lab-based research?
It is important for everyone to recognize that doing research work in a university or industrial laboratory is extremely different from participating as a research volunteer in a citizen science project. Employment to work in a science lab often involves hands-on data production, use scientific instruments, and Q&A sessions about the results obtained; individual skill, judgment, productivity, and previous experience by the research worker all are prominent. Working in a citizen science project involves handling recorded data (e.g., videos, images, historical records), interactive quality control, and further digital processing, all done with a PC while being supervised by scientists; individual dedication for time spent and adherence to research protocols are prominent.
Both types of participation in research provide valuable contributions to science. Both involve real research, provide many opportunities to learn about science, and make it evident how research investigations are designed and conducted. In my personal opinion, the volunteers working on people-powered research are analogous to part-time research technicians employed in a science lab; that is, design of the project, ongoing critical evaluation of its progress, using the results obtained to derive conclusions, and writing reports for publication all are provided by the scientist(s) directing the project, and do not directly involve any lab technician or volunteer worker.
People-powered research is a terrific way for serious individuals to learn more about science, research, and scientists. Zooniverse and other programs make this opportunity readily available, and you can easily try it out!
Let us say that you have some interest and curiosity for science, and want to actually do a little research work in a laboratory, just to see what this is like. You are wondering, how can I do that? One of the best opportunities for students in high school or college is to join a research project run by your science teachers. For others, since you have no training or previous experience, there is almost no way you can work in a lab for pay; thus, your question becomes, can I work in a lab as a volunteer? This article will explain why your quest for a volunteer position is generally very difficult, and discusses alternatives which are much more doable.
What work could a volunteer do in a research lab?
Scientific research is a practical activity and is very specialized. Since you have no training or previous experience, you cannot do much in a lab. Research demands that operations be done accurately and completely in a specified manner; even learning how to clean research glassware according to the lab protocol is quite different from washing the dishes at home. In addition, I am guessing that cleaning lab glassware probably is not what you are looking to do as a volunteer.
To aid your understanding about volunteering, let’s look at the analogy of building houses. Assume you have curiosity and interest in that, so you are seeking to be a volunteer at orker for a local construction company. The foreman will ask you what construction work you have done before; your honest reply will be “none”. After you state that you do know how to hammer nails into wooden planks, the foreman then will ask you questions about details: what kind and what size nails are used for the frame or for panels, have you ever used a power nail driver, and, do you also know how to install doors and windows? After your negative answers, it is obvious that you cannot do anything in construction until you have received much instruction. Doing research in a science lab is very similar, and cannot be done without specialized training and experience!
One exception to the above is researching in the field, where serious volunteers might be used where a large group of workers is needed (e.g., for research projects involving agriculture, archeology, botany, environmental chemistry, microbiology, mineralogy, zoology, etc.). Volunteer activity can be done during your vacation time or even during the entire Summer.
Are there any alternatives? What could I do instead of being a volunteer?
I suspect that what you really are looking for is to spend a few hours or days as a visitor observing lab staff running experiments, analyzing data, operating research instruments, meeting with the lab director, observing participants in journal clubs, etc. This brief watching activity should satisfy most general curiosity about science labs. If you are trying to decide whether you want to become a research tech or a graduate student in science, briefly watching will tell you much about what goes on in a research lab, and will help you decide what to do next.
Visiting a research lab requires that you find a professor in a university or a group research leader in industry, and gain their approval. First and foremost, you will need to explain exactly what you are after and why. Secondly, leave the question of time up to your host or hostess; one or 2 half days in a single week should be quite sufficient. From my own background, I believe many professional researchers would be pleased to provide this opportunity to serious visitors!
How can I find out what possibilities are available?
It is up to you to make personal inquiries to find where you might be a visitor! Don’t hesitate to ask your science teachers, parents, and friends for help in deciding who to approach about visiting. First, find out what local industries, universities, and hospitals have active research projects. Then, see if you know anyone working there, and talk to them about what might be available; if you don’t know anyone, make an appointment to see a departmental chair or the director of an industrial research group to ask what could be available for you. When you find someone suitable, make an appointment to explain to them what you are after and why; you must prepare carefully for this interaction (i.e., know everything about their research work, reveal your own interests and future hopes, etc.). Even by itself, talking to any professional scientist almost always is an eye-opening experience for most people!
Are there any organized programs that could give me a taste of research work?
Quite a few universities and colleges offer “Science Exhibition Day” for the public. There, all can learn about their active research projects, see many exhibits about research, attend lecture presentations and demonstrations, and, meet science workers. Attending one or 2 of these should greatly help you find a suitable scientist to contact about visiting their lab. In addition, various Science Fairs take place every year; these illustrate how beginners can do good research, and might be useful in your search for which lab to visit.
The major question almost everyone will ask you is why you want to volunteer or visit a research lab instead of going to graduate school? In my view, most people who strongly need to get a sample of real research should consider enrolling in a community college or graduate school for an associate’s or master’s degree program in science. There, you will get a good background, learn some hands-on skills with using research instruments, and conduct research in an actual project. Probably you should expect to use 1-2 years for that degree; if this is not good for you, then simply withdraw.
New kinds of opportunities to actually work in research projects!
Some research projects seeking crowd-funding give donors new opportunities to participate in various aspects of these investigations. Check out the experiences of participants for crowd-funding described at internet websites; just ask your browser for “crowd funding for science”.
Another modern possibility arises if you are really good with computers and software. That expertise provides an opportunity for employment with piecework, since those skills could be useful for some research scientists with large labs. By finding such work, you also will get to observe a lot about the daily research activities in that lab.
Yuri Milner can be called “The Breakthrough Man”! He is a very active individual dividing his time into 80% for business and finances, and 20% for science projects. Most recently Milner donated $100 million to sponsor a dramatic large new research project aiming to take close-up images and data from planets circling another star (see “Can Research Travel Out to the Stars? Yuri Milner says “Yes, Let’s Go!”). Today’s article presents Milner’s personal background, gives his many activities in the Breakthrough Group, and, discusses the important role Yuri Milner and other billionaire philanthropists have for making a big difference in modern science.
Some background about Yuri Milner! 
Yuri Milner was born in Russia and now is 54 years old. After early schooling in Russia, he went on to study theoretical physics at Moscow State University and graduated in 1985; after working as a doctoral candidate in particle physics, he decided that he was “disappointed in myself as a physicist” . In 1990, he enrolled in the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, and graduated with a MBA degree. Returning to Russia, he was active in banking, international investing, and internet businesses; he founded Digital Sky Technologies (DST) in 2005. Successful early investments in internet companies led to his immense personal fortune.
Today, Yuri Milner is the CEO of DST Global, an international company headquartered in Russia. This entrepreneur is married, has 2 children, and resides both in Russia and California. He has received dozens of awards and is widely recognized for his several major philanthropic contributions to science . Milner’s personality features being very determined, dynamic, and focused. He always is a leader, but also works well with others. He delights in innovation and is not afraid to follow his ideas or to take chances. As an enthusiastic patron of science, he still utilizes his previous training in physics.
In 2012, Yuri Milner joined with several other billionaires to found the Breakthrough Prizes for significant accomplishments in science and research. These award several million dollars to each winner, thereby exceeding the Nobel Prizes; some of their features are designed to fill several well-known policy gaps in operation of the Nobel Prize. The annual awards ceremony for the Breakthrough Prizes includes a large gala celebration of science with full internet coverage for public viewing (see recent short video: “2016 Breakthrough Prize highlights” ).
Without the notable financial sponsorship by Milner and his philanthropic colleagues, none of these initiatives and activities for scientific research would be possible in today’s world.
How is the Major Philanthropy by Yuri Milner and Other Billionaires Especially Significant for Science and Research?
The answer is that this philanthropy avoids the many restrictions and mistakes made by the standard system for supporting scientific research (see: “All About Today’s Hyper-Competition for Research Grants” , and, “Could Science and Research Now be Dying?” ). The end results of such philanthropy are that: (1) some important projects which would never get funded by research grants or by industries now will get conducted, (2) the door is opened for more freedom, creativity, and new ideas in science (i.e., they will be much less disfavored as subjects for research studies (e.g., basic science) or restricted by bureaucratic and commercial involvements (e.g., low-profit pharmaceuticals), and, (3) the usual detructive fighting for research grant awards or patents is bypassed. A significant secondary result is that the general public will become much more familiar with the importance of science for their daily life, instead of being totally estranged from research and scientists.
Several other billionaires besides Yuri Milner have made giant donations to push new efforts and new directions in scientific research. I already have highlighted the wonderful philanthropy supporting innovative research projects and new research sites by James E. Stowers (see: “A Jackpot for Scientific Research is Created by James E. and Virginia Stowers! Part I.” ), and, by Paul G. Allen (see: “A Dramatic Individualist, Paul G. Allen, is a Major Benefactor of Scientific Research!” ). It is interesting to note that all these individuals share certain characteristics (e.g., personal fascination with research, willingness to take chances instead of only seeking some guaranteed results, seeing their own life as an extensive exploration, enthusiasm for innovation and new ideas, working with organized teams of scientists and engineers, and, never taking ‘no’ for an answer!). I have no doubt that all 3 clearly understand exactly what is right and wrong in modern scientific research.
Yuri Milner and other major philanthropists are making revolutionary new scientific research studies possible. He and other large philanthropists see the beauty and value of research, and should be applauded by all people!
One of the 3 largest general problems in modern science is “money” (see: “Introduction to Money in Modern Scientific Research” ). Some individual philanthropists with billions of dollars recently are greatly advancing science and benefiting society via substantial donations to start new research institutes, research support programs, science initiatives, and science megaprizes. By providing the very large funding needed for projects in big science, they enable doing what others only can dream about; some of their new ideas are daring and creative explorations, while others try to leap over the normal slow pace of scientific research.
This article looks at a very new and dramatic space project, the Breakthrough Starshot, just announced as an intensive attempt to develop and test new mechanisms for interstellar travel (see 2 short videos at: http://www.space.com/32546-interstellar-spaceflight-stephen-hawking-project-starshot.html ). Its ultimate goal is to investigate whether life exists on planets outside our solar system. This novel exploratory project is part of the Breakthrough Initiatives  featuring new ideas for scientific research.
Background on the 3 directors of Breakthrough Starshot! [1-5]
Yuri Milner is a financial investor, internet entrepreneur, physicist, and science philanthropist, who has homes both in Russia and California. He acquired his very large fortune by working and investing in international internet ventures, and is one of the founders of the Breakthrough Prizes (see: “New Multimillion Megaprizes for Science, Part II” ). His generous sponsorship is the basis for the Breakthrough Starshot project.
Stephen Hawking is a world-renowned theoretical physicist and cosmologist, who is a Professor and Director of Research at the University of Cambridge in the U.K. He provides expert insight into the many challenges faced by the Breakthrough Starshot research project.
Mark Zuckerberg is well-known as the founder and CEO of the social media website, Facebook. He is one of the several major donors supporting the Breakthrough Prizes.
What exactly is the goal of the Breakthrough Starshot research project? [1-5]
This new research effort was developed by a small working group of individuals experienced with new technology, innovative designs for research, and creative ideas for advancing space science. Its ultimate purpose is to learn if some sort of life exists on planets circling nearby stars; Hawking and other scientists postulate that many of the hundreds of newly discovered exoplanets must harbor some forms of life.
This project specifically aims to investigate whether new technologies can propel extremely small spacecraft to nearby stars using power transmitted by very high energy laser arrays on Earth. Initially, he minute light-weight space probes will look at unknown planets circling the star closest to our own Sun, Alpha Centauri. As part of the engineering and testing, subsidiary probes will be launched to study planets and their moons within our solar system.
How will this challenging project be conducted? [1-5]
A host of gigantic technological and engineering problems must be solved in order to accomplish the goals of Breakthrough Starshot. Alpha Centauri is 4.37 light years (i.e., 41 trillion kilometers) away from Earth. Launching the novel spacecraft is expected to be ready about 30 years from now; during this time, 3 phases of work will be conducted: (1) all aspects of design and engineering, (2) construction and testing of prototypes for the system of laser arrays and the minute spacecraft, and (3) final assembly and launching of fleets of these mass-produced space probes (e.g., hundreds or thousands). Each spacecraft will be the size of a large postage stamp, weigh about one gram, and carry no fuel or crew. By traveling at 20% of the speed of light, their journey to Alpha Centauri will take some 20 years!
Electronics and instrumentation in the nanoscale will be used to construct the nanospacecraft. Each will have a special “space sail” that unfolds in space to collect energy beamed by arrays of very high power lasers on Earth; the transmitted energy pushes their propulsion. Close-up images and data will be transmitted back to Earth for analysis. The new research data acquired will exceed what can be gathered by advanced telescopes located on Earth.
Are any big problems foreseen for this new research project? [1-5]
Yuri Milner is donating $100,000,000 to cover expenses for the first 5-10 years of initial research and development (R&D) work. By providing this private funding, Milner forcefully gets everything started and immediately neutralizes the usual objections to spending oodles of taxpayers’ money to conduct this science-fiction-type research project! He foresees that collaborative international sources will provide the many billions of dollars needed for later completion of the project; that gigantic sum equals the multibillion dollars from multiple international sources already used to establish new synchrotron facilities, construct very large new telescopes, and launch a new space telescope (see: “The New James Webb Space Telescope: Big Science Requires Big Money and Big Time, But Should Produce Big Results!” ). Global Industry is another possible source of the many billions needed.
Individual scientists already have been proposing and speculating about possible means for interstellar travel. The many hundreds of research workers (i.e., scientists, engineers, industrial producers, managers, technicians, etc.) needed to conduct the extensive R&D effort for the Starshot project certainly are available. This enterprise could take place within some organization similar to NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), but kept outside of governmental operations.
Many design features for the Breakthrough Starshot are both novel and untested, but seem to be within the present range of engineering and developing technology. The high power laser systems do not yet exist, but military development of laser weapons already is progressing. The ultraminiature spacecraft also do not yet exist, but science and engineering now are expanding development of nano-cameras, nano-computers, nano-electronics, etc., so their innovative design should be doable. Milner, Hawking, and other scientists see this amazing conceptual framework as being realistically possible.
To be sure, as with all truly innovative ideas, many problems will arise. At present, none of those seem to be insurmountable. The possibility of reaching the project goal is truly exciting, and the results will be utterly meaningful for our own planet.
 Breakthrough Initiatives, 2016b. Internet investor and science philanthropist Yuri Milner physicist Stephen Hawking announce Breakthrough Starshot project to develop 100 million mile per hour mission to the stars within a generation. Available on the internet at: http://breakthroughinitiatives.org/News/4 .
Most of what is considered to be true is evidenced by results from scientific research. We all like to think of science as being factual, objective, and resulting from systematic examination of all possibilities. Problems do arise when some ‘scientific facts’ contradict others, and, when common sense or practical experience tells us the supposed facts cannot be true. This essay examines what factors can distort our usual assumption that science and research always tell us the truth; 3 different sources of falsity are noted.
Intermediates commonly cause problems by falsifying the issues!
Most people do not read research reports by scientists, and so they look at articles and videos composed by non-scientists. Problems regarding scientific research are frequently caused because the actual data and clear conclusions are interpreted by the non-scientist presenter; that often results in changes and additions or subtractions from what scientists actually give out. Accurate and faithful presentation of research findings demands careful attention to details, what is not included, and what is simplified in the report; some of these presentations are good, but others are misleading or even draw unwarranted conclusions.
The public cannot readily determine whether a science report is good or bad, and does not have access to the scientists authoring the new research findings. Hence, supposed ‘new facts from science’ are either blindly accepted or not believed on the basis of non-science factors (e.g., what person or program is giving the description). What is needed to solve this type of problem with unintended falsification is for one of the scientists conducting the research to critically review the presentation before it is given out to the public.
When the results of industrial research are being presented in public media, a different kind of problem commonly arises. Industrial research and development usually is targeted at some commercial product or activity; negative features or contradictory findings often are eliminated or minimized, thereby giving a one-sided view. This can even go so far that a ‘science report’ really is an advertisement or a sales pitch that throws objectivity out the window in favor of growing sales and profits. The best solution for this type of situation unfortunately is farfetched and unrealistic: everyone in the public is educated to have a much better understanding about scientific research, so that they can evaluate the announced claims by themselves. Most people at present cannot do that since they received a limited education about science in schools, and are completely estranged from science and research as adults; this situation is very widespread in today’s world.
Research scientists often are used as actors in public disputes!
Science is about finding what is the truth and asking questions about anything and everything. Disagreements between researchers about new research findings and their meaning are a healthy part of science. With more time and additional experimental data, disputes between scientists often are resolved. Any remaining controversy about what is true mostly is due to the involvement of governments, politicians, regulators, and administrators. They typically inject non-science agendas into the arguments and simply are using scientists to win their political battles; (see: “What Happens when Scientists Disagree? Part V: Lessons to be Learned About Arguments Between Scientists” ).
A good example of how scientists are used in public disputes is found in the prolonged current controversy about “global warming” and its subordinate issue about “humans cause climate change” (see: “What Happens when Scientists Disagree? Part II: Why is There Such a Long Controversy About Global Warming and Climate Change?” ). Both sides claim to have scientific evidence and renowned experts supporting their position. In fact, scientists have rather few disagreements about actual research results in this area; the ongoing arguments actually concern economics and politics! Politicians, administrators, lawyers, and officials continue to hotly dispute and legislate what should be done (if anything!). This type of public controversy often remains disputed for a long time and could even go on forever!
Some supposed factual accounts could be a gross deception!
Most people agree that not everything heard or seen can be believed. Nevertheless, it is especially difficult to decide what is true or false when something is presented as an official announcement by a government or an expert panel. I will give one example here which is so extremely shocking that almost all adults do accept the ‘presented facts’ as being absolutely true. To look at this critically, put aside your feelings of loyalty, patriotism, and pride just for a moment, so you can think critically about the possibility that U.S. astronauts never set foot on the Moon.
The best way to handle this question about the most widely known claim by the U.S. for its excellence in science and technology is to use the number one question asked by all scientists in their experimental research: what is the evidence? Firstly, there are direct queries. (1) Were samples brought back from the lunar surface, and what did these show? Yes, samples of moon rocks were brought back, and, these were both similar and different from natural materials found here on Earth. (2) Did video cameras show NASA astronauts on the surface of the Moon? Yes, videos showing astronauts walking on some strange landscape were taken and made available for public viewing, but these also could have been recorded somewhere on Earth. (3) Have any of the numerous NASA technicians claimed this is a big fake? I am not aware of any such statements.
Secondly, there are quite a few indirect questions. (1) Why has the Russian space program not duplicated the Moon visit? The Russians claim to have measurements showing that the intensity of cosmic radiation somewhere between Earth and Moon is so very high that no human could survive such an exposure. (2) Why have further Moon visits not been conducted by NASA? The usual answer given is the huge funds necessary to do that were used for other projects with a higher priority. (3) Why did one of the main Moon astronauts refuse to give any interviews for the remainder of his life? This is explained as his personal choice (e.g., modesty); alternatively, the silent astronaut was so embarrassed by his role in this deception that he refused to ever talk about his experiences.
In this example there are alternative possible answers for all the above questions. The available evidence is unable to prove either truthfulness or falsity, and hence is inconclusive. It is painful for me to describe this, but I am presenting it only as a prominent example showing that it is necessary to question even what high officials proclaim as being the truth.
Although finding the truth is done by expert scientists conducting research investigations, this only reaches the public through a fog of opinionated distortions, selective omissions, and outright deceit. Advertising and agenda-driven presentations often are commonly accepted as being true because the other side is not revealed. Solving this situation requires that people need to be much more educated about scientific research, so they are better able to decide for themselves what is true and what is false.
Who is Judy Stone? She is a medical doctor specializing in infectious diseases, and also has personal experience in research; she has authored several books, including one giving guidance for clinical research studies. Her interests focus on tropical diseases, advocating about ethical issues in medicine, and writing for the general public. Her vivid dispatches currently appear as contributions to Forbes. For her brief autobiography in 2012, see: http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/molecules-to-medicine/welcome-to-molecules-to-medicine/ .
Trust in science, research, and scientists!
The great majority of scientists are honest! Unethical conduct by research scientists involves a small number of individuals, but this figure seems to be on the increase (see: “Introduction to Cheating and Corruption in Science” ). Dishonesty in science breaks the enormous trust in research and scientists, and, has negative effects on many unsuspecting people.
The general public continues to have very high trust in the research findings and published conclusions of professional scientists. That is good, except that they are deceived and unaware that some dishonest individuals have broken their trust.
All levels of science teachers and other educators have a high trust in whatever is published in science textbooks and references. The entire existence of fraudulent professionals is not accepted by most teachers because that realization undermines all education.
All types of research scientists have very limitless trust in the published findings of other scientists. When planning a new experiment, scientists typically assume previously published results are really true; they do this of necessity, since it is impractical to have to verify all earlier results from other labs by repeating those investigations.
People who are clinical patients of good doctors assume that their caregivers are fully cognizant of all new results about their treatments, and act only for their well-being. Most patients are not sufficiently aware that pharmaceutical companies are first and foremost businesses dedicated to pursuing profits. A whole spectrum of dishonesty in clinical and preclinical research studies is stimulated by “powerful financial incentives to do unethical things” ; that means researchers can “pressure vulnerable subjects to enroll in studies, fudge diagnoses to recruit otherwise ineligible subjects and keep subjects in studies even when they are doing poorly” .
Effects of dishonesty in research!
When ‘false facts’ are taught in classes to children or adults, what is learned or naively accepted as being true is actually wrong. If that falsity is used for some practical purpose, something will not work as expected. People working in many different jobs encounter this general problem.
Scientists believing some deceitful research report find that their own lab work gives negative or unexpected results. Upon redoing the reported experiments, they unexpectedly see that the published results cannot be repeated. This means that time and effort are wasted by scientists, lab workers, and administrators.
Think how much extra time and effort must be spent checking and rechecking everything for such huge and important activities as research probes sent into outer space, new prescription drugs finally approved for sale to patients with widespread diseases (e.g., arthritis, cancer, diabetes, mental health), design and construction of battery-powered self-driving automobiles, etc. Much of this time and money must be used to try to make certain that everything works as planned and nothing is based on false assumptions.
Any of us can be badly affected by inadequate testing of safety for new drugs!
Pharmaceutical drug trials certainly are very prominent for problems with ethics, corruption, and truth vs. falsity. Judy Stone explains vividly how clinical drug trials are misleading and deceitful if they are conducted fraudulently or actually are marketing studies; they need to be done “honestly and ethically” , so patients and their physicians can realistically have confidence in the intended effects. This admonition is not only directed to research scientists, but also extends to drug companies, to review bodies, and to government regulatory agencies (i.e., U.S. Food and Drug Administration).
The spectrum for research misconduct during development of new medical drugs is indeed very large. Any or many of us can be affected negatively by any dishonesty in the testing and evaluation process. When some professional researcher observes unethical behavior by other researchers they are obliged to report that and investigate what is going on ; in some cases, it is even necessary to become a whistleblower in order to prevent future patients from being harmed or killed (see: “Whistleblowers in Science are Necessary to Keep Research and Science-based Industries Honest!” ).
Any falsification of research or corruption of clinical investigations testing new medical drugs affects a very large number of people! Unfortunately, recent history teaches us that we must always be suspicious about clinical trials since there are so many known instances of blatant deceit [1,3-4]. As Judy Stone says, “It is well known that industry-funded trials get more positive outcomes than those that are neutrally sponsored” ; why is that so? Any innocent patient (e.g., you!) can have bad outcomes due to this problem with ethics in some scientists and some companies. Lying, cheating, and fraud have no place in research!
For scientists researching and teaching at a university, medical school, or research institute, part of their traditional mission is to dream up new ideas. Good ideas help with many activities, including designing new experiments, modifying research instruments and methods, composing research reports for publication in science journals, developing new concepts, deciding how to present complex topics in course lectures, etc.
Despite the curiosity-driven output of new ideas originated by professional scientists, almost all are discarded by faculty researchers at modern universities. This dispatch discusses the difficult conditions leading to a decision about what will be done when a really stimulating new research idea magically arises.
How do scientists deal with their new research ideas?
New ideas can pop up all the time! Some are good, some are awful, and some are funny! All scientists have curiosity, but some researchers come up with so many new ideas that they are known as “idea people”. The first task to deal with new ideas is essential: write down everything so it can be recalled later. Unless promptly recorded, new ideas are rapidly forgotten and disappear forever.
The second task is to evaluate if the new idea has sufficient merit to be put into practice. Since grant-supported faculty scientists have already decided to work mainly or only on their funded research project, this evaluation looks at whether the new idea has enough relevance to be added to the research activities underway for the current research grant. If it does not, then it must either be discarded or dumped onto an ever-growing pile of ideas that are stored for some future time that never seems to come; fortunately a few of the many new ideas recorded in a log book can be used later when constructing an application for renewal of the present research grant. If it does have good relevance, the scientist advances to ultimate questions of exactly how, when, and where can the idea be inserted and used in the ongoing laboratory efforts; most new ideas never reach this stage.
What usually happens to good new ideas?
The previous paragraph gives some idea of the usual lack of freedom for faculty scientists to undertake any new research work not directly connected to their funded project. This restriction is very strong due to the immense pressures from 2 related issues that all inventive faculty scientists must face. First, there is the time problem (see: “Why is the Daily Life of Modern University Scientists so Very Hectic?” ); most academic scientists now have almost zero free time since they are so busy running experiments for their grant-supported project, writing applications to acquire more research grants, teaching in courses, publishing research reports, starting a family, etc. In theory, if a new idea is really super-promising for research, the funded scientist could try to acquire an additional (second) research grant for a new project using that idea. This maneuver is not so easy due to the second problem, the hyper-competition to acquire research grants (see: “All About Today’s Hyper-Competition for Research Grants” ). Yes, good new ideas are sought by the federal granting agencies, but the intense hyper-competition means that most will never get funded. Thus, almost all good new ideas for research are basically dead-on-arrival and are discarded!
Another possibility for initiating research using a new idea is to use a small portion of the current financial support to conduct some pilot studies. That work costs the scientist both money and time, and it can be done only when there actually is some extra money and extra time available; both conditions often are very questionable. If the pilot data are very promising, then attention is given to composing a strong application for an additional research grant; that takes many months, meaning that this promising new project with a second grant could be started only at least one year later. More realistically, an application for a small exploratory research grant can be submitted to dedicated funding sources (e.g., American Cancer Society); the preliminary data obtained then are used to compose a strong application for a new standard research grant.
New ideas are not repressed by innovative models for funding research studies!
The main message here is that faculty scientists do come up with many good ideas, but these are not easily put into practice unless they are closely related to their present research grant. If a determined scientist would somehow move their current grant into supporting a new project, that decision almost guarantees non-renewal. With the multiple restrictions now prevailing, only a very few new research ideas ever will be pursued; thus, the practical conditions generated by the research grant system and modern universities repress the creation of research ideas that are new, creative, and significant. It seems totally pointless to faculty scientists to try to work on anything not directly related to their funded project!
Grant-supported faculty scientists today have little choice in dealing with new ideas because they are slaves to their research grant! The system discourages creativity and questioning, so new ideas are simply discarded! When all the restrictions are realistically considered, the best possibility for activating a new research idea is to make such into part of an application for renewal of a funded grant.
Yes, research freedom is very important for science! Having new ideas for research is essential to all scientists, but putting the good ideas into practice is not very easy due to restrictions imposed by the research grant system, the time problem, and the commercialism now rampant at modern universities (see: “What is the Very Biggest Problem for Science Today?”). Fortunately for the progress of science, some new research ideas do manage to be activated despite all the restrictive difficulties!
Researchers ask themselves numerous questions while they are designing studies, conducting experiments, analyzing data, deciding on conclusions, and composing research reports. These queries often are outnumbered by many other questions concerning the business of being a scientist. Questioning is such a routine activity for scientists that being a researcher basically is the same as being a big questioner!
This essay discusses some of the questions commonly considered by faculty researchers. This will mostly be of interest to scientists researching at universities, but also should be illuminating for non-scientists trying to learn how research operates and what scientists worry about. It is based upon my own experiences working as a faculty scientist.
Questions in the beginning!
When initiating a research investigation, junior faculty scientists typically have already asked themselves many questions about what subject(s) will be studied, which technical approaches will be used, who in the lab will work on different aspects of the project, what length of time can be used for each segment of work, etc. These questions concern practical aspects of doing research, and are answered in the corresponding grant application.
As results begin to be gathered, the Principal Investigator (i.e., the grant holder and boss of the lab) asks himself or herself if modifications are needed in the original plans. It is not unusual that changes in practical matters must be made; these can result in getting better data, obtaining larger amounts of results, adding other experiments to the project, saving precious time, changing the work schedules, etc. All the foregoing questions concerning the conduct of the research project are normal, useful, and quickly answered.
Questions arising later!
After portions of the project are nearing completion, another type of query arises. These questions are directed to such operations as presentation of abstracts at annual science society meetings, submission of manuscripts reporting the research results, evaluation of progress accomplished by graduate students and postdocs, planning for renewal of a research grant, etc. Typical examples include: (1) Do the experimental results gathered answer the selected research question(s) in a solid manner? (2) Are there enough results to publish now, or is more work necessary? (3) Are the present conclusions convincing or will they be controversial and not readily accepted by other scientists? (4) Which of 2 possible deadlines for applying for grant renewal should be used? (5) Does a grad student now have enough results to construct a strong thesis (i.e., is the glass full or only half full)?
Such questions all are necessary, and require making value judgments. If errors are made, it will be the fault only of the Principal Investigator. Progress in research work largely depends upon ongoing evaluations and making adjustments. Rather than do this once or twice a year, it is better to schedule these considerations every month or 2, so that constructive intervention can be made before any more valuable time is wasted.
Questions about business and research grants!
Probably more time is spent by today’s academic scientists worrying about research grants than is used for producing research results. Nowadays, even Nobel Laureates never can be really certain that their next application for grant renewal will be fully funded. Questions about business and research grants usually are not so easy to answer with confidence because they involve the personal opinions of other scientists (e.g., department chairs, review committees, research leaders, grant reviewers, etc.), and those might be biased, competitive, ignorant, jealous, overwhelmed, or underwhelmed.
Questions about composing a new grant application always are particularly difficult to answer. Should the proposal be directed towards this or that aspect of research (i.e., which has a greater probability of being funded)? Should a new research instrument be added or should we just continue with what is presently being used? Can 2 new postdocs be strongly justified, or only one? What will reviewers think about a proposal for work on a new research question that is very different from the current subject? These kinds of questions cause hairs to turn gray or fall out, and answers never can be certain. Sometimes it is valuable to examine these queries with colleagues you can trust.
Answering questions about preparing a revised application for a research grant also are never easy. Difficulties arise because it is not always clear exactly what criticisms or viewpoints damned the original application, and it is not known which new members will be added to the review panel (i.e., the chief reviewer(s) of the original application might no longer be sitting in judgment). Again, it often is very useful to discuss these difficult questions with an experienced colleague that you can trust.
What is the most general question?
The most frequent questions asked by academic researchers begin with the phrase, “What if … ?”. Questions of this type are mental examinations of experimental protocols, data interpretations, and other research operations; they often arise from curiosity and creativity. Typical examples include: (1) What if I change the amount of chemical-X in the protocol for my chief assay? (2) What if this result is only a placebo effect? (3) What if this complex new equation actually is wrong?
What is the biggest question?
In my opinion, the very biggest question that can be asked by a faculty scientist is, “Am I succeeding in becoming a renowned scientist?”. Traditionally, the answer was based upon the quality and significance of a scientist’s published results. Today, the situation of research at modern universities is so distorted that the biggest question asked by faculty scientists now is, “How many research grants have I acquired, and how much money have I been awarded?”. The answer is a number and it is never enough! Fortunately, high quality research reports still have a major impact upon the reputation of all scientists; publications in science journals remain important for determining who rises to the attention of other scientists and who becomes a research leader.
Asking questions and forming answers is truly important for all faculty research scientists. Everything and anything can and should be questioned! To be a good scientist is to be a good questioner! Progress in science and career depends in part upon comparing your own answers to those given by other scientists asked the same question!
Curiosity is a common term meaning to have a desire to know more about something. It is an innate character for humans, and is well-expressed in all children. The classical example of childhood curiosity is taking a clock or toy apart to see what is inside and what makes it work. Unfortunately, curiosity tends to decrease or disappear in adults due to the many restrictions on exploring and wondering imposed by education, laws, and society. Curiosity arises naturally without conscious intention; amazingly, it simply happens!
What about scientists? Do they have or need curiosity?
Curiosity is prominent in almost all scientists! When asked why they have so much research interest in whatever they work on, many younger scientists will answer, “I just am curious about that!” Their older counterparts might give various different answers, but often will designate curiosity as what drove them when they were much younger. Many faculty scientists I know, whether they conduct research on chemistry, physics, or bioscience, were fascinated by various forms of life in nature when they were children (e.g., birds, chipmunks, insects, snakes, tadpoles, etc.).
Scientific research is not so easy, since it always is risky, expensive, and takes lots of time to complete. Hence, curiosity as a motivation for doing research must be quite strong in scientists. For most individual scientists, curiosity is always expanding and changing, since answering one research question generates other related questions. Scientists must learn to focus their extensive curiosity, or else they would never get anything done!
Is curiosity alone enough to make a scientist become successful and renowned? No, because much more is needed in addition to an ongoing curiosity. Scientists also must have good abilities for business and finance, communication, creativity, dedication, determination, hard work and sweat, imagination, patience, resistance to distractions, technical skills, understanding at levels of both trees and forests, writing, etc. Nevertheless, curiosity in scientists also must always be there!
Can curiosity be taught? Can curiosity be bought?
I believe that curiosity is not able to be taught because it is an inborn attribute. However, it can be increased by encouragement and intention. Thus, children usually have oodles of natural curiosity, and will happily share that with parents, teachers, and other children. Even for adults who left their curiosity far behind after starting to work, curiosity can be re-awakened and encouraged. Curiosity often is associated with exploration, fascination, imagination, personal interests. and wondering; it usually is a strong part of daydreaming.
Some adults are so busy with their job, family, sports, social activities, church, etc., that they feel they have no time for curiosity or exploring (i.e., “I did that when I was little, but not now!”, and “I just don’t have time for that!”). Sometimes even professional scientists will become so short of time that their research becomes mechanical and routine. In such cases, scientists can buy curiosity in the form of having students, collaborators and visitors, postdocs, research technicians, etc., in their lab; with any sort of luck, the questions, ridiculous proposals, and new ideas based on the curiosity of those workers will stimulate and help the overly busy scientist.
What does curiosity lead to? What good is curiosity?
Curiosity typically leads to such personal actions as closer examination, reading, asking questions, wondering “what if?”, seeking more detailed knowledge, and developing a wider understanding. These explorations all are wonderful ways to use our large cranial computer to find out and know more about something. But, sometimes curiosity can be problematic (e.g., persons are labelled as troublemakers because they always are asking too many questions) or even dangerous (e.g., a child innocently investigates what an electrical socket is).
For children, curiosity directly leads to increased understanding of the world around them. For adults in the public, curiosity will make their life much more interesting and stimulate development of their mental capabilities. For scientists, curiosity furthers fascination with their research subject(s), and, helps create new ideas and new research questions. For everyone, curiosity creates wonderment, and can be much fun! Thus, curiosity is quite good and useful for all people!
Curiosity is a large part of most scientist’s specific approaches to whatever they are researching. Just as curiosity helps children to know and wonder about the big world, and aids adults to develop more interesting personal lives, so also is it invaluable to scientists in their search for new knowledge and the truth.
The co-founder of Microsoft (1975) , Paul G. Allen, has already given over 2 billion dollars to establish several far-sighted new research institutes. He is a free-thinking man with numerous activities and widespread interests, ranging from music to professional sports and spaceflight. This dispatch briefly summarizes the remarkable scope of Allen’s dynamic activities, and then discusses how his philanthropy is benefiting scientific research in a big way; a following article will discuss the very novel features of his latest innovative program for stimulating the progress of scientific research. (POSTSCRIPT on June 5, 2016: readers should note that there is a followup posting about Paul Allen (see: http://dr-monsrs.net/2016/04/14/replacing-research-grants-how-paul-g-allen-is-doing-it/ )!
Background about a vigorously independent individual: Paul G. Allen [1-3]!
Paul Allen is an author, business owner and investor, entrepreneur and industrialist, explorer of history and geography, founder of several museums, inventor, moviemaker, owner of several professional sports teams, promoter of urban projects in Seattle (his hometown!), rock guitarist, supporter of education and the arts, technological visionary, yachtsman, and, one of the world’s leading philanthropists. In addition to working with his sister, Jody Allen, on many of those activities, he has utilized his Allen Family Foundation to greatly benefit several universities in the state of Washington, start the Allen Distinguished Educators program that rewards particularly creative and effective education developments by teachers in primary and secondary schools, support a non-governmental organization, Elephants Without Borders, to further the conservation of wild elephants in Africa, establish the Paul G. Allen Ocean Challenge as a public contest for improving the health of our oceans, along with stimulating a variety of other programs, projects, and personal explorations. Most of this is carried out by his company, Vulcan, Inc.; one of its many activities is Vulcan Aerospace, a division including a collaborative space exploration project with the noted engineer, Burt Rutan (see: “Stratolaunch Systems, A Paul G. Allen Project” ).
Tying all these many explorations together is Paul Allen’s extensive curiosity, diverse personal interests, determination to make ideas flow into new knowledge, affection for going where no-one has tread before, and, his optimistic belief that anything is possible. For him, the future can be opened right now! In 2005, Paul Allen published an autobiographical book, Idea Man, A Memoir by the Cofounder of Microsoft, recounting his experiences in co-originating Microsoft; 10 short videos based on this book graphically illustrate his youth and development of operating systems in the early days of personal computing (see “Idea Man Part One: Roots” ).
Paul G. Allen has advanced scientific research in revolutionary ways [1-3]!
For trying to push science and research beyond all their usual goals and practices, Paul Allen founded and funded the Allen Institute for Brain Research in 2003, the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence in 2013, and, the Allen Institute for Cell Science in 2014. These research centers in Seattle feature technologically advanced experimental research by scientists and engineers, and involve such very large and complex research questions as how does the brain work (i.e., how do some 86 billion neurons interact to furnish memory and reasoning?), what can artificial intelligence do for humans (i.e., as individuals and as society?), and how do our cells conduct their varied functions (i.e., in health, disease, and regeneration?). These giant research investigations at these Institutes all are in the realm of “big science”.
The goals of Paul Allen are nothing less than to revolutionize science and speed up the progress of research. To do that, he brought the practices of industrial research to bear at the Allen Institutes; these feature numerous doctoral specialists working as teams supported by a large staff and advanced research instrumentation facilities. At the Institutes, there is little of the problems characterizing science at universities (i.e., massive individual competition, constant worries about continued research grant funding, and, doing niche studies needing only shorter periods of time). Jumps of discovery are encouraged by creativity, innovation, and interactive teamwork. Output of these large-scale science projects is made available as internet resources for use by other researchers throughout the world; examples include several Allen Atlases for the mouse and human brains in adulthood and during embryonic growth, the Allen Brain Cell Types Database, the Mouse Neural Connectivity Atlas, and The Animated Cell, a multiscale virtual model that integrates all knowledge about cells and can predict changes in their behavior.
The vision, organization, and goals of these research institutes mostly come from Paul himself. He sees that science and technology can make dreams become real; he values unconventional new ideas that stimulate groundbreaking findings and jump into the future. All this aims to benefit the entire world and all people.
Paul G. Allen is a most dynamic individual! He deserves admiration for using his own money to benefit science and engineering, the arts, Seattle, Africa, oceans, wildlife, museums, and people everywhere. He clearly is making a big difference in the conduct of scientific research, by promoting a new design for research on very fundamental large-scale questions. It is easy to predict that the outcome of his vision of what science and research should be doing will be nothing short of wonderful!
VIDEOS: Many videos about Paul G. Allen both inside and outside science are available on the internet! For a glimpse of the man himself, I recommend the following 3!
 Allen Institutes, 2016. “About” . Available on the internet at: http://www.alleninstitute.org/about/ . NOTE: explore the variety of headings indicating the diversity of Paul Allen’s many activities!
Being a researcher is an adventure! You will never hear about experiments that don’t work, great results that cannot be duplicated, good manuscripts or patent applications that keep getting rejected, problems with jealous bosses, or, not being able to get adequate lab space! This article discusses one situation involving research publications that is always lurking around and ready to pounce on innocent hard-working professional researchers.
Publication of research reports in science journals!
All scientists want to be the first to report some new research discovery or new concept. Researchers at all levels always try to avoid getting scooped. This term is derived from the competition between daily newspapers, whose reporters always vigorously seek to be the very first to notify the public about something alarming, scandalous, or newsworthy. For scientists, getting scooped means that some scientist publishes a research result just before the same new finding is independently published by another scientist; the first to publish scoops the second.
This situation of getting scooped typically occurs in science because it often is impossible to know whether some other scientist is working on the same research question (i.e., there is no database listing what global research studies are in progress). The act of scooping almost never is done on purpose, but rather simply happens as a coincidence. When 2 very similar research reports appear, both authors are very surprised to learn about this duplication. The authors of the report published first are delighted when a second scientist soon verifies their findings; such confirmation more usually takes months or years to appear in print, but in the case of scooping, the second report appears within a few days or weeks after the first report. Scientists authoring the second publication inevitably get upset! Some journal editors receiving 2 manuscripts that are very similar will publish the pair side by side in one issue; in such cases, both authors equally get full credit for making a discovery.
This situation of being outrun in the race to publish first means that all research scientists are in a hurry to publish their research findings so as to decrease the chance of getting scooped. Those researchers working on very hot topics are especially paranoid about getting scooped. While rushing into print or publishing short limited aspects of a long study now is commonplace, that tactic can have its own negative consequence (i.e., decreased quality).
Scientists working at industrial labs face very analogous issues with obtaining patents. Until a patent application is finally approved, everything must be kept totally secret in order to preclude simultaneous applications submitted by research groups in other companies. Getting the first patent is desired by everyone’s ego, and is deemed totally essential by their employer!
Can scoopage be avoided?
Getting scooped is a risk that really cannot be prevented! However, there is a common way to try to avoid it. This is done by publishing abstracts at the annual meetings of science societies. Abstracts are only one paragraph long and report only some limited portion of experimental results and preliminary conclusions. Nevertheless, publication of abstracts in a science journal usefully serves to establish priority. Of course, a more definitive way to avoid the problem of getting scooped is simply to publish first.
What are the consequences of getting scooped?
Getting scooped is unpleasant since that automatically reduces the credit given to the author-scientist issuing the second publication. With further research work, both authors try to rapidly turn out more publications, so as to raise their identification for being the leader with studying that research topic. The consequences of getting scooped can be much more severe for graduate students than for other scientists; if their thesis project is scooped, it is no longer new to science, and often then cannot be approved for an advanced degree without much additional research.
One of my fellow graduate students was finishing several years of research work on his thesis project. Upon completing the preparation of illustrations for a long manuscript to be submitted a few days later to the Journal of Cell Biology, the latest issue of this monthly journal arrived and he was truly shocked to see that there was a big article by a famous professor on the East Coast that was almost duplicating his own manuscript! Even some of the figures were nearly identical! Neither researcher knew that the other was working on exactly the same topic, and this coincidence was simply some very bad luck for my friend. Since he was a very hard worker, he fortunately also had a second major aspect in his thesis research, and so was able to successfully use those other results to rewrite and compose a doctoral thesis different from his original plans.
Yes, some scientists really do get scooped! One of the hazards of working in scientific research is that nobody knows whether others are researching on the same topic until abstracts or full publications appear. The presently increasing number of research scientists and increasing pressure from the current research grant system undoubtedly raise the incidence of getting scooped!
Winning contestants for the annual Science Talent Search, a large competition for high school students in the United States (US), have just been announced. Following a description of this activity sponsored by the Intel Corporation and conducted by the Society for Science & the Public, I will give a few comments about this program.
A brief history of the Science Talent Search and its sponsors [1-3]!
This contest was originated in 1942 by the precursor of the Society for Science & the Public (see: https://www.societyforscience.org/mission-and-history ). Its chief aim is to promote education and interest in science. This Society also runs 2 well-known websites devoted to public education about science: (1) Science News is for all the public (see: https://www.sciencenews.org ), and, (2) Science News for Students serves many youths (see: https://student.societyforscience.org/sciencenews-students ).
With financial sponsorship for many years by the Westinghouse Corporation, the participation by US students, their teachers, and others grew over the years. In 1998, the Intel Corporation took over financial sponsorship, and initiated a second science competition for international youths, termed the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair; that involves many affiliated science fairs in over 75 countries. A number of other businesses add to the total financial sponsorship.
The importance and success of these annual events are widely recognized by the public and all media. For the latest 75th Intel Science Talent Search, awardees won prizes totaling over $1,600,000! After 2017, a new major sponsor must be found to replace Intel .
How is the Science Talent Search organized and conducted [1-4]?
This large competition is for students in US high schools and home schools. The ideas, plans, and conduct of the research project must come from the individual student. In addition to the experimental work, each contestant must compose a document about their project, using a format similar to research reports published in professional science journals. All contestants are judged by scientists working in the same area of research as the teenagers.
For the latest competition (2016), there were around 1,750 applicants. From these, the reviewers selected 300 semi-finalists. Further expert reviews looked for creativity, good design and conduct, valid conclusions, and evidence of innovation, resulting in 40 finalists. For 2016, 3 levels of awards are given in 3 categories of science and research: (1) basic research, (2) (research for) global good, and (3) innovation. The 3 first level awardees received $150,000 each, the 3 second level awardees received $75,000, and the 3 third level awardees received $25.000. These substantial awards were presented at a banquet and celebration held in honor of all the finalists.
All these teen awardees from many different schools in many different states show energetic work with creativity, individualism, and innovation on research projects involving diverse aspects of science. Their success in researching is very commendable, and, it is easy to predict that each can help advance science and improve the world!
Do Science Talent Search prizewinners later enter science and do well at researching [1-4]?
Many winners in this science contest go on to become professional scientists. Some have become presidents of universities or big bosses of large corporations. Several even have received a Nobel Prize for their later outstanding research accomplishments. Obviously, the many Nobel Laureates who did not win a Science Talent Search award indicate that the qualities and capabilities needed to excel with scientific research also can be found in non-winners and non-entrants.
What does the Intel Science Talent Search do that is very good?
This annual competition, under dedicated organization by the Society for Science and the Public, produces several results that are most valuable for modern US society. It (1) very effectively counters the false portrayal by Hollywood that scientists are weird or mad creatures who are only good for laughs, (2) gives all teen contestants a chance to learn to think for themselves and to move ideas into concrete objects and activities, (3) builds general enthusiasm among teens that science is interesting and is not just dry facts and figures, (4) encourages young people to find out more about careers in science, and (5) focuses attention of the public on research activities. All of these are immensely important and so very wonderful!
Some critical comments about the Science Talent Search!
Considering the usual overemphasis on sports and entertainment in schools, substitution of memory for understanding in classrooms, and, general ignorance of what scientific research is all about, it is amazing that so many teens commit to working on a research project for this contest. The enthusiasm demonstrated for science by these young people strikingly contradicts the reluctance of many recent college graduates to enter a graduate school for training to become a professional scientist.
The current job environment for university scientists is extremely different from the pleasant experiences these teens have by working on high school research projects. I predict that many contestants going on to become professional researchers will choose to find satisfying work in industries or science-related jobs, instead of in academia.
Lastly, I would be remiss if I did not note that someone badly mis-categorized the excellent software project in “Basic Science” conducted by the First Place winner, Amol Punjabi; it is not basic research, and clearly is applied research!
It seems very obvious to me that the real winners of the annual Intel Science Talent Search competitions are all people in the public! That includes you!
We commonly think about languages as arising in different nations or cultures, and serving as the basis for communication. A vocabulary of science has developed within each of the many small branches of biomedicine, chemistry, and physics; each terminology constitutes a distinctly different language. Thus, a doctoral plant scientist and a PhD astrophysicist in the same country will find it almost impossible to converse with each other about their research work because each is not able to understand the other’s terminology. This situation creates all kinds of difficulties for scientists to communicate with other researchers and scholars, and with persons in the public.
In this dispatch I first briefly discuss the role of language and terminology for science, and then I will introduce the standardized system of units used for scientific measurements. This international system is used universally amongst different languages and all the different subdivisions of modern science, thereby greatly helping to overcome difficulties for communication.
Do different tongues cause problems for communication between scientists?
Several factors fortunately make the presence of different national languages be only a minor practical impediment for communication between scientists. First, scientists in most countries have learned to read, write, and speak the English language; thus, English now is the common language for modern science. Second, the special terms in each subdivision of science usually are well-understood by scientists within different lands working on that discipline. Third, standardized units for measurements have been defined, and now are universally understood by scientists.
However, when speaking with each other, scientists in different fields of research often will find a big lack of mutual understanding. Use of English as the universal language of science helps, but problems still remain; these can be due to usage of new or very old terms, established local terms, non-standard units or symbols, etc.
Can scientists communicate readily with non-scientists?
Even when both parties use the same national language, communication by scientists with the public remains limited due to the absence of understanding by non-scientists of all the special terms of science and research. To get around this very general obstacle, scientists must give definitions of all special terms or translate those into other words or phrases that will be understood. Use of images or diagrams often helps increase understanding of science terms by the public. The task of communicating about science with non-scientists is widely recognized as being important, but any research scientist trying to do that rapidly finds that it is not so easy!
Making quantitative measurements is a major research activity by scientists!
Scientists love to make measurements! Making precise measurements is the basis of many, if not most, research experiments. There are several common units existing for measuring temperature (oC versus oF), length (inches, feet, and miles versus centimeters, meters, and kilometers), volumes (teaspoons and quarts versus milliliters and liters), etc. How does one measure different atoms, and what units of length are used (i.e., inches and centimeters are much too large!)? How is distance between our Sun and other stars measured, and what units of length are used (i.e., miles and kilometers are much too small!)? How is blood pressure measured, and what units are used? How can radioactivity in the Pacific Ocean due to the disaster at Fukushima be measured, and what units are used? How can the strength of binding of an antibody to its antigen be measured, and what units are used? What is the price per liter of gasoline in Europe, and how does that compare to the price per gallon in the US?
Adoption of a convention to standardize measurements answers such questions and greatly facilitates communication between scientists. This convention results in a uniform system of international units for measurements in science, technology, and commerce. Metrology is the study of measurements.
The International System of Units (SI) greatly aids communications [1,2]!
The International System of Units (SI) for scientific measurements [1,2] arose around the time of the French Revolution as a derivative of the Metric System for weights and measures. It now is used by all scientists and engineers, and continues to be updated and extended. Its symbols are recognized by all, its units can readily be subdivided or multiplied in a uniform simple manner, and it is good for all national languages. Modern researchers anywhere in science find the SI to be essential for their work.
The SI utilizes 7 base units of measurement: (1) the meter (m) is used to measure length, (2) the kilogram (kg) is used to measure mass, (3) the second (s) is used to measure time, (4) the ampere (A) is used to measure electric current, (5) the candela (cd) is used to measure luminous intensity, (6) the kelvin (K) is used to measure thermodynamic temperature, and (7) the mole (mol) is used to measure the amount of a substance. These base units are nicely presented at: http://physics.nist.gov/cuu/Units/current.html . This convention for base units is then utilized to define many derived units of measurement; one example is speed, which is defined in terms of the base units as length per unit time (i.e., meters per second, miles per hour, etc.). This System is self-consistent and allows SI measures to be readily converted into other units by simple formulas. This international convention of standardized units effectively solves most of the problems for communication between research scientists.
Ultimate authority for the SI is held by the International Bureau of Weights and Measures, located in France. That body works with the International Committee for Weights and Measures, which coordinates many national and regional organizations. In the US, the National Institute of Standards and Technology has a primary role (see: “International Aspects of the SI” ).
Communication is a very important part of being a good research scientist! Scientists in the US benefit both from English being accepted as the universal language of science, and from the standardized International System of Units now used by scientists in all countries. These conventions are a great help for communicating research results both to other scientists and to non-scientists in the public.
Many people of all ages find it really hard to comprehend science and research! Others even are afraid of science! In this essay I will first present the causes and unfortunate consequences of this problem; then I will offer some ideas for countering its bad effects.
What causes the problem many adults have with reading and learning about science?
This very widespread difficulty chiefly involves at least 4 different causes.
(1) POOR EDUCATION! Most early instruction about science in schools only involves learning to regurgitate standard answers to standard questions. Science courses in primary and secondary schools are largely superficial, descriptive, and mainly involve memorization. Memory takes the place of learning and understanding, so interrelationships and reasoning are never presented. Hence, schoolchildren don’t learn about research as the basis for knowledge, and mostly forget about science as soon as classes are over.
(2) THE STRANGE LANGUAGE OF SCIENCE! Most people are separated from research and scientists by the vocabulary of science. All 3 main branches of science (biology, chemistry, and physics) and each of their subdisciplines use specialized terms. Scientists do speak strange languages!
(3) SCIENCE AND RESEARCH ARE ENTERTAINMENTS! “Science news” is presented by most TV media as “gee-whiz entertainment”. Research is seen as being amusing, and scientists are considered by Hollywood to be weird and funny creatures.
(4) SCIENCE IS MUCH TOO DIFFICULT FOR ME TO EVER UNDERSTAND! Understanding science topics is viewed by many people as being beyond their capabilities. Science has nothing to do with their personal lives, so why waste any time trying to understand it!
Effects of these problems with understanding science!
Each of the foregoing causes directly creates some bad consequences.
(1) POOR EDUCATION! Students soon conclude that science has no role in their personal life. Definitions of key science terms are de-emphasized in school classes, and concepts often remain fuzzy; this readily leads to mistaken beliefs and wrong assumptions.
(2) THE STRANGE LANGUAGE OF SCIENCE! Only a handful of special terms needs to be learned for understanding any aspect of science, but this task often makes adults give up even trying to read an article about modern science. This effort is essential, just as one cannot read a story written in a foreign language until some vocabulary first is acquired!
(3) SCIENCE AND RESEARCH ARE ENTERTAINMENTS! This is a very common belief, but nothing could be further from the truth! The fundamental reason why scientific research is so important is usually not explained. Today’s media are badly misleading people!
(4) SCIENCE IS MUCH TOO DIFFICULT FOR ME TO EVER UNDERSTAND! This false belief probably is part of the “dumbing down” of the US public, and serves to intimidate many adults. Even simplified materials on the internet will give a general understanding about science; dealing with math equations and learning lots of new terms are not necessary!
Is there any good analogy to this very general problem for science?
The answer to this question is, “yes”! All the difficulties described above also are found with learning a foreign language! Modern methods and tools for learning languages now are widely available, using recordings, educational media, computer programs for independent study, visits by native speakers, immersion experiences, etc. Some of these will be beneficial for adults trying to read and learn about science. Vocabulary is the first basis for learning any language, including the strange terms in science. Without learning some new words, the languages of science cannot be understood.
If children would be better educated about science, then adults will not see it as being incomprehensible. I have addressed defects in current science education for children earlier (see: “What is Wrong with Science Education for Children?” ). For science classes in primary and secondary schools, a short (30 minutes) illustrated guest presentation by a real live scientist (i.e., a “foreign speaker”) will add much interest and give a more realistic picture of science and research than can any textbook.
Other ideas for dealing with this common problem!
I offer 3 additional recommendations to individuals trying to deal with their problem of being afraid of science and technology. (1) Read first about small aspects and topics. It is not necessary to master some textbook for you to be able to understand brief media reports about science! (2) When starting to read a newspaper article, look up a few definitions and diagrams on the internet; that is very easy and will aid your efforts to understand! (3) Focus your efforts on current events in science, so you can jump beyond all the famous dead scientists and dry facts given in your earlier school textbooks and classes. (4) Seek information about some topic in science and research that concerns you personally (e.g., your health, your wealth, your community (e.g., purity of water supply), your forthcoming vacation (e.g., ecology, plants and animals, local food, etc.), your shoes (e.g., nature of the improved materials used), your nutrition (e.g., good or bad, quantity, hidden chemical poisons), your automobile (e.g., electric cars, driverless vehicles, production of gasoline from oil), etc.
I believe the general problem that it is difficult to teach adults who find science too difficult can be made easier by copying some of the educational practices used to teach foreign languages. Interactive teaching of both children and adults about how science is related to everyday life will help make the learning much easier. Individuals must be encouraged to be courageous and overcome their fear of science; after success, most will agree that understanding science is not impossible, and even can be fun!
In conclusion, you are indeed capable of understanding science, and your life will become more interesting! Give it a try! Don’t put it off until later! Try it today! The very first step often can be the hardest (see: “How Can I Take the First Step to Learn About Science?” )!
NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) and its many partners now are building a giant new space telescope, with launch scheduled for October, 2018 (see: “James Webb Space Telescope” at the NASA website). The construction phase of the Webb space telescope involves efforts by over 1,000 special workers in 14 nations, a total cost of 80 billion dollars, and, many industrial and academic organizations. This huge science project is being conducted during about 10 years of time; it involves use of new technologies and building several special new research instruments. Once the complex assembly is completed and fully tested, it will be transported by ship to the rocket launch site in South America, where it will be sent far into space. This new mission for science will provide important new research data for astronomy, astrophysics, and space science; its research results will go far beyond the amazing images and data obtained by the orbiting Hubble space telescope launched in 1990.
What is the Webb space telescope [1-3]?
The new space telescope will be as large as a moving van and will be placed into a specific region of space located about one million miles away from Earth. It contains small rockets to provide for final adjustment of its position. Data collected from its newly constructed high-tech mirror systems provide very high sensitivity, increased optical resolution, and longer wavelength coverage. This space instrument is specialized to detect and measure near- and mid-infrared wavelengths, since those come from the oldest stars. Data will be transmitted back to the Webb Science and Operations Center at the NASA Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, for analysis and distribution to research scientists and groups. The new Webb space telescope is planned to operate in the cold vacuum of space for 5-10 years, starting in 2018.
What will the new space telescope do for scientific research [1-3]?
At present, the Webb mission has 4 goals: (1) search for the first galaxies or luminous objects formed after the Big Bang, (2) determine how galaxies evolved from their formation until now, (3) observe the formation of stars and their planetary systems, and (4) examine the physical and chemical properties of extraterrestrial planetary systems, including investigations of their potential for life. The Webb extends the capabilities of the Hubble space telescope by having much better detection sensitivity (10-100x), optical resolution, and telescopic spectroscopy. By being able to look out to the far edges of the universe, the Webb can view and measure the very oldest stars and galaxies.
What are the chief worries about the new space telescope [1-3]?
As with any very complex and multiyear building project, unforeseen problems can arise later. The Hubble space telescope had an unanticipated problem that fortunately was able to be nicely repaired by visiting astronauts. Since the new Webb telescope will be much further away from Earth than is Hubble, it will be impossible for astronauts to fix problems. Thus, the preflight testing must be much more rigorous and extensive. However, it is never certain that everything will work and last exactly as expected; extremely unusual events could occur (e.g., collision with a large meteorite, very high bursts of different radiations from our Sun, malfunction of communication systems, etc.) and might be beyond the capabilities of adjustments during its operation in space.
Many people will ask a very natural question, “Why do we humans need a new space telescope?”. Technical answers that it will give results beyond those provided by the Hubble space telescope, will have a hollow ring to non-scientists asking this question. A better answer is that all of us, whether scientists or ordinary people, deserve to have extended knowledge and understanding about our universe; dramatic new data provided by the Webb space telescope will do just that.
Will the new findings of this space telescope justify its immense cost [1-3]?
This huge research project raises an interesting general question about scientific research. Although the 80 billion dollar budget for the Webb is cut back from the initial plans, just about everyone must admit that this cost figure is gigantic. It is reasonable to expect that the research by space scientists using data from the Webb will produce significant advances in understanding the formation and evolution of the oldest stars in our universe, the life cycles of stars, the environmental composition of different exoplanets, and possibilities for living systems on planets circling other stars.
Although accepting that answer, some scientists will ask the logical question, “How many research grants of ordinary cost and size could be made with the same 80 billion dollars?”. Their follow-up question will be, “What would be the value of the new research results collected by all those numerous small projects?”. Clearly, such questions are simply the latest in the ongoing controversy about the value of Big Science versus Small Science. Answers cannot be provided at present because so much is unknown or theoretical.
Where can good information be found about the new Webb space telescope?
There is an abundance of information available about the design, construction, and objectives of the Webb space telescope! For starters, see websites about the Webb by NASA , the Canadian Space Agency , and, the European Space Agency . These have loads of information, diagrams, videos, and the latest news about this giant research project; they are designed to be suitable and understandable for adults, students, teachers, children, and parents, as well as for scientists.
For those curious about the efforts of all the numerous engineers, scientists, and technologists working with this space project, I recommend the truly outstanding article by Daniel Clery, “The Next Big Eye”, within the February 19, 2016, issue of the journal, Science. This well-illustrated piece includes a very good discussion about how these individuals are subject to increasingly large pressures as the assembly and testing advances.
The work of designing, fabricating, assembly, and testing the different components used for the Webb space telescope is an utterly fascinating story showing what humans are capable of doing! After the final assembly is completed, its testing under conditions of space while still here on Earth also will be a wondrous story. Much credit must go to the managers who coordinate all the different small and large groups working on this complex assembly project at diverse locations; they must ensure that everything fits together and functions reliably just as planned. The Webb mission should produce much exciting new understanding about our Sun, our universe, and conditions on the planets of other stars!
Dr.M, I’m no good at mathematics! Can I read and learn about science without needing to use all the equations?
The answer is “yes!”. You can learn at a very basic level without needing any math. Your knowledge then will be somewhat simplified, but that is okay. As one example, look up a subject or question that interests you on any internet wikisite; you will receive simple descriptions, explanations, and figures, which will provide a basic level of understanding. But, try to recognize that numbers and quantization are very necessary for doing science and research (e.g., consider the analogy of what would professional baseball be without batting averages and other statistical measures?).
Dr.M asks you: what do you know about how the internet operates? How does your e-mail travel so quickly to another state or a different country? How do viruses get into your computer?
Although it is true that you can use the internet without knowing anything at all about computers, it will be much better if you understand at least the fundamentals. It’s easy to use the internet to find out more about the internet!
Where can I learn about the big new Zika virus epidemic?
Use any browser to search on the internet for “Zika virus epidemic” or “Zika virus research”, and you will receive many pages of sites with information. If you feel that some background is needed, first look on a wiki for “virus” or “Zika virus”. As a special treat, you can see a fascinating and shocking expose by J. Chatterjee about the old origin of this new epidemic at “What is the Zika Virus Epidemic Covering Up?” !
What do the Big Prizes in science matter to me, Dr.M?
As a graduate student in science, I have decided that I do not want to work in a university! What should I do to get a good science-related job in business/industry?
You will need much more than learning about science and research, and you must take the lead in getting that info! Take or just sit in on a beginning course for business or finance. If possible, find someone who is now doing what you are aiming for, and ask if you can meet with them to ask a few questions about their job and career. Some businesses offer short internships that will provide a taste of what working there would be like. Spend some time thinking about the key difference between what you want to do, and what you would be willing to do (i.e., could you work as an advertising staffer, computer maintainer, designer, manager, media consultant, salesperson, software writer, survey taker, telephone service agent, etc.)?
Dr.M, why do I as a taxpayer have to help pay for building giant new telescope facilities in Chile and Hawaii? Those mean nothing to me!
These gigantically expensive very special research facilities will yield new advanced knowledge about astronomy, astrophysics, and space science, that present telescopes cannot obtain. These facilities are so very costly that they can be funded only by contributions from multiple nations. The new research findings will help you only indirectly, by adding to understanding about our universe. If you feel that your own tax money is being wasted, then you should realize that the portion you are giving to build these new telescope facilities is only a miniscule part of your tax payments; a much greater portion goes for wars and welfare ….. how do you like that?
Where can I find the very latest in new technology, Dr.M?
I’m a Full Professor in a science department at a large university, and I am forced to retire next year. How can I keep doing research and publishing, Dr.M?
If you are still able to be funded with a research grant, then you might be able to either stay at your present location as a resident researcher, or transfer to another institution as a visiting researcher. If you don’t have a grant, see if you can find a well-funded colleague at another institution, who will let you work without salary in their lab on their research projects. For the latter possibility, recognize that you need to be flexible; you might even want to work alongside someone who formerly was your biggest competitor!
Dr.M asks you: how many different ways can glyphosate get into your body? How much do you now contain?
Glyphosate is increasingly recognized as being a dangerous poison (see: “What Happens When Scientists Disagree? Part III: Is Glyphosate Poisoning Us All?” ). If a farmer uses the weed-killer, Roundup (Monsanto Corporation), with his corn crop, and the harvested corn later is fed to chickens, how much glyphosate is ingested by humans when the chicken eggs or meat are eaten? If farmers spread Roundup by aerial spraying, how much glyphosate then is present within the local tap water used for drinking or cooking? How much glyphosate is present inside you or other people today? Dr.M says that much more research should be done to answer these worrisome questions!
I have previously written about such great inventors as Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla and Edwin H. Land (see: “Inventors & Scientists”, and, “Curiosity, Creativity, Inventiveness, and Individualism in Science”). Inventors generally are seen as being separate from scientific researchers or engineering developers, but all these people often have some of the same personal features, such as creativity, curiosity, drive to overcome difficulties, problem solving ability, and, recognition of causes and effects.
A prominent lifelong inventor in Germany, Artur Fischer, just passed away at age 96 and was the holder of over 1,100 patents [1-3]. That number is even greater than the giant number of patents held by Edison! Although every person reading this is using his inventions, almost nobody can name their discoverer! I will briefly describe his inventions and career below, so all of you can appreciate his wonderful human spirit.
Life activities of a great inventor! [1-3]
Born in a small town within Germany in 1919, Artur Fischer was educated in primary school followed by entrance into a vocational school. He stopped that and then began an apprenticeship with a locksmith at age 13. He never acquired a high school diploma, and it now is very obvious that he certainly did not need one!. Following military service in WW2, he returned home in 1946 and worked on small devices for an engineering company. At age 29 the young entrepreneur started his own company (see: http://www.fischer.de/en/Company/About-fischer ). Today, the resulting Fischer Group of companies is a very innovative, successful, and large German business employing over 4,000 people, having many subsidiaries and factories in Germany and other countries, and, marketing thousands of products around the world (see: http://www.fischer.de/en/Company ).
Throughout his life, Artur Fischer liked to think and do in a workshop, which served as his laboratory for experimentation. His mother had helped him set up a small workbench, thereby encouraging his early efforts. His father was a tailor. Typically, Fischer began his inventions by recognizing some practical or technical need or problem, and then visualizing what changes would accomplish the desired functional solution.
His first big invention involved something every photographer today takes for granted: the burst of light from a camera flash is timed to coincide with the opening of the camera shutter. In the earlier days of photography that was not the case. He invented a new method enabling this flash synchronization, and thereby finally obtained a flash photo of his infant daughter, and acquired his first patent (1949); that effort brought him much business success. He went on to apply this inventive approach to making improvements in a very wide variety of different objects (e.g., a universal holder for boiled chicken eggs that can accommodate a wide range of sizes, edible building blocks for use by very young children, educational toys, etc.).
His best known invention answered a very common question: how to attach screws into drywall or masonry? He came up with a new kind of compressible non-rotating plastic plug that was inserted into a small hole drilled in the wall; a screw then was worked into the inserted plug, causing that to expand so the screw became very firmly anchored. This revolutionary development in 1958, officially known as a Fischer screw anchor, is also called a wall plug, S-plug, dowel, or wall anchor. These fasteners are commonly used in construction and by just about everyone (i.e., to hang a picture or attach a shelf onto a wall). Millions of nylon screw anchors needed for this method now are made by mass production machines every day; they are widely popular everywhere because they are inexpensive and easy to use, work well, and come in a variety of sizes. Wall plugs continue to be developed further and now even can be made from green materials! Artur Fischer also developed modified versions of his wall plug that now are used by orthopedic surgeons to hold broken bones together while they heal (i.e., one really good invention often leads to others!).
Artur Fischer later established Fischertechnik, a new division in his thriving company (see: http://www.fischertechnik.de/en/home.aspx ). Very many children all around the globe know about the special construction toys produced and sold by this business. Although appearing to be similar to toys, these go far beyond that label and require assembly by the child before it can be used; there are various technical components that each young owner can add to their constructed toy. Thus, much hidden education is provided within these distinctive products (e.g., designing, dynamics, electrical engineering, mechanics, robotics, software, solar energy, etc.). They appeal to all modern boys and girls, but also are fascinating for adults to use!
Most recent events! [1-3]
For his long career as a tinkerer and prolific inventor, Artur Fischer recently was honored by the European Patent Office with the 2014 European Inventor Award for his lifetime achievements. The family-owned Fischer Group companies has been headed and expanded since 1980 by his son, Prof. Klaus Fischer; this large enterprise now is headed by the third generation grandson, Joerg Fischer.
SEI 2016 shows current status of scientific research and engineering developments in the US and other countries! (http://dr-monsrs.net)
The 2016 edition of the extensive and impressive serial report from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Science and Engineering Indicators 2016 (SEI 2016), has just appeared (see: “National Science Foundation Issues New Report on Status of Science, Engineering, and Research” ). This large document purposely does not directly comment or interpret its figures; however, provision of these data by SEI 2016 leaves their interpretation open. In this essay I will briefly examine what the new data in SEI 2016 say about several controversial topics and modern problems for science.
What is the present status of science and engineering in mainland China? Could China surpass the US in science and engineering?
Mainland China now is an extensive political and economic competitor with the US. Many have the impression that the quality of Chinese science and engineering formerly was deficient, but now has improved and is nearing the level prevailing in other countries, including the US. SEI 2016 shows that in 2013 the US workforce produced 27% of worldwide research and discovery, while China produced 20% [The Digest 2016, page 4]. Much research and development in China now aims to advance their military, technical, and industrial capabilities; these efforts strongly depend on Chinese engineering. Their increasing number of engineers is expected to start producing more science and engineering articles than will the US in 2014 [The Digest 2016, Figure A on page 13]. Since 2005, China already has produced more engineering publications than any other country [The Digest 2016, Figure B2 on page 13]. It seems likely that China’s efforts to advance education and training of their scientists and engineers will stimulate achieving equivalence and then soon will surpass the US output. Hence, SEI 2016 shows that the US is likely to soon lose its premier status for science and engineering!
What does SEI 2016 say about the funding for basic research, which necessarily precedes what is done later by applied research and engineering developments?
Data in SEI 2016 deals with both the basic and the applied aspects of research and development. Excluding money for the Department of Defense, federal support of research in 2013 is given as 45% for basic studies, 41% for applied studies, and 14% for development [Figure 4-12]. I must disagree with their assumption that the many studies funded by the National Institutes of Health all are basic research; thus, I cannot accept the total for basic research given in SEI 2016 as being valid (i.e., definitions of basic versus applied are not provided). I and many academic scientists are convinced that federal support for basic research has been diminishing, while federal grants for applied research are increasing in number.
What do the figures in SEI 2016 say about the pervasive problem of hyper-competition for research grants between university scientists?
Acquiring and maintaining an external research grant now is the major goal for faculty scientists. At present, there is a vicious hyper-competition between all academic scientists for research grant awards (see: “All About Today’s Hyper-competition for Research Grants” ). University scientists cannot be blamed for this very problematic situation because if they do not acquire and hold research grants then they are basically dead. The SEI 2016 does not directly address the destructive effects of hyper-competition on academic science. However, the published data do show that only 19% of all applications for research grants from the National Institutes of Health, the largest federal agency making grants for biomedical research, were funded in 2014, and the trend for such funding is decreasing [Table 5-22]. Furthermore, SEI 2016 shows that the total number of doctoral scientist holders working in academic institutions continues to increase [Appendix Table 5-13], meaning that the numbers of applicants and applications also are rising. Thus, SEI 2016 documents that the hyper-competition for research grants keeps getting even more severe every year!
What do the new figures in SEI 2016 say about the predicted demise of science and research in modern US universities?
My earlier controversial proposal that university science now is dying (see: “Could Science and Research Now Be Dying?” ) was based upon my impressions of a declining quality of modern science, large wastage of time by researchers struggling to get more and more research grants, conversion of university research into a business entity where money is everything, de-emphasis on basic research and corresponding increased emphasis on applied research, and, increasing corruption by professional scientists. That situation is being caused by bad policies and priorities from both modern universities and the current research grant system.
SEI 2106 shows oodles of data that almost everyone will conclude is very solid evidence denying my prediction (i.e., since academic science in the US is doing such a productive job and provides so much of value to the public, then all must be excellent!). I disagree, because the quality of research studies and publications seems to be decreasing! The data in SEI 2016 almost entirely are measuring research quantity and largely ignore quality. The Digest 2016 emphasizes that innovation is very important, and I agree; however, innovation is not measured or estimated for basic versus applied research, which is very necessary in order to evaluate their value.
If everything actually is so very wonderful with modern science in academia, then why are an increasing number of faculty scientists, postdocs, and prospective domestic graduate students so dismayed and dissatisfied? Why have the number of doctoral scientists and engineers working as full-time faculty members been progressively declining? Why did only 15.6% of all employed doctoral scientists and engineers work in academia/education in 2013 [Table 3-6]? Why did 28.1% of all doctoral scientists and engineers now work outside business/industry in 2013 [Table 3-6]? Why did 20% of all US doctoral scientists and engineers report that they were working out-of-field because of a change in career or professional interests in 2013 [page of text following Table 3-14]? All of the above data from SEI 2016 support my controversial proposal!
It is fair to conclude that SEI 2016 indeed is very useful, but will not answer all the important questions about modern science!
The National Science Foundation (NSF) has just released an extensive report, Science and Engineering Indicators 2016(SEI 2016). It presents the latest figures and trends about the status of scientific research and engineering development in the United States (US) and elsewhere in the modern world; the complete data presently extend through 2013 or 2014. This very large document is available to all on the internet at: http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/2016/nsb20161/#/report . Its accompanying short commentary, The 2016 Digest, is available at: http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/2016/nsb20161/#/digest .
In this article, I will first describe what SEI 2016 is and how it is important. Then, I will briefly discuss a few important aspects of the newest data from SEI 2016. These topics are selected because they have widespread general interest, and are very essential starting points for understanding today’s science in the US. Citations in the following text all refer to SEI 2016, unless noted.
What is SEI 2016?
New editions of this documentation are prepared every 2 years by the NSF National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics under guidance of the NSF National Science Board. SEI 2016 presents many quantitative data, tables, and charts about science, engineering, and research in the US and the world. The new volume is the 22nd in this series and so readily enables good comparisons with past figures. Its chapters deal with: (1) elementary and secondary mathematics and science education, (2) higher education in science and engineering, (3) science and engineering labor force, (4) national trends and international comparisons for research and development, (5) academic research and development, (6) industry, technology and the global marketplace, and, (7) public attitudes and understanding of science and engineering.
The contents of SEI 2016 are presented for other people to use! This avoids any need to guess about quantities, comparative figures, or trends. Mostly it does not include interpretations, discussions of policy issues, or opinions about the data given. Copies of this biennial report are distributed to the President, Congress, and many high officials involved with science and engineering.
Neither members of the public, nor scientists and engineers, are likely to try to read through all the numbers in tables and charts of SEI 2016! Instead, they can either (1) read through the short commentary version offered as “The 2016 Digest” (see URL given above), whose PDF version contains only 14 pages of text and 7 pages of figures, or (2) look up specific sections having information about topics of personal interest (see “Search by Topic or Keyword” at: http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/2016/nsb20161/#/topics/); for the general reader, I believe the best approach is to use this excellent search page.
Some important basic questions are answered in SEI 2016!
(1) How many scientists and engineers now are working in the US? How many are unemployed? SEI 2016 lists a total of 23,557,000 persons working on some aspect of science and engineering who were employed in the US during 2013 [Table 3-6]. For 2013, 6.7% of all scientists and engineers were working involuntarily on something out of their field [Table 3-14], and less than 4% were unemployed [Appendix Table 3-18]. For all graduate students in science during 2013, 25% study engineering [Table 5-19].
(2) How many doctoral scientists and engineers are working in industry, and how many work in academia? What is the trend for academic employment of scientists and engineers? In 2013, 70.1% of all employed doctoral scientists and engineers were working in business/industry, 15.6% were working in academia/education, and 12.5% were working for federal, state, and local governments [Table 3-6]. Holders of a doctoral degree in science or engineering who worked as full-time faculty members declined to 70% in 2013.
(3) What were the salaries for doctoral scientists and engineers working as postdoctoral fellows, members of a science faculty 5 years after graduating, or staffing industries 5 years after graduating? The median salary for all postdoctoral fellows working on research or development in the US was $45,000 in 2014 [Table 3-18]. Excluding physicians and dentists, the median salary for all doctoral scientists and engineers working at academic institutions (at 4-5 years after graduating) was $85,530 in 2014; the corresponding figure for all engineers in academia was $94,250 [Table 3-13]. Median salaries for doctoral scientists and engineers working in the business sector during 2014 generally are higher than those working in academia.
(4) What portion of doctoral scientists and engineers working on research or development in the US were born in foreign lands? What portion of postdoctoral research fellows currently researching in the US were born in foreign lands? How are these figures changing? SEI 2016 shows that science and engineering in the US continue to have a large input of workers born in foreign lands. For postdocs in 2013, this figure was almost 50% [Figure 5-19]; for these foreign-born postdocs, Asians and Pacific Islanders were nearly 70% of the total [text following Table 5-19]. All these figures are trending somewhat higher; in 2013, the number of total scientists and engineers born in foreign lands has grown to 27% [Figure 5-19].
(5) What portion of faculty scientists and engineers applying for a federal research grant currently get funded? How is this figure changing from earlier years? SEI 2016 shows that only 19% of all applications for research support from the National Institutes of Health, the largest federal granting agency for biomedical research, were funded in 2014 [Table 5-22]. The trend for funding in the period from 2001 through 2013 shows a progressive decrease [Table 5-22].
(6) How does the US compare with other nations for the total amount of money invested to support science and engineering activities performed in the US? In 2014, the US government spent over $132 billion to support all research and development by scientists and engineers [Figure 4-17]. Defense expenses for research and development accounted for 52.7% of that total [Table 4-17]. For the same period, US industries spent over $322 million for business research and development [Table 4-7].
SEI 2016 is a most valuable and extensive documentation for anyone seeking facts and figures about modern science and engineering. It furnishes a very useful means to evaluate the present status of scientific research and engineering development in the US and other nations, and to recognize current trends. Clearly, it shows that both the US government and US industries spend lots of money on science and engineering activities; most of these billions of dollars come from US taxpayers, who then receive both new knowledge and new commercial products!
One of my distinguished and very ambitious professors in graduate school jokingly told me that his notable success for accomplishing a certain research effort was “more due to perspiration than inspiration!” Those 2 factors always play important roles for the work of all research scientists. I now will explain this so that all non-scientist readers will understand how and why this is so.
What is inspiration for scientists? How does it work?
Inspiration is a quick mental process resulting in an unexpected new idea or thought that clarifies or advances something. With inspiration, all of a sudden some relationships or difficulties become crystal clear and fully understood. It typically is not frequent, and comes out of nowhere. For researchers, an inspiration might set off a chain of other thoughts; thus, it can provide stimulation for further mental activities. It often results in seeing connections that were not visible before, and hence can stimulate new directions. Inspiration is not just an ordinary new idea, but often provides insight and new understanding. Undoubtedly, some of the creative products from inventors arise due to inspiration. To the best of my knowledge, nobody knows what sets off an inspiration; it could even be cosmic rays!
Inspiration has occurred to me mostly while waking up or in the nightly shower. When inspiration happens, it is seen as being magical because it seems to appear without conscious intention. If inspiration occurs at the time when you are just waking, it is very essential to immediately write down the new thoughts; if that is not done, they very rapidly become unavailable no matter how hard one tries to recall them later. My own observations lead me to conclude that inspirations often are situated right at the border between unconsciousness and consciousness; at their time of origin, there seems to be much less restriction against thinking new and unusual thoughts or realizing new connections and relationships.
What is perspiration for scientists?
Perspiration is a physiological result of hard work that is evident as sweating. Working at research demands persistent efforts, focused attention to details, practical skills, and determination to overcome any failures; only a commitment to strong personal work can produce successful outcomes for research projects. Hard work for research scientists involves a variety of both mental and physical efforts, usually necessitates working for long hours, and is accompanied by some perspiration. Sweating correlates particularly well with difficult efforts, and has a purely subconscious origin; it is valuable not only for keeping body temperature from getting too high, and also serves to identify work that requires strong exertions.
How do inspiration and perspiration interact with research scientists?
For working on research investigations in laboratories or in the field, both inspiration and perspiration are very useful! Both can overcome practical problems (e.g., finally getting a new experimental protocol to work after having many failures, constructing a good new concept to explain a set of unexpected data, modifying and developing a new method or instrument in order to be able to collect data that answers a research question, etc.). Perspiration is especially useful for researchers because working harder always is available to help advance a research project; if you are not sweating, then you are not working at your maximal level! Inspiration is particularly valuable for researchers because it can save time by jumping over some problematic situation, or penetrating a mental blockade.
Inspiration and perspiration can be found in all types of people, and all readers should be able to see both in action at their own workplace. In my opinion, the necessity for hard work can be taught to research scientists, but inspiration is not able to be taught; I believe inspiration is an inborn trait. Since it is not voluntary, one can only be aware of inspiration after it happens, and be ready to use it when it appears. I see inspiration as being similar to creativity in that both are inherent mental capabilities; some people certainly are borne with much more than others have.
Perspiration from physical and mental activities often accompanies making a research project progress towards completion before a deadline. Inspiration can help scientific research by jumping over or around some problematic point in the progress of a study. Science and research clearly benefit from both inspiration and perspiration!
The latest annual report from the American Cancer Society (ACS) surveys cancer in many years up to the present, and provides statistical data about the current status of neoplastic disease in the United States (US) [1,2]. The largest conclusion is that clinical progress against cancer definitely is being made, but further efforts are needed.
ACS cancer statistics for 2016 [1,2]!
The new ACS report describes numbers for cancer incidence, deaths, and survival through 2015 [1,2]. These latest figures permit comparison to corresponding measurements for many previous years, and allow predictions to be made for 2016. Several brief discussions about what these figures reveal now are available [e.g., 3-5].
The cancer death rate for men and women fell 23% in the 21 year period from 1991 to 2012 (the latest year for which complete data are available). This progress should be welcomed by everyone! Death from cancer still is second to heart disease for the entire US, but in 21 states it now has become the leading cause of death due to use of new and better therapies against heart disease. For 2016, around 1.7 million new cases of all cancers can be expected in the US, presumably due mainly to the many environmental carcinogens we all are exposed to.
Cancers of the lung, prostate, colon, and breast remain the most frequent neoplasms nationally, and result in nearly half of the cancer deaths for both genders. The total incidence of cancer would be higher were it not for decreased smoking of tobacco products. Despite all measures now taken for early detection, breast cancers in women are estimated to be about 29% of all new cancer cases for females in 2016.
Incidence and death rate for some cancers are decreasing [1,2]!
New cases of several cancers now are decreasing. Half of the decline in new cancer cases for men is caused by the reduction of reporting prostate cancer by clinicians; this is due to their recognition that the prostate specific antigen test for the presence of prostate cancer gives positive results even for those men not needing clinical treatment. Observed decreases in new lung cancer patients are due to the increased numbers of men and women who choose not to smoke tobacco; of course, many people still smoke, and the incidence needs to be reduced much further. The observed decrease in colon cancer is believed due to increased use of colonoscopies as an effective screening test.
Better treatments and high levels of enrollment in clinical trials is producing a progressive increase in 5-year survival rate for children with cancer. Among children aged 1-14 years in the US, death from cancers is second only to the deaths caused by accidents. Leukemias account for 30% of all childhood cancers, but brain cancer now is more frequent than leukemia due to more effective therapies for treating this blood cell cancer.
Is progress truly being made in fighting cancer [1-5]?
Despite continuing complaints that too much money is spent on treating and studying this deadly disease, progress against cancer in the US clearly is being made every year. Education, early detection, prevention, and improved therapy all contribute to decreasing the incidence and death rates, thereby raising the number of cancer survivors.
Hidden among the tables of numbers published in the new ACS report is the solid fact that for some cancer patients death now is postponed for many years due to the development and use of more effective therapeutic treatments. Moreover, of the more than 100 different kinds of cancer, some now are being cured! Both of these facts provide evidence that progress in cancer care indeed is being made.
Critical discussion about the value of cancer research!
This dramatic example of research success also illustrates several important generalizations about research on cancer: (1) progress in treating and curing cancer proceeds step-by-step and not all-at-once, (2) basic laboratory research is the major basis leading to clinical progress against cancer, and, (3) progress in curing any type of cancer is inherently slow and takes at least one decade of dedicated work, but it is pursued by determined basic and clinical researchers.
Due to advances in cancer research, a diagnosis of cancer no longer is a certain prediction of early death! Cancer research is the biggest stimulus for clinical progress against this disease. The President of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Dr. Julie M. Vose, has just stated , “As a result of our nation’s investment in cancer research, we have made tremendous progress in prevention, chemotherapy, surgery, radiation, immunotherapy and molecularly targeted treatments. Every cancer survivor is living proof of its progress.”
This 2016 ACS report  documents the considerable progress being made against cancer. An increasing number of patients with certain types of cancer now even are being cured! Cancer research does cost lots of money and typically takes many years of work, but that leads to development of good clinical progress against this disease (i.e., decreased incidence, increased survival, and outright cures)!
Earlier, I recommended some websites with good science materials that are suitable for adults who are not scientists (see: “Websites on Current Science Recommended by Dr.M for Non-Scientists” ). Today’s listing presents some additional recommendations. All are available gratis, so try to ignore the annoying advertisements in some of these sites!
Whether this is your first visit and you are a raw beginner, or you are a regular visitor looking to take the next step forward, these websites will help. Check these out if your personal interests or questions fall within their scope; use their search boxes to look at specific topics. Have fun!
Very extensive good coverage for all branches of science and research, with daily news reports, images, and videos. This website covers just about everything, so use the search box to select topics you want to learn about.
The public often forgets that scientists are people, too! Your neighbor that you never say more than a “hello” to might even be a scientist! Most readers have no idea what emotions arise in professional scientists working on research at modern universities. So that you will learn more about scientists as people, this article looks at the strong emotions commonly caused by the research grant system.
Officially, research grants pay for all the many different expenses of conducting experiments, and thus provide the essential financial sponsorship all scientists at universities need to obtain in order to (1) conduct research, and (2) keep their employment. Without a grant, university scientists lose their laboratory, have their salary lowered, reduce their status, and are not promoted. Research grants now are the difference between life and death for a faculty scientist’s career! When scientists at universities cannot renew their research grant(s), this typically causes a career crisis that can necessitate either a major shift in job activities (e.g., into full-time teaching and/or administration) or relocation to a new employment. Getting and maintaining research grants is the very largest goal for any faculty scientist; that target now far overshadows making breakthrough discoveries, publishing in the very best journals, and receiving a prize for meritorious teaching.
Feeling the rewards and problems of funding science with research grants!
Receipt of official notice that a research grant application will be funded causes great joy and excitement for any faculty scientist. All of a sudden, the 6-24 months of planning, writing, and revising the proposal seem worthwhile, rather than being burdensome and wearying! Graduate students and research technicians now can be kept employed in the lab, and there will be time to finish some long experiment! Sometimes a new piece of research equipment can be purchased, or a postdoctoral fellow can be added to the laboratory team! A big celebration of this bountiful feast of happiness and satisfaction clearly is in order!
However, research grants are a double-edged sword for university scientists! Very difficult problems frequently accompany research grant awards and these can cause great distress and anguish. A few weeks or months after receiving a new grant, the euphoria wears off and the same scientist again becomes aware of the big problems all faculty scientists face with time and money. After the initial joy, the second emotion to arise is fear! Fear of what? Fear of the fact that the clock is always ticking, and fear of the future! While one is busy hiring and training a new technician, interviewing candidates for an open postdoctoral position, composing a manuscript, dealing with installation of a large new piece of research equipment, teaching in a class with 3 or 300 students, and, doing bench work in the lab, the clock always is counting down the remaining time before important deadlines occur (e.g., sending an annual report to the granting agency, the remaining time left in year-02, getting a large article published, submitting an application for renewal of the current grant at the best time, completing an application for a new (additional) grant now rather than later, etc.).
With regard to the time problem, each grant demands forms to be filled out, reports to be submitted, hours to be scheduled away from the lab, and deadlines to be met. New lab employees need to be evaluated and then trained. In addition to time needed for paperwork, administration, bench work in the lab, lab meetings, office hours for class students, and teaching work, the main time demand for all faculty scientists today is to submit more and more applications so multiple research grants can be obtained; the enormous pressures generated by this time crunch will have strong effects upon any human. For most university scientists, acquiring multiple grants can result in such a large time shortage that there no longer is so much fun with personally working at their research; that stimulates the emotions of despair and depression!
Receipt of another research grant theoretically should solve the money problem for any university scientist. Instead, the new dollars often have the opposite effect! The university might suddenly raise the official salary levels for all employed technicians or graduate students; since the required increase was not included in the proposed budget, this obligation must be paid by those funds awarded for research supplies. Buying a new research instrument might require changing the electricity supplies and remodeling to create a surrounding barrier zone; the grantee must pay for all that work, meaning more rebudgeting. How then will new supply orders be paid for?
Feasting can be followed by a famine!
Many applications for a research grant are not funded or only partially funded. Sooner or later, even famous university scientists fail to have their research grant renewed. Faculty scientists losing a research grant typically try very hard to get funded again via a revised application or a new application for a different project. All science faculty losing their single research grant are facing the kiss of death, where they can lose everything; the unlucky scientist enters a period of true famine. That university scientist then finally becomes very aware that they only have rented their laboratory space, that their research accomplishments mean little to their university, and that their employer really hired them only to get their grant money (i.e., more profits!). Trying to alternate back and forth between the conditions of feast and famine is an emotional situation which is quite sufficient to cause premature aging! Unfunded, but previously funded, faculty now are labelled as being “worthless” by their academic employer; feelings of anger, tearful sorrow, and dissatisfaction certainly flourish. Emotions with feast-or-famine undergo a roller coaster ride!
Problematic features of the current research grant system for supporting scientific research at universities very clearly have emotional consequences. Both happiness, sorrow, disgust, and endless worrying commonly are produced. Having 2 or even 3 research grants can simply magnify the same emotions. Living and working under the condition of feast-or-famine wears academic scientists down and does not encourage the progress of science.
Science has good involvements with business and commerce, but basic research itself is not supposed to be a business! Research grants or other financial support are necessary to pay for all the expenses of conducting experiments, but obtaining more and more of that money is not the true goal of scientists! For modern universities, science is a business, and faculty scientists are just a terrific means to increase their profits!
Science in the United States (US) directly interacts with people, small and large businesses, education, the health system, engineers, students, media, etc. One of the very largest and most extensive interactions of science is with the US national government. This 2-part essay takes a critical look at the many involvements of our government with science, research,, and scientists. Part I introduced the means and purposes of the government’s interactions with science (see: “Part I” ); this Part II will examine the positive and negative features resulting from governmental policies and actions for science and research.
What are government research grants doing to university scientists and to the conduct of their research studies in 2015?
Billions of dollars are spent each year by our national government to fund research grants to university scientists for their investigations in all branches of science [1,2]. In 2013, over 5 billion dollars were awarded by the National Science Foundation to support research and education ; the National Institutes of Health dispenses even more money for health-related research and clinical studies Since everyone benefits from progress in science, the US federal government should be praised for financially supporting so many university researchers and research projects.
Unfortunately, it also is true that there are some very serious negative features and counterproductive outcomes of the present research grant system in the US:
(2) basic research is less emphasized and funded than is applied research, thereby decreasing generation of new concepts, technologies, and research directions;
(3) the chief goals for becoming a university scientist have changed from discovering new knowledge, conducting innovative experimental investigations to answer important research questions, and developing new technologies, to acquiring more dollars from more research grants;
(4) due to the enormous number of scientists and applications for research grants, many approved studies only receive partial funding, thereby preventing full completi0n of their specific aims;
(5) the extensive current hyper-competition for research grant awards directly causes and stimulates corruption and dishonesty in science;
(6) composing many new research grant applications now takes up more time for many university science faculty than does doing research experiments in their laboratories;
(7) the present hyper-competition for research grant awards means that postdoctoral research fellows increasingly are expected to obtain research grants, instead of doing advanced experiments under the support from their mentor’s grant(s);
(8) the epitome of becoming a famous scientist has been changed from a researcher who makes major discoveries, establishes new directions via breakthrough experiments, achieves new understanding, and innovates new technology, into a scientist-manager who sits at a desk, rarely (if ever!) enters their laboratory rooms, and acquires some gigantic amount of research funding that enables employment of over a hundred research associates working inside a new research building;
(10) items 1-9 produce degradation and decay of science and research in US universities, which explains why fewer college graduates now enter a career in science; their places in graduate schools now are filled by numerous foreign students, most of whom later find employment as science faculty and researchers in the US.
Some governmental interactions with science are good, but others are very bad!
Among the good results, we can include that scientific research in the US continues to produce new discoveries, issues many publications in science journals, creates some new directions, and makes some important progress. US scientists continue to win the Nobel, Kavli, Lasker, or Breakthrough Prizes, and certainly are very deserving of being honored for their outstanding research achievements. It is good that governmental agencies regulate medical and laboratory research activities for reasons of safety, economy of expenses, and accountability, but this also can restrict creativity, innovation, and research freedom. The US government should continue to support scientific research because that advances science and technology, and thereby leads to benefits for everyone in our society.
On the other hand, the quality of science and of the too numerous modern research publications both are going down. The entire purpose of becoming a doctoral scientist working in universities has changed, and it is not surprising that this has resulted in the decrease of quality! University science now is only a business where money and profits are everything, and faculty research scientists now are businessmen and businesswomen (see: “What’s the New Main Job of Faculty Scientists Today?” ). The federal research grant system fully supports all of this! Obvious wastage of research funds continues to be accepted as an endemic problem in the research grant system (see: “Research Grants: What is Going on with the Indirect Costs of Doing Research?” ), making a mockery of the annual crying for more money to support science. All these changes are obvious to most doctoral science faculty!
Hyper-competition for research grants could be the very worst feature of the status quo!
The vicious and destructive hyper-competition for research grant awards degrades, distorts, and perverts scientific research at universities (see: “All About Today’s Hyper-competition for Research Grants” ). This situation is directly caused by policies of both the funding agencies and the universities. Both organizations approve and like the financial effects of the hyper-competition, and neither seems to understand how this diverts and undermines scientific research. Corruption and dishonesty in science are increasing every year, due in large part to the enormous pressures generated by this hyper-competition for research dollars (see: “Why Would Any Scientist Ever Cheat?” ). Hyper-competition now causes many university scientists to spend more time composing grant applications than they do working on research in their lab.
Why don’t the science faculty at universities speak out and take action?
An obvious question is why faculty scientists tolerate the current degeneration in science and research at universities? Several answers can be given. First, university scientists in general are increasingly dissatisfied with their employment (see: “Why are University Scientists Increasingly Upset with their Job? Part I” , and, “Part II” ); every year some university scientists do move out of academia (of necessity, or by choice), and find a better job in industrial research, science-related companies, or non-science employments. Second, most university scientists holding research grants do recognize the problems caused by the present system, but are too frightened to complain or criticize the research grant system since that could reduce their chances for renewal of their research funding; it seems safer and easier to simply keep quiet. Third, US college students increasingly reject studying to get a PhD for a career in academia; increasing attention by graduate schools now is given to better preparing their science students for employment outside of universities or even outside of research. Fourth, postdoctoral research fellows are organizing and announcing their misgivings about academic science in general and about abuses of their position as researchers in training.
My sad conclusion!
Many of the problems I have described and discussed here are widely known to science faculty, but these issues are only rarely discussed in public or addressed by science societies at their annual meetings. It thus appears to me that universities and the research grant system will have to get even worse before they can change to become better!
Science in the United States (US) directly interacts with people,businesses, educational institutions, the health system, engineers, students, media, etc. One of the very largest and most extensive interactions of science is with the US national government. This 2-part essay takes a critical look at the many involvements of our government with science, research,, and scientists; Part I introduces the different means and purposes of government’s interactions with science.
Overview of official interactions of US government with science.
Very many different agencies of the federal government act upon all branches of science with administrative oversight, numerous regulations, money and contracts to support research projects, new initiatives, policy directives, provision of information, public education, etc. The larger agencies specialized for science include the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, Agricultural Research Service, Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Food and Drug Administration, National Academy of Sciences, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, National Library of Medicine, etc. All these have large administrative staffs, large budgets, and large areas of action. In addition, many branches and agencies of the military also deal with science. Official representative scientists are appointed as advisers to the President, Congress, and other governmental bodies. One can only conclude that the national government is authorized to actively interact with science, technology, and scientists, at many different levels.
Money is at the center of all government interactions with science!
Money in science is required for all the expenses of conducting research studies (see: “Introduction to money in modern scientific research” ). For science at universities, several government agencies support research expenditures by awarding competitive grants to faculty scientists proposing important projects. Thus, external money is at the heart of all interactions between the government and university scientists; many rules and regulations follow the acceptance of any research grant award. Government uses this dependence upon federal research grants to control university science and direct faculty research into certain directions.
Governmental control of science and research.
US government administrators make policy directives and issue numerous regulations for science, research, education, and medical activities. As specific examples of this network for extensive control of science at universities via policies, programs, and regulations, we can now consider: (1) the Congress, which legislates the number of H1b visas issued each year for foreign scientists to be employed in the US, (2) the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which enforces safety requirements for use of radioactive materials in scientific research, (3) the Occupational Safety and Health Agency (OSHA), that mandates what special features must be present in refrigerators for their use within research labs, (4) the Food and Drug Administration, which is supposed to determine whether pharmaceutical products are safe and effective for patient care by physicians, and (5) the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which mandates salary levels for Postdocs researching in grant-supported labs. These are only a few examples from the many available!
How does the government actually use science and scientists?
Scientists often are used to provide “expert opinions and evaluations” for dealing with big problems facing the government. Those frequently involve testimonial input that is used to justify policy decisions and positions about controversial issues (e.g., global warming, mandated use of vaccines, approval or disapproval of new drugs and public health regulations, responses to foreign epidemics, international disputes, etc.). In response to such usage, opponents of the government’s position bring forth their own expert scientists! Readers should note that these controversies usually are about politics, economics, and power, rather than about science (see: “What Happens When Scientists Disagree? Part II: Why is There Such a Long Controversy About Global Warming and Climate Change?” ). It would be much better if the government sought recommendations of expert scientists before policies are made, rather than after they are finalized!
People give enormous amounts of money for scientific research, via their taxes!
Scientific research costs a lot of money (see: “Why is Science so Very Expensive? Why do Research Experiments Cost so Much?” ). This clearly is in the national interest and deserves to be supported. The US government pays giant amounts of dollars for: science education at schools and universities; research grants for universities, hospitals, and small businesses; clinical research trials; large special facilities for research usage; science meetings; public education about health and science; etc. The annual budget for sponsoring all these science-related activities is many billions of dollars [1,2]. Most funding comes from taxpayers; thus, all taxpayers deserve many thanks from university scientists for supporting their research activities!
In addition to basic and applied research investigations at universities, medical schools, and hospitals, a very large amount of research and development also takes place at industrial laboratories. All the research investigationsin industries costs a huge number of dollars in total, and are internally paid by individual companies.
The forthcoming Part II will present both the good and bad consequences of governmental interactions with science, research, and scientists. Special attention will be given to how the present research grant system is hurting scientific research, rather than helping it!
When earlier presenting a very general introduction to science and research (see: here! ), I stated my conviction that scientists and engineers work as partners in creating new advances in products and technologies for all of us. I will briefly explain this viewpoint, and then will direct you to 2 thrilling videos that vividly show this profound collaboration.
What is science for? What do scientists do?
Scientists search for the truth and seek to understand everything. Research investigations by scientists are a major part of their work, and these are aimed at gathering evidence (i.e., data) that answers research questions. Scientific research is conducted in universities and small or large industries, and often utilizes specialized instrumentation and methodologies (see: “Instrumentation” and “Methodology” ). Besides experiments in laboratories, scientific research also takes place in the field, hospitals, computer centers, and large special facilities.
Typical results of this research include determining causes and effects, understanding mechanisms at all levels, defining sequences of changes, determining structure, and, relating structure to functions. After carefully evaluating all the data resulting from investigations, research findings and conclusions often are published within professional journals and presented at annual science meetings.
What is engineering for? What do engineers do?
Engineers of all kinds generally work on practical matters needed for the design, construction, modification, and improvement of discrete objects or processes that ultimately will be produced commercially. Typical goals of engineers are to make some product cheaper to manufacture and operate, more efficient, longer lasting, faster or slower, more attractive, quieter, easier to use, more precise, etc. To accomplish these goals, they must have much knowledge and understanding about materials, manufacturing processes, friction and lubricants, corrosion and coatings, compatibilities, ergonomics, aesthetics, etc. Working experience also is very important here!
Engineers often seek patents rather than publications. After carefully evaluating all aspects of their conclusions for a new or modified commercial product, the manufacturer will select one set of choices for trial production and evaluation. If any of the predicted properties and features of the finished product do not match expectations, then further engineering must be undertaken for refinement of the design. The end point is commercial production and widespread usage.
Relationships between the activities of scientists and engineers.
Engineering mostly depends upon there being some previous scientific research, and basically begins where science leaves off. It also can begin with an amateur invention. Customers of any new or improved product only see the final output of both science and engineering together. This final result clearly is due to a strong partnership between scientists and engineers, even though they do not often work in a side-by-side manner.
Scientific research often constructs models or theories that can determine or explain something that nobody can know for certain (e.g., how small can a transistor be?). Based upon knowledge of physics, engineers determine how small transistors can be made with today’s technology. These different aspects of transistors certainly are related, but also are rather separate.
Nowadays, scientists and engineers both use computers to a prominent extent. Typical usage of computation includes data collection, designing and planning, 3-D and 4-D modeling, theoretical changes and testing, quantitating relationships, and, all analyses of experimental data.
Amazing videos you must see!
Striking examples of the duality between scientists and engineers are shown in both of the 2 following videos. I urge you to watch these twice! You should first watch only for your amusement, and then watch a second timeagain to see how scientists and engineers both played important roles in creating the amazing new devices shown. You might want to show these remarkable stories to your family and recommend them to your friends!
A constructed robot is an artificial bird that flies by flapping its wings!
In the video, “A Robot that Flies Like a Bird”, Markus Fischer shows a fantastic construction made with engineers at the Festo Corporation, a global manufacturer of components and systems for industrial automation and control technology. This is a robot that flies similarly to a living bird, but has no feathers, no heart or brain, and doesn’t eat. Scientific research knowledge first was used to model all the forces and aerodynamics for the flight of real birds by flapping of their wings. Then engineering investigated and decided on the many practical details needed to actually construct the robotic model bird, get it to fly by flapping its wings, and control its flight; those efforts included such engineering details as how long and wide the wings must be, dynamic angles of the flapping wing surfaces, how rapidly must the wings flap, what are the limits for weight to still permit flying by flapping, what role does the tail play, etc., etc. What this new robot will lead to remains to be seen!
A flying human known as the “Jetman”!
Yves Rossy was driven to try to fulfill the ancient human dream of being able to fly, so he used his aeronautical knowledge and sky-diving experience to propose a way to do that. Working with many detailed known parameters for powered flight, he and engineers at Breitling, a Swiss manufacturer of technical watches and chronographs, designed a set of light rigid wings containing 4 high-tech small powerful jet engines; after strapping this onto his back, he can fly with directional control only via movements of body contours (i.e., position of head, arms, and legs, and, torsional shaping of his body). He launches his flight by diving out of a helicopter, and usually lands with a special parachute system. Watch the video, “Flying With Jetman”, to learn about making this new machine, see his amazing flights, listen to stories of his adventures, and laugh at his great sense of humor; he is a most fascinating man and a daring pioneer! Note that a number of other videos about the Jetman also are available on YouTube.
These 2 exciting videos directly illustrate how science and engineering work together as strong partners. Contributions from both professions are vitally important, and can dramatically reveal the human spirit!
Many critics of spending billions of dollars on cancer research typically point to the fact that a general cure for neoplastic diseases had not been discovered (see: “After Spending Billions, Why have Scientists Not Yet Found a Cure for Cancer?” ). That now is no longer a convincing question, thanks to the basic and applied research of James P. Allison, PhD (University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, in Houston). His breakthrough experiments and new ideas for anticancer therapy led to remissions and probable cures for some cancer patients who previously had no hope. This article briefly describes Dr. Allison’s research on the functioning of specialized cells in the immune system, which led to discovery of a very new effective approach for therapeutic treatment of cancer.
The Lasker Awards.
Each year, the Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation  bestows 3 Lasker Awards: Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award, Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award, and, Lasker-Bloomberg Public Service Award. The 2015 Lasker Awards and Laureates all are nicely described on the Foundation website: http://www.laskerfoundation.org/media/index.htm . Lasker Awards are considered to be most prestigious for medical science, and the awardees often are considered to be likely to soon receive a Nobel Prize.
Dr. Allison has just won the very prestigious Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award for 2015 for his innovative new immunotherapy against cancer [2-4]. He previously has received numerous other honorary awards, including the 2014 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences  and the 2014 Szent-Györgyi Prize from the National Foundation for Cancer Research .
A new kind of anti-cancer immunotherapy is developed by Dr. Allison [2-6]!
Many different immunology-based therapies against cancer have been investigated, but most have produced only limited clinical benefits. The experimental treatment of cancer with antibodies that specifically bind to molecular components produced by cancer cells has not been successful. Dr. Allison’s early research investigated the molecular mechanisms for how some cells of the immune system, T-cells, work in the cellular immune response to recognize and kill bacteria, viruses, and abnormal cells in the body. T-cell activities are nominally independent from antibody responses of the immune system.
Detailed research about T-cell surface receptors, binders, and cofactors led to Dr. Allison’s recognition that there are both positive on-signals and negative off-signals regulating T-cells. One of the down-regulators is a receptor protein named, CTLA-4; upon binding of CTLA-4 to it’s targets, the activation and proliferation of T-cells are turned off. This negative regulation is normal and is believed to prevent active T-cells from attacking the body’s own constituents (i.e., autoimmune diseases).
Most immunologists have long thought that the immune system should recognize, attack, and kill cancer cells. Thus, it was a mystery why such does not happen. This puzzle led Dr. Allison to ask whether CTLA-4 might be turning off a T-cell response against cancer cells. He tested this hypothesis by developing antibodies that specifically bind CTLA-4 molecules, thereby inactivating their functional activities, including the down-regulation of T-cells. When these antibodies were injected into laboratory mice bearing a transplantable tumor, there was a large proliferation of T-cells and strong killing of cancer cells inside the tumors! Injecting control antibodies which bound other proteins had no effects on T-cells, so the tumor-bearing mice died. Thus, these and other experimental results showed that stopping the normal down-regulation of T-cells released them to give a strong response against neoplastic cells. The brakes on T-cells had been released by Dr. Allison, so their endogenous anti-cancer activities now went full speed ahead! The go/no-go interaction between CTLA-4 and T-cells now is known as an immune checkpoint.
The next step in this ongoing research project involved translating the findings from basic research into applied clinical research with experimental treatment of human cancer patients. After finally finding a pharmaceutical company willing to collaborate with production and testing of anti-CTLA-4 human antibodies, Dr. Allison began initial clinical trials of this experimental treatment of cancer patients who had not responded to any usual surgical, chemical, or radiation therapy. In some cases the new immunotherapy worked quite well! A standardized commercial version of human anti-CTLA-4 antibodies was approved for clinical use in 2011; over 30,000 cancer patients now have received the new immunotherapy. This new cancer treatment is not just another promise of some hoped for future development; it is here today, and actually saves the life of some cancer patients.
Ongoing research in anti-cancer immunotherapy by Dr. Allison and other scientists [2-6].
The door now was opened to try this very new kind of anti-cancer therapy with different patients, different cancers, and different therapeutic protocols. The effects of anti-CTLA-4 antibodies had dramatic results for some patients with malignant myeloma, a blood cell cancer that usually is fatal within one year. The anti-CTLA-4 therapy put some, but not all, myeloma patients into long-term remission (i.e., over 14 years)! New research, both by Dr. Allison and by other clinical research scientists, seeks to find: (1) why some malignant myeloma patients do not respond to this new therapy, (2) which additional cancers can be treated by this immunotherapy, (3) whether manipulating other proteins regulating T-cell activities will provide additional curative effects, (4) will combination treatments of cancers (e.g., immunotherapy with concurrent chemotherapy) give even better curative effects, and, (5) can manipulating other immune checkpoints have therapeutic effects against any non-cancer diseases?
Special features of this very new kind of immunotherapy.
Some distinctive very special features of this new kind of immunotherapy must be recognized by all readers!
(1) The new curative therapy is targeted against the immune system, and not against cancer cells.
(2) T-cells can effectively kill cancer cells; thus, an endogenous response is what kills the cancer cells.
(3) Endogenous activities of T-cells against neoplastic cells normally are halted by activities of CTLA-4.
(4) Right now, this new immunotherapy probably cures several types of cancer in some patients.
Dr. James Allison deserves immense credit for coming up with new ideas and new research findings about the immune system, and for asking new clinical questions. He is an superb example of how PhD scientists investigating pure basic science in a laboratory can contribute much to applied clinical research. Individual scientists having creativity, curiosity, enthusiasm, and the guts to think new thoughts, just like Dr. Allison, are the best hope for more important discoveries in all branches of scientific research.
Dr. Allison very clearly has made a wonderful contribution to modern clinical medicine. All of us can hope that additional cancers finally will be conquered with the results from further research studies and innovative medical developments. In addition, new approaches to immunotherapy might also benefit patients with some non-cancer diseases.
Recommended videos by and about Dr. James Allison!
Quotations by Dr. Peter Wilmshurst, taken from various published statements. (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Anyone, even professional scientists with a PhD or MD, can make an honest mistake. However, falsification or other dishonesty by a research scientist is an inexcusable breach of trust. Since the goal of research is to find the truth, mistakes or alleged falsehoods must be investigated and corrected, in order to let science progress. Whistleblowers in science have been rather few, largely because it is so much easier to keep quiet and overlook falsehoods or even criminal misrepresentations; speaking out or initiating inquiries about corruption in research typically leads to counter-allegations, challenges to professional reputation, prolonged court cases, and, only small penalties for proven wrongdoers. Hence, most doctoral scientists keep quiet, particularly if an allegation involves someone with a higher professional rank; this is known as the “code of silence”.
This article describes the amazing adventures of a clinical and research cardiologist in Britain, Peter Wilmshurst, MD, who became a successful whistleblower. During his medical research work, he found clear unethical and criminal misconduct by individuals and companies, so he courageously initiated several inquiries. Unlike many others, Dr. Wilmshurst refused to be silenced by bribes or threats, and ultimately forced honesty to prevail. Dr. Wilmshurst undoubtedly is nothing less than a heroic medical scientist!
Whistleblowing by Dr. Wilmshurst protected heart patients from a dangerous new drug [1-5]!
In the 1980’s, Dr. Wilmshurst was invited by a very large pharmaceutical company in the UK to participate in their clinical research trial evaluating the efficacy of a new oral drug intended to strengthen cardiac contractions in patients with heart failure. His research data showed no effects upon contractility in patients, and revealed very dangerous side effects. According to the company, research data from their own researchers were strongly and uniformly positive.
When he reported his research results to the manufacturer, he was asked to suppress his negative findings. Wilmshurst refused to do that, and would not keep quiet about his research results despite threats. Later, it was revealed that several other independent researchers had found adverse results similar to those of Dr. Wilmshurst, but fear had prevented them from announcing their findings. The company published the results of this clinical trial without including Wilmshurst’s research findings. The government health agencies, professional medical organizations, and several science journals heard Wilmshurst’s pleas for an official investigation, but all were afraid to do anything! More and more reports from clinical physicians showed numerous medical problems arising in treated patients; finally, marketing this new drug in the UK and the US was stopped by the manufacturer, but sales and usage continued in some developing countries. Only after a large write-up about Dr. Wilmshurst and his dispute in the Guardian newspaper (UK) was this dangerous pharmaceutical completely withdrawn from the entire world.
More whistleblowing by Dr. Wilmshurst protected migraine patients from a dangerous new medical device [1-5]!
Dr. Wilmshurst had published a research report in 2000 linking migraine to a fairly common developmental defect in the heart, patent foramen ovale. His expertise as a cardiologist and medical researcher led to an invitation to be a research consultant in a large clinical trial of a new implantable device manufactured by a small company in the US; with implantation into the heart, this was supposed to close the cardiac defect. The clinical trial examined whether its use would also stop recurring migraine attacks. His echocardiogram results for treated patients differed greatly from those gathered by the cardiologists implanting the new devices on behalf of the manufacturer. The company disputed Dr. Wilmshurst’s research findings and claimed that echocardiograms from the implanting cardiologists were correct, but his results were wrong and invalid.
That company then refused to include his research results within their published report on the clinical trial. The company’s presentation of their clinical trial at a cardiology meeting in Washington did not mention his divergent interpretations of post-implantation echocardiograms, but Dr. Wilmshurst was in the audience (i.e., he had presented some of his own research at this meeting that did not concern this experimental device). A reporter interviewed Dr. Wilmshurst at this meeting and published some of his comments about the divergent data for this experimental device. Two weeks later, the company’s lawyers notified him of a lawsuit in the UK for defamatory libel; several more lawsuits for libel followed.
Media and medical journals began describing Dr. Wilmshurst’s ongoing fight against these lawsuits, which cost him much personal money over several years of worrisome court proceedings. Perhaps in response to their estimates that all these trials would have a total cost of over 14 million dollars, the small manufacturer abandoned production of the new device and went out of business; the bankruptcy ended the lawsuits. Dr. Wilmshurst again had successfully fought research misconduct and commercial fraud, thereby saving clinical patients from any grief with this ineffective new device.
Important lessons to be learned from Dr. Wilmshurst’s activities [1-5].
Several disconcerting lessons about both dishonesty and honesty in research can be learned from this determined British medical researcher and whistleblower.
(1) Since scientific research is conducted by humans, it is easily subject to unethical conduct due to government inaction, overriding ambition, personal greed, selfish commercial interest, silence about professional wrongdoing, wrongful self-interest, etc.
(2) Money and commercial interests make total honesty particularly difficult for scientists in cases where their research results contradict or call into question what is desired; research must seek the truth, and is distorted when it looks for only a predetermined result.
(3) Industrial companies often can pressure and overwhelm individuals by using their large financial resources for bribes, teams of specialized lawyers in expensive lawsuits, direct threats to impugn professional reputation and personal integrity, etc.
(4) The most common reaction upon finding dishonesty in science is simply silence and a refusal to become involved; this is very easy to do, but such tolerance of dishonesty can hurt innocent people (i.e., patients) and probably is itself a form of dishonesty.
(5) The penalties and punishments for dishonesty in research are usually small or absent, which then encourages more dishonesty; some scientists even have a very successful career with repeated dishonesty that is widely known .
(6) Corruption within all aspects of medical research is much more extensive than is commonly thought.
The ultimate goal of science is to find the truth, no matter what it might be. Independent research is the best human means to decide what is true and what is false. Whistleblowing serves to promote honesty in business, government, and science. Court cases usually are initiated to pressure and intimidate whistleblowers to keep quiet or repudiate their earlier research findings and conclusions. Judges and lawyers do not know enough about science to decide about controversies in research (see: “What Happens when Scientists Disagree? Part V: Lessons to be Learned When Scientists Disagree” ). As Dr. Wilmshurst has stated, “The law courts are not the best way to determine scientific truth.” .
Peter Wilmshurst is a unique individual, and certainly is a hero!
Dr. Wilmshurst stands up for honesty even when other research scientists say nothing and ignore obvious wrongdoing, compromise their professional ethics by research misconduct, or show no personal integrity. His personal characteristics and professional standards as a medical research scientist make him a great role model for young scientists, physicians, and research workers in all the disciplines of science. He does not fear getting involved and announcing the truth even when that means making shocking disclosures about highly placed figures, esteemed professional organizations, very famous science and medical journals, successful large industrial operations, and, malfunctioning agencies in the national government.
It should be obvious that Dr. Wilmshurst is a very distinctive individual who successfully fought against large manufacturing companies, government agencies, professional medical associations, professional science journals, lawyers and courts, and blatant threats to his reputation as a professional clinical researcher. He could do all of that because he is an ethical scientist with exemplary honesty, personal courage, and professional integrity. Whereas he speaks out about dishonesty in research, many others choose to keep silent and refuse to challenge dishonesty and corruption; thus, dishonesty in science is widely tolerated .
Peter Wilmshurst should be honored for his career-long dedication to honesty and high professional standards in research! In 2003, he received the HealthWatch Annual Award in the UK for his work against corruption and fraud in medical science .
Further information is directly available from Dr. Wilmshurst on the internet!
A wonderful video presentation by Peter Wilmshurst, “The Role of Whistleblowers in Improving the Integrity of the Evidence Base”, is highly recommended to all reading this article (see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xze-yPubFIY ).
Whistleblowers are essential to help keep everyone honest! Even large companies and very famous scientists can become dishonest, unethical, or unprofessional. Lack of honesty in scientific research can lead to grave practical problems for unsuspecting innocent people. For medical research, Dr. Wilmshurst states appropriately, “Truth should not be decided by those with greatest wealth using bullying and threats to make a scientist retract what he or she knows is true.” .
Eight scientists from several different countries will share the 2015 Nobel Prizes in Physiology or Medicine, Chemistry, and Physics. Everyone in science is excited and is rushing to look in Science or Nature for all the details! All these new Nobel Laureates should be congratulated by the public and by other scientists for their excellence in experimental research! For background on the purpose and history of the prizes established by Alfred Nobel, see: http://www.nobelprize.org . The latest Nobel Prizes will be bestowed at ceremonies during the extensive Nobel Week festivities (December 5-12, 2015). Below, I will briefly summarize the new Laureates and their impressive research achievements.
Physiology or Medicine .
The 2015 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine goes to 3 scientists who discovered and developed new medical therapies that annually benefit several hundred millions of patients with parasitic diseases: William C. Campbell (Drew University, in Madison, New Jersey, US), Satoshi Omura (Kitasato University, in Tokyo, Japan), and Youyou Tu (China Academy of Chinese Medicine, in Beijing, PRC). Pharmaceutical drugs resulting from their discoveries by research in microbiology and pharmacology now are widely used for effective clinical treatment of parasitic infections with roundworms (lymphatic filariasis, or river blindness) and malaria; both of these dreaded diseases afflict millions of persons today, particularly in developing tropical nations. Thus, their basic research in laboratories has had a very widespread practical importance for clinical medicine.
The 2015 Nobel Prize in Chemistry will be presented to 3 scientists who discovered different types of DNA repair mechanisms: Tomas Lindahl (Francis Crick Institute, in London, England), Paul Modrich (Duke University School of Medicine, in Durham, North Carolina, US), and Aziz Sancar (University of North Carolina School of Medicine, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, US). Their independent biochemical research experiments examined how acquired damage to the DNA molecules in genes, and errors in replicating DNA during chromosome duplication, are repaired by different protein-based mechanisms so that genes within cells can continue to function normally. The importance of their findings in this area, and the large current research competition for making discoveries about DNA repair in relation to developing new treatments for cancer, are emphasized by the fact that only a month ago the prestigious Lasker Prize for medical research was awarded to 2 other scientists for research discoveries about DNA repair.
The 2015 Nobel Prize in Physics is awarded to 2 investigators in the field of particle physics: Takaaki Kajita (University of Tokyo, in Tokyo, Japan) and Arthur McDonald (Queen’s University, in Kingston, Canada). They independently discovered that neutrinos, which are a rather mysterious type of elementary particle, change (oscillate) their identity and certain characteristic properties as they travel at nearly the speed of light from space into the Earth’s atmosphere. Their honored research was conducted at very special neutrino detection facilities located underground in deep mines, and staffed by many scientists (Super-Kamiokande Detector in Japan, and Sudbury Neutrino Observatory in Canada). Their experimental results gave evidence indicating that some neutrinos indeed do have an extremely minute mass; these new findings are immensely significant for advancing knowledge and understanding about the physics of fundamental particles.
Brief discussion about the 2015 Nobel Prize winners.
The Nobel Prizes in science continue to bring forth excellent researchers and outstanding experimental studies to the attention of the public worldwide. Last year I published some features which commonly characterize winners of Nobel Prizes in science (see: “What does It Take to Win the Big Prizes in Science?” ). The individual 2015 Nobel Laureates mostly show those attributes, along with several others: (1) some Laureates conducted their prize-winning research work many decades ago, (2) all their wonderful discoveries began with studies in basic research, (3) the celebrated outcome of their work was developed further by important later contributions from other scientists, engineers, and commercial companies, and, (4) some of the prize-winning investigations have large immediate practical applications and impact, while others advance knowledge and understanding so that important new questions arise for further research. Although some Nobel Laureates in 2015 researched as leaders with large groups of coworkers, all seem to be distinctive individuals who are very dedicated to science, have innovative ideas, and persist in their research efforts.
The new award to Youyou Tu is for her research that also involved very many other scientists for a nationwide effort against malaria that was initiated by Chairman Mao in China. Her Nobel Prize once again raises the difficult and unanswerable question about whether it really is fair to honor only one person when there is a research partner or many co-workers (see: http://news.sciencemag.org/health/2015/10/updated-nobel-prize-honors-drugs-fight-roundworms-malaria ). Some outspoken Chinese critics of this 2015 award therefore might even propose that Chairman Mao should also get a Nobel Prize!
For the latest Nobel Prize in physics, it is interesting to note that several other Nobel Prizes were previously awarded for research on neutrinos, most recently in 2008 (see: http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/physics/laureates/ ). In general, certain research subjects and fields get more Nobel Prizes than do others; this tendency is due to the interdisciplinary nature of some research fields (e.g., investigations in biochemistry might be honored by a Nobel Prize in either Medicine or Chemistry).
For further information about the 2015 Nobel Prizes in Science.
Readers are encouraged to examine more information about the winning researchers and their investigations! I recommend reading the text references listed below, since all feature good information suitable for non-scientist adults. Additional general information about the new Nobel Prize Laureates is available at: http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/ .
Detailed methods for conducting research experiments play a very fundamental role for all scientists. The term, methodology, includes all the numerous different procedures, protocols, and techniques for acquiring and analyzing research data. This introductory presentation is for general readers! It describes how research methods originate, develop, and mature, explains how methodology differs from instrumentation, and, points out the reasons why methodology has so much importance for modern science.
Basics about methodology for scientific research.
Methods aim to produce research results that are accurate, repeatable, and valid. Detailed protocols are the heart of methodology; these provide step-by-step instructions for how to collect good data (e.g., measure conversion of A into B, record amount of carbon dioxide as a function of ambient temperature, count the number of non-carbon atoms on graphene sheets, etc.). To ensure reproducibility of experiments, methods must be explicitly detailed, utilize a sequential progression of operations, and provide for completion of the data collection; once results start being generated, the scientist or technician then must always follow the protocol exactly, or else unrecognized variables can distort the data. Analysis of research results constitutes a distinct aspect of any methodology, and often is focused on different statistical parameters.
Some scientists have been honored by Nobel Prizes for inventing very significant new research methods (see: http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/ ). Why are methods important for science? Methodology is vital because it: (1) permits experiments and data collection to be repeated, (2) details the conditions used to produce results, and (3) explains the reasoning for certain operational choices made for a given experiment or measurement. Without adequate methodology, research results become disorganized, irreproducible, and unreliable.
How does methodology differ from instrumentation?
Methodology and instrumentation (see: “Introduction to instrumentation for scientific research” ) are interrelated, but also differ. Methods tell exactly how to conduct a measurement or record experimental data, while instruments are designed to permit research operations to be carried out. Accordingly, methods always emphasize “how to do it“, and instruments furnish the “tools toget it done“. By analogy, methodology is a road map telling the driver how to travel to a certain destination, but instrumentation is the automobile for doing that travel. Thus, having the latest instrumentation alone is not enough; one also needs good methods to successfully produce valid research results. Most research instruments come with a detailed users manual, but methodology goes beyond that by specifying the exact conditions for usage of the instrument during specific experiments. Modern instrumentation often features highly automatic operations such that everything is done without much intervention by the operator; this uses a standardized methodology that is literally built into the instrument.
Where is methodology found?
Methodology is found all over scientific research! Most research operations have preferred protocols that give good results. These protocols are derived from previous usage by numerous scientists, postdocs, graduate students, and technicians. Some books give a detailed critical examination of research methods (e.g., the long series of volumes, “Methods in Enzymology“). Certain modern professional journals feature only new methods and protocols for some area of experimental science; other more typical journals usually include a few articles about new methods. Almost all research reports published in science journals include a section giving a detailed description of the “Materials and Methods” utilized for producing the experimental findings; this section necessarily is very important since experiments need to give the same results when conducted by other scientists in some other lab or country. Even theoretical research studies need to have some description of the methods utilized.
How do preferred methods develop?
New research instruments often cause new research methods to develop, and those lead to a burst of new results. With enough time and sufficient users, certain methods become established as being accurate, efficient, reliable, and not overly expensive. These are termed standard or preferred methods. For new research projects, the experiments usually start with an established standard protocol, but then some small changes are tried; this process of ongoing development of methodology is practical science, because sometimes the changes give better results, and at other times they do not work. Revised methods arise from established protocols whenever many scientists are using some variant condition that gives better results for their investigations; this revision of methodology goes on during actual research studies.
Detailed methods for conducting research and collecting experimental data are standard components of modern science, and are always undergoing further development. Methods permit experimental measurements to be made in a reproducible manner that gives useful and reliable results. Although often hidden from view, good methodology is necessary for research progress to be made in science.
Research instruments play a big role in enabling the progress of science. The term, instrumentation, includes all the different instruments from the many parts of science. This introductory presentation is for general readers! It describes how research equipment originates and develops, and, points out why science instruments almost always are an expensive budgetary component of modern research projects in science.
Basics about instrumentation for scientific research.
Research instruments are tools used to acquire data (i.e., research results) during experimental investigations. They are fundamental in all branches of science (e.g., cell counters and sorters, microscopes, PCR machines (polymerase chain reaction), sonogram recorders, etc., in biomedical science; chromatographs, spectroscopes, ultrarapid recorders, x-ray diffractometers, etc., in chemistry; and, atomic force microscopes, electron diffractometers, magnetometers, terrestrial and space telescopes, etc., in physics). Some research instruments are huge, but are used to examine very small specimens such as atoms and molecules, while other instruments are small, but are used to examine gigantic specimens such as volcanoes and oceans. Thermometers are simple instruments that continue to be widely used by both scientists and ordinary people.
Science seeks answers to research questions (see: “Fundamentals for beginners: What is science? What is research? What are scientists?” ). Obtaining these answers often uses measurements, images, sonograms, spectra, etc., made by research instruments. Most such output is quantitative, and high precision always is sought. Research instruments directly produce and record data, while accessories and related equipment expand the range of applications and enable processing of the raw results with statistics and analysis; nowadays, most science instruments are used with personal computers for control and operation, storage of output, and, analysis of the research data.
Some science instruments have extremely general usage (e.g., balances, light microscopes, mass analyzers, , pH meters, small ovens and freezers, vacuum chambers, etc.). Other research instruments have only a very specific usage (e.g., cosmic ray detectors, Raman microscopes, space probes, ultra-rapid spectroscopes, etc.); usually these special instruments are much more complex and costly than are general instruments. The cost to purchase a manufactured research instrument generally is high; this is due largely to their complexity, and to the limited number of potential buyers (e.g., some few hundreds). High purchase prices of instrumentation are accepted due to the value of the research results produced (see: “Why is science so very expensive? Why do research experiments cost so much?” ).
Big science commonly uses unique, special, and very expensive research instruments that serve as a research facility for many scientists (e.g., 3-G synchrotrons; free-electron lasers; neutron diffractometers). Two of the 3 new giant terrestrial telescopes now are being constructed in the mountains of northern Chile. Each of the 3 has a total cost of over one billion dollars, and will take 8-10 years to finish their very complex construction (see excellent article: “Behemoth telescopes build towards first light” by Toni Feder in 2015 Physics Today68:24-27)). Because of their fundamental importance for science, these very special research facilities each must be funded by multiple nations and organizations.
General stages in the history of any research instrument.
The total development of research instruments generally passes through a common sequence of stages: (1) invention and first construction, (2) initial usage by the originator and other scientists, (3) commercial development by engineers, industrial scientists, and manufacturers, and, (4) ongoing development of advanced manufactured versions with additional or better capabilities.
Most research instruments available for purchase today originated with the work of one creative individual, known subsequently as the inventor or originator (i.e., often this person is both a scientist and an inventor). The origination of science instruments typically results from a wish to acquire data that is not currently available. The number of research scientists involved in stage 2 is largely determined by current interest in some field and by current attention to the research question(s) involved. The total time needed for stage 3 is quite variable, and can be months to years. Stage 4 features modifications and improvements in the commercialized instrument; it can involve establishment of competing manufacturers, each of which claims that their version produces data faster, more accurately, more efficiently, with finer detail, and/or with lower cost, than do the products of other vendors. Scientist-users often help the manufacturers make significant improvements in instrument capabilities, functioning, and applications.
The fun of using research instruments.
Using modern research instrumentation to produce good data is not always easy. Acquiring the ability to become a skilled user of science equipment usually comes from personal hands-on experience and many failed trials. Once operation of a research instrument is mastered by a scientist or technician, this not only results in production of good data, but also creates personal pride. However, scientists who are very skillful and experienced experts often are surprised to find they only have an incomplete knowledge about the instrument when they first try to teach a new user how to operate it. For some researchers, the trials and tribulations of using complex instruments becomes nothing less than fun! Large, complex, and costly science instruments even can be considered to be wonderful toys by those lucky enough to use them!
Any research instrument, whether used by only a few or by very many scientists, has a history involving the work of engineers, scientist-users, workers at manufacturing companies, and various others, all of whom add to the accomplishment of the initial inventor(s) who built the first one. Although there now is a general tendency to make commercial versions of research equipment more automatic and easier to use, that does not deny the scientist-user’s benefit of working to become very skillful in operating a research instrument.
Asking questions, answering questions, and questioning answers are vital for science education! (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Following my recent posts with Q&A for “assistant professors in science” , I now present some interesting questions and answers between you and me!
Dr.M, please tell me why should I care anything about science and research? It just doesn’t matter to me!
Dr.M: It will matter a whole bunch when you run into health problems, when new wars break out using weather as a destructive weapon, when TVs listen to your every spoken word at home, and, when it finally is admitted that you really are poisoning yourself and your children by what you eat and drink! Due to the very deficient public education about science, you and most other adults have no idea what scientists do or how many of your everyday activities involve the products of science and engineering. It will be fun for you to explore science; for starters, look on the internet for “NASA pictures from outer space” and, “3-D printing”!
Dr.M. asks you: What is the thrill of research discovery for a scientist?
Typical soccer mom: It is just the same as finding a $50 bill when you are walking from your car into a supermarket! I guess that research is fun and discovery is pure luck; it looks just like the lottery to me! Discovery by scientists means they then are famous, can write a textbook, and get rich!
I love to watch science on TV for many hours almost every day because it all is so amusing! Dr.M, can you please recommend which are the best science shows?
Dr.M: Most adults see science and research only as being some fantastic amusement. Unfortunately, none of these science-as-entertainment shows deal with real scientists or real research. They are only for mindless amusement, and have much too much emphasis on who is the star researcher of the day, what horrible disease might be cured, and how science could solve some new global calamity. Since I see all of this idiotic garbage as being a total waste of time, I will not recommend any to you!
Dr.M asks an Assistant Professor: If your university employer turns down your application for tenure, what are you going to do?
Assistant Professor: Nobody taught me anything about how to get tenure in grad school. I thought it was almost automatic so long as you were funded by research grants. I know I will never win a Nobel Prize, but I still believe I am a successful research scientist! If I didn’t enjoy lab research so much I would simply quit this nonsense and find a new job in the stock market or selling computers!
My husband and I want our young children to learn about science. What is the best way to help them do that? Do you think we should buy them a chemistry set, Dr.M?
Dr.M: All young children have a strong curiosity, and they often focus that on what they see, hear, smell, taste, and touch. For these youngsters, encourage them to explore andexamine nature, and to learn about the world in your backyard or town (e.g., insects, birds, flowers, seeds, leaves, ponds and rivers, stars, beaches and soil, pollution, lightening, snow, garbage dumps, our moon, stars, etc., etc.). Much can be done with little expense! As they grow up they can use a magnifying glass, camera, and personal computer, all of which involve science and engineering. A chemistry set is good for somewhat older children who show a special interest and liking for chemistry; however, for young kids having no affinity for chemistry it will probably only be a potentially dangerous toy (e.g., What does that taste like?). Let your kids decide for themselves what they are interested in!
I looked on the internet for info about nanomaterials after reading one of your posts, Dr.M, but I just do not understand most of what I read. What should I do?
Dr.M: This situation is due to unfortunate general deficiencies in science education. Recognize that you have selected a large topic! I suggest that you will find it easier if you study only a single more specific subject within the world of nanomaterials (e.g., carbon nanotubes, buckyballs, nanomedicine drug carriers, nanomachines, etc.). Even without much background, you should be able to understand some descriptive articles about that subject in any Wikisite on the internet; be sure to also take a look at internet diagrams and videos for whatever subject you choose.
Dr.M. asks you: Do you believe scientists should receive a much smaller paycheck than do star baseball players?
Teenager: What are the salary numbers? Don’t star scientists get several million each year? Postdocs must be equivalent to minor league players in baseball; what do they get? Baseball players deserve millions because they bring in many more millions for their team owner. Good research scientists should be paid at least as much as are professional baseball players!
I haven’t looked at any science since I was in high school. Now I just retired. Tell me, Dr.M, why should I spend any time with science now?
Dr.M: Science is not something you have to do, but it sure makes life more interesting! Have you ever heard of 3-D printers? Do you realize what they can create? Don’t you wonder how they work? Aren’t you curious about why your knees now are causing you pain, or why some new medicine might magically be able to give you full mobility again? Do you realize that your children might not retire until age 80, and could live to be over 100 years old? All of that is science in action! Pick any topic that has some personal interest for you, and see what videos are available about that subject on the internet; I can almost guarantee that you will find something fascinating!
Dr.M. asks you: Do you admire any scientist?
College undergrad: No, because I don’t know any scientists, and have no idea what they have done with their research. I don’t know any Nobel Prizers or local scientists. They all mean nothing to me!
I tried to read about research on new batteries, but I just cannot understand all the special terms and concepts. Are there any translations available just for ordinary folks, Dr.M?
Dr.M: You are totally correct that all the special terminology creates a barrier preventing many people from reading about science. The closest to actual translations are simplified articles found in some science magazines and news websites. Take a look at such internet sites as: “ScienceNews for Students” (https://student.societyforscience.org/sciencenews-students ), and “Popular Science Magazine” ( http://www.popsci.com/tags/science ). Good luck!
Dr.M. asks you: What is the purpose of scientific research?
Hollywood celeb: I really have absolutely no idea, but I do love to watch science on TV! It’s just so funny! Research scientists must be mad! I always laugh my head off and cannot believe these guys and gals are for real!
I appreciate science and would like to help scientific research, but I am not wealthy. Tell me, Dr.M, how can I help out?
Dr.M: Even small financial contributions to promote scientific research always are welcome at science research organizations, universities, high schools, science societies, research workshops, museums, and other special science organizations. Some people like to donate via contributions to crowd-funding organizations (i.e., search with any internet browser for “crowdfunding for science”). Money-free ways to support science and research are to attend public presentations and discussions by professional scientists, or, sign up for a free subscription to specialized science journals, magazines, and websites (e.g., Microscopy Today ( http://www.microscopy-today.com ), “Microscopedia” ( http://www.microscopedia.com ), SciTechDaily ( http://scitechdaily.com/ ), and, “Chemical and Engineering News” ( http://cen.acs.org/magazine/93/09334.html ). You also can volunteer to personally participate in research projects at a nearby field site or laboratory. Last, but definitely not least, encourage your own children and young relatives to have some interest in science!
Dr.M. asks you: Why can’t scientists agree about whether global warming is real?
Aunt Maggie: I guess they just love to argue! Why don’t they do more research and less yapping? Last winter was really cold, so I don’t believe whatever they say! Maybe they are arguing about nothing? It doesn’t matter much to me, anyhow!
Dr.M. asks you: Why do some scientists cheat?
Uncle Joe: Probably they are after more money! There are only small penalties if they do get caught, so why shouldn’t they take a chance on getting rich faster? Everybody else today cheats at their work, so why shouldn’t scientists?
Dr.M, Why won’t you allow any comments and e-mails on your website?
Dr.M: I refuse to waste my valuable time dealing with lonely souls, morons having an empty life, or hungry entrepreneurs, as announced on November 14, 2014 (see: “Special Notice to All from Dr.M!” ). Although It was necessary to do that, if 99.9% of 100,000 comments to you were ads for other websites or duplicate messages disguised as comments, then I believe you also would ban them. It still amazes me that on any one day I used to receive multiple word-for-word identical messages from several different continents! The blogosphere certainly is polluted by spamming on botnets!
Few research instruments are as widely used in science as are microscopes. They are very extensively utilized in universities, industries, hospitals, specialized assay services, forensic labs, mineralogy, crystallography, etc. Microscopes and microscopy recently have become more available and more adapted for science education, beginning in primary (elementary, grade) schools. For those of us working with microscopes, they not only let us do our specialized job in scientific research, but also provide quite a lot of fun.
The fundamental concepts and terms for using microscopes and understanding microscopy in general (see: “Part 1” ), and, light microscopy (see: “Part 2” ) and electron microscopy (see: “Part 3” ) in particular, have been covered previously. This fourth article gives my views about the value of microscopy for teaching science in primary and secondary (middle, high) schools. Beginners reading Part 4 should first study Part 1.
Why is microscopy really, really good for early science education?
I believe that early science education is not only essential for future scientists, but also is badly needed for everyone else. I am especially enthusiastic about using microscopy for science education in primary schools, since it: (1) features hands-on learning, (2) is not selective for any one branch of science, (3) involves doing, seeing, thinking, questioning, and discussing, (4) can be open-ended since the young students will utilize their native curiosity to look at additional specimens of their own choice, and (5) raises early interest in some students for becoming a scientist. Addition of hands-on microscopy to primary and secondary school science classes will make them wonderfully better than the traditional science teaching that emphasizes memorizing facts and figures. That old approach neither elicits student enthusiasm and individual interest in science, nor prepares students to live in a modern world that is dominated by new and changing technology. Education with microscopy is education in science and technology.
Microscopy for science education: what will actually be learned?
In addition to learning how to operate light microscopes, young students will relate this to many other areas of knowledge and activity. Coursework with microscopy teaches at 2 distinct levels: direct knowledge, and indirect knowledge. Direct knowledge covers essentials in optics, design and features of different microscopes, specimen preparation, imaging, and measuring. Microscopy in secondary schools should include introductory instruction about electron microscopes, crystallography and diffraction, and, spectroscopy. Indirect knowledge is given when an image from microscopy is shown to illustrate a didactic subject in some other course (e.g., flowers or minerals, disease bacteria or viruses, the human eye, biofilms, LEDs, solid state computer devices, normal and cancer cells, polymers, etc.). Understanding microscopy thus helps students to learn about many other subjects. Specimens selected for classroom use always should include some objects already familiar to students, and, be coordinated with concurrent other courses.
What does microscopy do for science education that books and videos do not do?
For young students in primary school, looking is not enough!They must learn to see (e.g., substructure which is not visible to the naked eye), to think (e.g., why do we not always look at specimens only with the highest magnification lens?), to discuss (e.g., how can the diameter of human hairs best be measured?), and to ask questions. For learning, classes using microscopes have at least 7 major advantages over reading textbooks:
1. microscopy is a hands-on activity;
2. microscopy simultaneously involves activity by the eyes, hands, and brain;
3. “facts” are not learned; instead, how to use visual information, how to operate this optical instrument, and what exists in unseen worlds, are learned;
4. microscopy is very conducive to classroom discussions and Q&A, and is suitable both for individual efforts and group work;
5. optics of microscopes can be extended to also involve binoculars and telescopes;
6. students will learn both about optics and microscopes and about the different specimens being examined and discussed; and,
7. microscopy is fun! Dr.M. and some other scientists even consider microscopes to really be toys, as well as research tools!
One example of a primary school science class using light microscopy.
This laboratory class uses magnifying glasses (see: “Part 2” ) and dissecting light microscopes to examine a paper towel, a sheet of notebook paper, a bird feather, and skin on the human arm. It is preceded by a full introductory class that defines and explains lenses, magnification, resolution, and the basic design of the dissecting light microscope. Students each will study one specimen at a time; between specimens, their teacher engages them with questions and discussion.
In this primary school science class, the students should learn:
1. the practical aspects of what was presented in the preceding introductory class;
2. differences in magnification and resolution for the naked eye, a magnifying glass, and a dissecting light microscope;
3. that not everything which exists can be seen by our own eyes;
4. that papers are made of small fibers compressed together to varying degrees;
5. that flight feathers of birds are complex structures made of regularly spaced fibers attached to a stiff backbone strut; and,
6. that several sizes of hairs are present on normal human skin.
Duration for this lab session can be from 1-3 hours. If needed (e.g., because class time is limited to 45-60 minutes in length), the session described can be enlarged to become 2-3 consecutive sub-sessions; in that case, the specimens can be divided amongst the different periods. Note that everything listed above is done without imaging; if imaging is available, it certainly should be used and additional time will be needed. Ideally, this class can be followed later by another class working with compound light microscopes.
One example of a set of secondary school science classes involving microscopy.
For secondary schools, science classes using microscopy can be more detailed, and will include: (1) more emphasis upon the specific specimens being examined, (2) making actual calibrated measurements with a light microscope, and, (3) discussions and Q&A at a more advanced level. Electron microscopy also should be included (see next section).
This example uses a set of 3 consecutive sessions. The first class will instruct about the general design of a compound light microscope. A second class either will use compound light microscopes, or will watch projected images of one being used by their teacher, with 4 specimens: (1) a piece of a paper towel, (2) a piece of notebook paper, (3) a stained blood smear, and (3) a drop of pond water containing some protozoa. If available, imaging is performed and copies are distributed for each student’s notebook. The third class will be a Q&A session covering measurements of length; this features how images are calibrated for making size measurements, and an introduction to the standardized science scales for length. The first and third sessions will last for one hour each; the second class might require 2 or more hours.
In this secondary school science class, the students should learn:
1. the concepts for magnification, resolution, and practical usage with magnifying glasses, dissecting light microscopes, and compound light microscopes;
2. what can be visualized in a paper towel and a piece of notebook paper with a magnifying glass, dissecting light microscope, and compound light microscope;
3. what differences can be visualized in a stained smear of blood cells with the naked human eye, a dissecting light microscope, and a compound light microscope;
4. what are the standard scales for linear size;
5. how are accurate length measurements of small sizes made with microscopy; and,
6. how small are red blood cells?
Treatment of electron microscopy for science classes in secondary schools.
Only very few secondary schools have an electron microscope in-house. This important aspect of microscopy thus must be taught by showing images and videos, both of which are readily available on the internet (see “Part 3” ). At the very least, secondary school students should learn (1) the basic design of the transmission and scanning electron microscopes, and (2) their operational capabilities; this instruction can be given in one hour. In addition, a second hour-long class will present discussion of the most fundamental differences between light microscopes and electron microscopes:
1. electrons are charged, but photons are uncharged (i.e., they are neutral); thus, electron microscopes use electromagnetic lenses, while light microscopes use glass lenses;
2. electron microscopes have better resolution and give higher useful magnifications than do light microscopes;
3. electron microscopes can visualize individual atoms, unlike light microscopes;
4. light microscopes can image living cells, unlike electron microscopes;
5. light microscopes easily can produce no radiation damage, unlike electron microscopes;
6. light microscopes can examine wet or hydrated specimens much more easily than can electron microscopes; and,
7. electron microscopes cost much more to purchase and operate than do light microscopes.
Lets go beyond the usual classroom teaching!
One very special approach for teaching about electron microscopy in schools is to invite an electron microscopist from a local university or industry to present a gratis illustrated session describing what they do with electron microscopy in their work. For this teaching activity to succeed in secondary schools, the visitor absolutelymust: (1) simplify their presentation from the usual very detailed coverage, (2) not use more than a few specialized terms, and (3) leave a good 15 minutes (out of 50-60 total) for student questions about electron microscopy. I know that almost all electron microscopists would be pleased to contribute to local science education of schoolchildren (or adults!) in this way; the Microscopy Society of America provides instructions on “Locating a Microscopist-Volunteer” , which offers helpful advice for finding a suitable presenter.
Resources for science teachers about using microscopy in their classes.
There is an amazing amount of help available! Science teachers need not fear the fact that they have never before operated a microscope, because there are good instructional programs for their learning to do that. These include workshops on “how to do it” for light microscopes. Very much guidance, instruction, and practical help is available on the internet, including articles by teachers about their experiences with using microscopy in a school classroom. For example:
(1) Commercial manufacturers of light and electron microscopes, digital cameras, and microscopy accessories often offer extensive instructional material on their websites.
(2) Some light microscopes now are specifically manufactured for use in school classrooms, and cost much less than any used or new research instrument. Look up “light microscopes for schools” or “teaching light microscopy” in any Web Browser, and you will see prices and descriptions about what is available. For extensive guidance on the essential tasks of selecting what to buy and finding funds for purchasing, see: https://www.microscopy.org/education/projectmicro/buying.cfm .
(3) Some well-designed classes and needed materials for light microscopy are available commercially. These include complete kits with teaching guides and student manuals, raw specimens and prepared slides, and, all needed small equipment.
(4) Useful advice from teachers who already are using microscopy in their science classes is presented on quite a few websites (i.e., search for “Microscopy in the classroom” or “Teaching microscopy in schools”).
(5) “Microscopic Explorations” is a much acclaimed guidebook by GEMS (Great Explorations in Math and Science) that is targeted to Grades 4-8 in primary schools ( http://lhsgems.org/GEMmicro.html ).
Both light and electron microscopy are used extensively in industry and in all 3 branches of science. Microscopes can play a significant role for science education in primary and secondary schools. Use of microscopy in the classroom is distinctive because it: (1) involves eyes, hands, and the brain; (2) emphasizes learning for doing and understanding, rather than just acquiring another bunch of facts; and, (3) is directly related to learning about other topics in science and non-science. Teachers of science should seek to become more aware of what class modules already are available, and of the opportunities that teaching microscopy will provide to elevate the effectiveness of their classes.
Recommended by Dr.M for science teachers: further good internet resources.
Few research instruments are as widely used in science as are microscopes. I will present a very brief description of microscopy and the many different types of microscopes by this series of articles. These are not in-depth discussions, but rather are designed to provide an understandable background about microscopy for teachers, technicians, students, parents, and other beginning users. Since I want to keep everything concise and suitable for non-experts, I will not give the usual optical equations and mathematics, ray path diagrams, or standard instructions about how to use these microscopes!
The fundamental concepts and general terms for using microscopes and understanding microscopy were covered by “Part 1” , and light microscopy was presented by “Part 2” . Part 3 now presents electron microscopy; all beginners should first study Part 1.
Waves and optics: electrons and photons.
Electron waves/particles have several differences from light waves and photons: (1) electron waves are much smaller, meaning that resolution in electron microscopes is better than in light microscopes; (2) electrons are negatively charged, while photons are neutral, meaning that electron microscopes must utilize electromagnetic lenses rather than the glass lenses used for light microscopes; (3) electrons can be transmitted through only very thin specimens (e.g., 50-100 nanometers in thickness), meaning that the usual 5-10 micrometer thickness of slices used for light microscopy are not usable for electron microscopy because far too few electrons will be transmitted to reach the detector; and, (4) unlike photons, electrons interact very strongly with all atoms and molecules, therefore necessitating keeping their pathway inside electron microscopes at a high vacuum level. Beyond these prominent distinctions, the optics of electrons in electron microscopy have counterparts with the optics of photons in light microscopy; however, a multitude of controls for the vacuum system, high voltage generation, coordinated electronics and monitors, cameras, and associated accessories make electron microscopes much more complex than any light microscope.
General design of electron microscopes.
The chief components in electron microscopes are shown in the highly schematic diagram given above under the title. Many other parts are not depicted (see text for details!). This diagram can be readily compared to that given for compound light microscopes in the previous article (see: “Part 2”). Electron microscopes commonly are divided into 2 fundamental types depending upon how the specimen is irradiated by the beam of electrons (i.e., all at once, or point by point).
Different kinds of electron microscopes: common transmission electron microscopes.
For these instruments. an entire area of a specimen is irradiated by the electron beam all at once. Major components are kept in a high vacuum inside the column. Electrons are generated at high voltage (e.g., 50-1,000kV) from the electron gun (electron source) by emission induced from a hairpin or a pointed filament. An anode in the gun then draws the stream of electrons down the column into the several condenser lenses; these focus the beam onto the specimen. After transmission through a very thin specimen, the beam then passes into the objective lens. This strong lens contains an objective aperture (i.e., a sheet or disk of metal with a precise very small hole centered on the optical axis); this intercepts those transmitted electrons which have been strongly scattered by atoms in the specimen and prevents them from reaching the plane of detection, thereby creating image contrast. A series of several other electromagnetic lenses follows and acts to increase the magnification of the transmitted image; magnifications can range from 100X up to 1,000,000X. The transmitted electrons finally are received by an electron detector in a photographic or digital camera which records the image (i.e., an electron micrograph). In addition to images, electron diffraction patterns from crystalline specimens also can be recorded. Special attachments to transmission electron microscopes extend the capabilities of these instruments for diverse samples (e.g., frozen-hydrated specimens with cryomicroscopy, special specimen chambers for chemical reactions with in-situ microscopy and analysis, etc.).
Different kinds of electron microscopes: scanning electron microscopes.
These electron microscopes are functionally analogous to dissecting light microscopes, in that the natural or sliced surface of specimens is imaged. The beam of electrons is focused to a fine point by condenser lenses, and then is directed onto a specimen with a raster pattern, similarly to the way a television image is formed. Unlike transmission electron microscopes, minute parts of the specimen area to be examined are irradiated consecutively rather than all at once. Scanned imaging uses different electron detectors to capture one of several available signals (e.g., secondary electrons emitted by the specimen surface in response to being hit by the incoming primary electrons, backscattered electrons reflected from the specimen surface, etc.); these electron signals are received by a detector located above the specimen (i.e., the electrons forming an image are not transmitted through the specimen). Magnifications generally range from 10X to 30,000X.
Contrast in scanned images is mainly due to differences in topography and atomic composition of the specimen. These mechanisms produce different numbers of detected electrons, thus providing image contrast. Images from secondary electrons in scanning electron microscopes often have a 3-dimensional character due to shadowing by neighboring parts of the specimen. Image resolution levels usually are influenced by the characteristics of each specimen. Scanning electron microscopes mostly are used to image much finer details in surface structures than are given by a dissecting light microscope; however, resolution is poorer than that produced by transmission electron microscopes.
Different kinds of electron microscopes: scanning-transmission electron microscopes.
A third version of electron microscopes also exists, and is a hybrid of the two described above. Scanning-transmission electron microscopes irradiate the sample in a sequential raster pattern like scanning electron microscopes, but still form images from those electrons that are transmitted through the specimen (i.e., the electron detector is on the far side of the specimen, unlike the case for scanning electron microscopes). This optical arrangement can achieve atomic resolution and is utilized particularly for compositional mapping and for very high resolution imaging.
A number of specialized and experimental electron microscopes also are available for research usage, but will not be covered in this introductory presentation.
Specimen preparation for electron microscopy.
For study by transmission electron microscopy, good preparation of samples is vital in order to achieve high quality, reproducible, and artifact-free results. Samples most frequently are mounted onto a very thin film of carbon or plastic; this support film is held upon a metallic grid (i.e., similar to a window screen, but much thinner and smaller). Rocks and minerals, tissues, organs, and industrial products all must be prepared by slicing, thinning, or polishing into a thin enough state to permit the electron beam to penetrate through the specimen. In biology, specimens are chemically (i.e., buffered cross-linkers) or physically (i.e., very rapid freezing) fixed, then are dehydrated and embedded, and finally are sliced into ultrathin sections using an ultramicrotome (i.e., a special finely controlled cutting machine); these slices commonly are stained by heavy metal solutions in order to increase the image contrast. Electron microscope immunocytochemistry with specific antibodies is used to locate various protein components in ultrathin sections. Rapid freezing is used to prepare macromolecules and cells for electron cryomicroscopy; the frozen-hydrated unstained specimens are kept at liquid nitrogen or liquid helium temperature inside the electron microscope, thereby maintaining their native structure.
For scanning electron microscopy, non-conductive specimens must be treated by coating them with a conductor so they become conductive. Sample preparation aims to produce specimens that are (1) dry (i.e., simply putting a moist specimen into the high vacuum of an electron microscope will cause its collapse and other structural changes), (2) conductive (i.e., non-conducting samples give bad images due to their becoming charged under the beam), (3) producing a high level of signal (i.e., coating with a thin layer of metal produces increased numbers of secondary electrons, thus giving a brighter image), (4) compatible with higher resolution imaging, and, (5) free from artifacts.
What are electron microscopes actually used for?
The several different kinds of electron microscopes are used very extensively for imaging, diffraction, and analysis in all 3 branches of science, and also in industry. For research, they are utilized to examine normal, abnormal, and experimental structure, along with the amount and distribution of compositional elements. Other major uses include atomic level imaging, spectroscopy, and experimental electron optics. For crystallography in bioscience and materials science, electron diffraction patterns are essential for structural characterization; electron crystallography is an important special branch of applied electron optics. Enormous efforts have been devoted to producing better specimen preparation, since that has such a clear importance for determining exactly what can be imaged, detected, and meaningfully studied.
Correlative microscopy uses electron microscopes to obtain higher resolution details for specimens that first were imaged at moderate resolution and magnifications (e.g., by light microscopy). Their enormous range of magnifications can permit correlative microscopy to be conducted by a single transmission or scanning-transmission instrument. As one real example, defects and inclusions in semiconductor devices are first characterized by scanning electron microscopy and then analysis of their elemental distribution is mapped with a scanning-transmission electron microscope.
For those of us using electron microscopes in our daily work, they also provide quite a lot of fun! Electron microscopists are analogous to airline pilots looking down at a landscape!
The chief advantages and the chief problems of electron microscopes.
All electron microscopes stand out for their ability to image structure at higher resolution levels than can be achieved by light microscopy. Atomic-level structure now can be directly imaged; this capability is usable for many kinds of specimens, and excels for nanomaterials and materials science.
Electron microscopes are quite costly and purchase often can be justified only when made for a group of multiple users. Routine and special specimen preparations frequently are expensive, hazardous (due to exposure to toxic chemicals and nanoparticles), and give good results only with much training and experience of the technician or microscopist. The biggest problems for electron microscopy of biosamples, polymers, and wet materials are that: (1) they must be either frozen or dried, both of which easily can cause undesired changes in their native structure, and, (2) the same illuminating electrons that enable imaging also cause radiation damage to the specimen, thereby changing their native structure. Good images of artifacts are commonplace.
Recent developments in electron microscope instrumentation.
Modern electron microscopes have become increasingly sophisticated and specialized in their capabilities. The recent commercial production of correctors for electron optical lens aberrations now permits the measured level of resolution to be equal to the calculated theoretical resolution limit; this permits better atomic imaging and better compositional analysis to be achieved. New experimental approaches for the electron source, camera, and optical design are progressing nicely; new instrumentation accessories and new software are being developed every year.
Electron microscopy in science education.
Electron microscopy is very widely used in science education at secondary schools and colleges, but all that is almost completely hidden from students by their teachers! The source and nature of the many images from electron microscopy shown in classrooms are only rarely indicated! Examples of this silent treatment include cells and tissues, organelles and macromolecules, bacteria and viruses, solid state devices, polymers, fibers, minerals, metals and alloys, nanomaterials, etc.
Courses on electron microscopy mostly are found only in larger universities and specialized educational institutions. Recently, some manufacturers and certain institutions are offering opportunities for students and classes to use scanning or transmission electron microscopes having computerized control systems, either via the internet or by visiting a working facility.
The different kinds of electron microscopes have a high practical importance for enabling diagnosis of kidney diseases by examination of renal biopsies, reliable detection of causes for manufacturing defects and malfunctions in semi-conductors, advancement of understanding of normal and pathological cell substructure, detection and identification of disease microbes, development of nanomaterials and nanomachines, etc., etc. Technology developments for electron microscopes and for advanced specimen preparation are progressing vigorously in the modern world.
Let us now take a look at some images from electron microscopes!
Examples of images produced from all 3 kinds of electron microscopes are easily available on the internet. The following are recommended to you by Dr.M.
(1) A GOOD PLACE TO START: The semi-popular monthly journal, Microscopy Today, will give a good taste about what is going on currently (see: http://microscopy-today.com/jsp/common/home.jsf ). Most manufacturers of electron microscopes and related accessories have full-page advertisements in each issue. Articles about microscopy in education are a regular feature of this publication.
(2) A GALAXY OF IMAGES: For galleries with a multitude of images and diagrams, look up each of the 3 kinds of instruments (“transmission electron microscope”, “scanning electron microscope”, and “scanning-transmission electron microscope”) in the image section of your favorite internet browser. When you find something of personal interest among the many hundreds of panels shown, click on its thumbnail and you will be taken to the explanatory details directly provided by its source.
(3) ELECTRON MICROSCOPY OF NANOPARTICLES: Electron microscopy excels with specimens from nanoscience! Go to the website of the Nanoparticle Information Library at http://www.nanoparticlelibrary.net/results.asp and enter a search for “electron microscopy”; you will receive electron micrographs for 24 quite different nanoparticles, along with a brief report for each.
Very few research instruments have as widespread a usage in science as do microscopes. I will present a very brief and readily understandable description of microscopy and the many different types of microscopes in this short series of articles. These are not in-depth discussions, but rather are designed to provide a good introductory background about microscopy for teachers, technicians, students, parents, and other beginning users. Since I want to keep everything concise and suitable for non-experts, I will not utilize any of the usual optical equations and mathematics, ray path diagrams, or standard instructions about using microscopes!
The initial article in this series gave an overview of the most fundamental concepts and terms for using microscopes and understanding microscopy (see: “Part 1: Fundamentals for Beginners” ). This second Part examines light microscopes and light microscopy; all beginners are urged to first study Part 1. The fun of microscopy is pointed out throughout the entire series!
Different kinds of light microscopes: the dissecting light microscope.
The dissecting light microscope uses white light reflected from the surface of solid specimens to achieve a more moderate level of magnification and resolution than are obtained with compound light microscopes. The light source can be a ring lamp along the optical axis, giving illumination from all directions, or, a single focused light (i.e., a spotlight) that can be moved to shine onto soecimens at different angles and orientations. For examination of whole mounts or cut surfaces with a dissecting light microscope, the natural specimen thickness often is good. Only natural colors are observed (i.e., biological samples usually are not stained). The dissecting light microscope is valuable for showing finer details on natural surfaces or those produced by grinding or cutting. It provides higher magnifications and better resolution than are given by magnifying glasses, but gives lower magnifications and poorer resolution than are produced by compound light microscopes. It is always valuable for scientists to look at whole specimens with a dissecting light microscope before examining thin slices or polished specimens from the same sample at higher magnifications with a compound light micoscope.
Different kinds of light microscopes: the common compound light microscope.
The major parts of standard compound light microscopes are shown in the schematic diagram given above under the title. The mixture of many different colored waves within white light is used for the most common light microscopes. Better resolution is obtained if only a single wavelength of light is used (i.e., monochromatic waves, such as only green or only blue); the light waves with the smallest wavelength (e.g., ultraviolet waves) give the best optical resolution. Unlike the single lens in a magnifying glass, the common light microscopes have several compound lenses, each of which includes a group of several different single lenses arranged to function coordinately. This design with grouped lenses serves to increase useful magnifications, decrease optical aberrations, and provide ready resolution of small details in specimens.
The lenses in compound light microscopes are constructed from special glasses by industrial lensmakers. Typically, waves from a light source (e.g., a lamp bulb or LED) are focused onto the specimen by a condenser lens (assembly). Focus for all compound lenses is adjusted by moving either the assembly or the specimen up or down the optical axis; this is the same action used to focus a magnifying glass. Specimens commonly are mounted onto thin glass slides, which are held over a hole in the stage. Lateral movements of the slides are produced by the stage controls. After passing through a thin or transparent specimen where some absorption takes place, the transmitted waves then are focused by the objective lens (assembly) onto either the eyepiece lenses (monocular or binocular), or a viewing screen. The focused images are recorded by a detector using either photography or a digital camera. Magnifications typically run up to around 1,000 times natural size; the several objective lens assemblies mounted on a turret provide different amounts of magnification.
Preparation of specimens for light microscopy
Samples for a compound light microscope must be sufficiently thin to allow light waves to be transmitted through them (i.e., several micrometers thick). Typical specimens are several micrometers thick. Biological samples from organs typically are chemically fixed (e.g., buffered formalin), dehydrated to dryness, embedded into paraffin or a polymer, sectioned with a microtome (i.e., a special cutting machine), mounted onto glass slides, and finally stained with a general or specific chemical procedure; the added coloration enhances recognition of different tissues, cell types, and substructural elements. Physical materials often are ground into a thin layer or crushed into small particles; these then are mounted onto glass slides.
Specimen preparation is particularly important for determining what kinds of information can be produced by light microscopes. Thin samples usually are either whole mounts of very small objects (e.g., microbes, pollen, blood cells, microparticles produced by crushing, strands of polymers, etc.), or sections/slices through larger objects (e.g., slices 7 micrometers thick from larger fixed and embedded pieces of organs or other soft biomaterials; thin discs or wedges prepared from mineral or metallurgical samples). Various types of chemical treatments for specimens enable selective information to be acquired (e.g., precipitants, stains, immuno-cytochemistry, etc.). Recorded images of serial sections can be processed to show the third dimension of the specimen being examined.
Different kinds of light microscopes: more specialized light microscopes.
Phase contrast light microscopes contain objective and condenser lens groups with special optics so that changes in the phase of light waves passing through specimens are detected as a difference in contrast. By doing this, otherwise invisible parts of transparent objects (e.g., living cells, polymeric sheets, unstained sections of biomaterials, etc.) can be made visible and studied. The mounting of several different objective lenses upon a turret makes it easy to examine the same specimen alternatively with phase contrast or standard imaging. These microscopes are used widely with optically transparent specimens (e.g., cultured cells, protozoa, glasses, fibers, and polymers); staining usually is not utilized.
Polarizing light microscopes illuminate specimens with polarized light and have special lens systems that can detect smaller regions within larger specimens that have a different degree or orientation of ordering. With ordinary (i.e., unpolarized) white light, these differences are not visible. Polarizing light microscopes can observe ordered components within natural materials, sliced specimens, or thinned samples.
Fluorescence light microscopes image specimens treated wuth special dyes (e.g., stains) emitting fluorescence when illuminated by certain wavelengths. These compound light microscopes feature several optical filters designed to remove background intensity; the resultant images show one or several brilliant colors coming from the dyes utilized.
Confocal light microscopes utilize illumination from laser light source(s) with digital recording and computer processing to provide good images of small details within thicker volumes or slices.
Several other types of light microscopes use more optical arrangements to provide specialized detection of various properties in specimens, but will not be discussed here. An extensive range of accessories now are available for research use with light microscope instruments; these include chambers that keep living cells warm and well-fed during observation, and other chambers that enable catalyst particles to be observed within a monitored gaseous or wet environment.
Practical steps for using light microscopes.
A common sequence of operational steps is used with the several different kinds of light microscopes.
1. Preliminary preparation of the microscope. All compound lenses must be cleaned and aligned upon the optical axis.
2. Preparation of specimens to be examined. Specimen preparation aims to produce samples with the required small size or thinness, having a surface revealing the desired information, and retaining the structural properties found naturally.
3. Mounting of dried or wet specimens for study. Samples for light microscopy most commonly are mounted upon a clean glass slide. Some wet samples are dried by evaporation directly onto slides; others go through special procedures for dehydration and drying so as to avoid damage to fragile specimens. Addition of a mounting medium and a very thin cover glass provides a good stable environment for most samples.
4. Imaging. Images of samples are recorded at both low and higher magnifications.
5. Analysis of recorded images. The recorded image is a light micrograph; this is not simply a snapshot, but rather is a package of experimental data that can be analyzed qualitatively (e.g., condition of structural features) and/or quantitatively (e.g., numerical measurements of various features).
Recent advances in light microscopy.
Light microscope technology continues to advance! Light microscopes until recently were able to resolve very fine details only to a limit of around 0.2 micrometers, as first determined with optics by Ernst K. Abbe in classical times; after all the many following decades of light microscopy, new special approaches recently succeeded in surpassing that limit. Special optical arrangements recently developed for light microscopy now allow super-resolution to be obtained (see: “Press Release – 2014 Nobel Prizes in Chemistry” , and, “Explanatory Notes for 2014 Kavli Prize in Nanoscience” ). New types of illumination and new optical arrangements now are exciting brain researchers because they can allow individual nerve cells (neurons) to be imaged deep within the brain. Advances and new protocols for specimen preparation also continue to be developed, and serve to enlarge the types of information that can be retrieved by light microscopy.
The most general advantages of light microscopy.
Light microscopes usually are rather easy to use, applicable to an enormously wide variety of samples, and involve only a moderate cost. Sample preparation and preservation are well worked out in detail. Compound light microscopes can be readily adapted to image dynamic changes in samples (e.g., video or time lapse recordings of living cells) and to analyze the third dimension of structure. The extensive range of specimens that can be examined by light microscopy means that there are a gigantic number of ways for scientists to have fun applying these tools for their research studies.
Light microscopes in education.
More and more primary and secondary schools are adding light microscopy to their activities for science education. Light microscopes can be somewhat costly for schools to acquire, but they last a long time and each one can serve at least 3-6 students in a laboratory class; acquiring a viewing screen or a projection device permits much larger groups to observe results from only a single microscope. Working with light microscopes and studying their images can be used not only to teach students about optics, measurements, and scientific research, but additionally to instruct about the biology, chemistry, and physics of those specimens being examined.
Most students are inherently interested in observing a stained blood smear, first with a magnifying glass, then with a dissecting light microscope, and finally with a compound light microscope at increasing magnifications. Watching living protozoa (e.g., from local pond water) with a compound light microscope will be an amazing experience for all sudents, even those maintaining zero interest in science; for these samples, phase contrast microscopes are not needed, since defocusing usually will provide sufficient contrast to see the transparent unicellular creatures.
Many classroom exercises with light microscopy have been developed by Caroline Schooley and her colleagues working with Project MICRO at the Microscopy Society of America (see: http://www.microscopy.org/education/ProjectMicro/index.cfm ). Special sessions about Project MICRO are held during the annual meetings of this national science society (see: https://www.microscopy.org ); the same meetings usually also have special presentations about microscopy aimed at teachers and the general public.
Light microscopes continue to be very vital research tools for all 3 branches of science. Their large importance for research applications is matched by its importance for industrial uses in failure analysis and fabrication fidelity. One of its most special capabilities is the observation of living cells. In conjunction with old and newly developed methods for specimen preparation, light microscopy in 2015 is utilized extensively for the identification and localization of different components within larger specimens; this is true for pathology, minerology, metallurgy, materials science, and cell biology. Today, organized programs for teaching and using light microscopy in the classroom form a successful hands-on part of modern science education in primary and secondary schools.
Recommended for further information about light microscope images and videos.
After reading about light microscopy you now are ready to look at images! The internet provides an extensive variety of images from light microscopy; Dr.M recommends that you start by inspecting the following sources.
1.IMAGES: For galleries with a multitude of images and diagrams from light microscopy, look up “light microscope” or “light microscopy” in the image section of your favorite web browser. When you find something of interest among the many hundreds of collected panels displayed, click on its thumbnail and you will be taken to the explanatory details provided by its source.
2. WEBSITE ABOUT MICROSCOPY: A large variety of images, knowledge, and explanations is available at: http://microscopyu.com . Some commercial companies selling light microscopes also have a portion of their website devoted to explaining how these instruments work and what they can accomplish (e.g., Leica, Nikon, Olympus, Zeiss, etc.).
4. LATEST NEWS:The specialist monthly journal, Microscopy Today, features all aspects of modern microscopy (i.e., news, methods, commercial offerings, meetings, teaching using microscopes, web Q & A, history, optics, etc.). Free subscriptions are available at: http://www.microscopy-today.com/jsp/common/home.jsf .
5.SCIENCE IS ART: For those either agreeing or disagreeing with me that science and art can be almost interchanged, please see “Small World Photomicroscopy Gallery” at: http://www.nikonsmallworld.com/galleries .
Microscopy gives a wealth of information! (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Very few research instruments have as widespread a usage in science as do microscopes. They also are a very useful tool for industries (e.g., failure analysis and monitoring fidelity at a fabrication and production facility), hospitals (e.g., pathology diagnosis, identification of microbial infections, determining hematology status, etc.), minerology, metallurgy, crystallography, etc. In recent years, microscopes have become more available and more utilized for science education in primary and secondary schools. For those of us using microscopes for our work, they additionally provide quite a lot of fun!
In this short series of articles, I will present a very brief and readily understandable description of microscopy and the different types of microscopes. These are not in-depth discussions, but are designed to give an introductory background about microscopy for teachers, technicians, parents, students, and beginning users. I have tried to make everything concise and good for non-experts. Although simplified explanations will be given, some recommended resources for deeper coverage also are provided.
The initial article gives an overview of the most fundamental concepts for microscopes and microscopy. These topics precede actual usage of any microscopes. The following articles will briefly explain the main kinds of microscopes used in 2015. A final article outlines utilization of microscopes for education in primary and secondary schools.
How do microscopes actually work?
Microscopes permit observation of structure, function, and composition that cannot be seen with the naked eye. All the common kinds of microscopes are governed by the branch of physical science known as optics; this describes exactly how microscopes use lenses to form images. A common example of a single lens is the magnifying glass; one need not know anything at all about optics to have fun using one! Compound lenses have multiple single lenses working together to give higher magnification of specimens. As magnification is increased, good compound lenses will reveal smaller and smaller details. Magnifications for typical ordinary uses range from 3 times (3X) to several hundred times (300X) larger than the natural size; for special microscopes, magnifications can go all the way up to a million times their natural size (1,000,000X).
The size of small details that can be visualized with sufficient magnification is limited by the level of resolution. Resolution can range from detection of specimen details that cannot quite be seen with the naked eye (i.e., low resolution), up to visualizing individual atoms (i.e., very high resolution). The resolution level for microscopes is determined by optics, and varies with the kind of lenses and microscope being used.
The functioning of microscopes is generally analogous to the production of images by our eyes. That involves light waves bouncing off some object, passing through our pupils and ocular lenses, and then being detected by our retinas. Most imaging in microscopy uses shining waves onto or through a specimen, then passing them through lenses, and finally registering them on a detector; detectors for microscopy record the waves hitting them via cameras that use either photographic film or digital memory. For microscopy, lenses first focus waves onto the specimen, and then onto the detector. Imaging requires contrast (i.e., relative amount of lighter vs. darker components); this is produced in most microscopes when the specimen causes some portion of the waves to not be transmitted to the detector, due to being absorbed or scattered.
The several compound lens sysytems in microscopes provide enough magnification and sufficient resolution to resolve some small details in specimens. Recorded images give a permanent record of what was observed, and also can be used to make measurements and counts of the small details. Basically, resolution determines the information content of images made with any microscope. In some cases, the smallest details known to be present in a specimen are not able to be imaged because the lenses lack enough resolution even at high magnifications; this is empty magnification.
Information about chemical composition of a specimen also is available from some types of microscopes. Analytical microscopy detects the amount of some element or compound, and/or their location, within the specimen being examined. Resolution here corresponds to the ability to accurately measure amounts for several elements or compounds that differ only slightly. Compositional information is usually displayed as a spectral histogram, with the vertical axis denoting quantity and the horizontal axis showing a scale differentiating the elements or compounds. The compositional data also can be displayed superimposed upon a regular image of the specimen; this mapping shows exactly where some element or chemical component is located.
The different kinds of microscopes.
The most general way of characterizing microscopes is by the type of waves used to view the specimen. Our own eyes produce images using light waves coming from (e.g., stars, neon signs, etc.) or reflected off different specimens (e.g., birds, leaves, other people, etc.). Different portions of the electromagnetic spectrum are used by the 2 main kinds of microscopes: (1) light waves, ranging from ultraviolet, through all the visible colors, and on into infrared, are used in light microscopes, and, (2) electron waves, which are very much smaller than light waves, are used in electron microscopes.
The wavelengths utilized, and the quality of the lenses present, determine the level of resolution given by each microscope. Smaller wavelength and higher quality lenses give higher resolution (i.e., the ability to see and image finer details in a specimen). Bacteria are too small to be observed with the naked eye or with a magnifying glass, but can be seen with a good light microscope; electron microscopes use wavelengths very much smaller than those found in visible light, and so are able to not only easily image bacteria and viruses, but also can show very small details within those objects (i.e., substructure).
There are several other important special types of microscopes, but they will not be included here since this article presents only an introductory coverage.
How is microscopy important for ordinary people?
Microscopes are used for very many different purposes, including usage for research. Images from microscopy show enough details to permit detection, identification, and authentification of many different objects and conditions. The discipline of pathology in clinical medicine uses microscopy extensively for the diagnosis of disease states and the identification of microbes causing infections. Microscopy provides an ideal tool for making size measurements of small objects and smaller details within them; thus, it is fundamental for analysis of all levels of structure. Microscopy often is used to evaluate quality (e.g., perfection of small crystals to be used for x-ray diffraction; status of solid-state semi-conducting components). Developing new high technology directly depends upon microscopy. Dynamic imaging of specimens that are changing with time reveals the course of changes and positions of constituent parts; this capability is a major feature of microscopy at both low and high magnifications. All these capabilities make microscopy very widely used, meaning that microscopes are very important for everyone!
The “simplest microscope” of all is fun and can be useful for science education!
The very simplest microscope often is not recognized as such! A magnifying glass (e.g., a single plastic or glass lens within a holder, provides a magnification of 2-5X) uses white light waves in the visible spectrum to show us some smaller details that cannot be discerned with the naked eye. A magnifying glass is a single lens; light and electron microscopes use compound lenses made from several single lenses working together. Just as you focus images with a magnifying glass by moving either the lens or the specimen along a line towards your eyes, so do light microscopes focus by moving either compound lenses up and down from a specimen, or by moving the specimen relative to stationary lenses.
Teachers should recognize that magnifying glasses are inexpensive, difficult to break, and easy to use by all students. The concepts of a lens, magnification, resolution, and focusing become rapidly understood from hands-on usage, and some unexpected small details often are discovered by young students. Easy specimens for examination with a magnifying glass are table salt or granular sugar, a leaf from a plant, a piece of Kleenex tissue, a cut piece of any fruit, and, skin hairs and scratches on the student’s own forearm.
Even though we have not yet looked at any actual microscope or images, you now should have a good very basic understanding about microscopy, what are the different types of microscopes, and how is microscopy so very important in the modern world. In the next article of this series, we will take a closer look at light microscopy.
As a scientist, I believe that I also am an artist! My science is my art, and my art is my science! I am not referring only to esthetic beauty of the output from scientific research, but also to the mental beauty found in numbers and equations, spectroscopic curves, theoretical concepts, and crystallography. Science certainly is distinctive, but also has many similarities to art.
Similarities and differences between science and art.
The standard opinion is that science and art are nearly opposite endeavors. My own view is that science and art often are interchangeable! Art frequently is a representation of something real or imagined, and so is analogous to a model or hypothesis in science. Art can be quite stylized (e.g., portaits), and so can the output of science (e.g., histograms of measurements). Both art and science are produced by an individual or a small group of people, and usually reflect some of their special skills and personal characteristics. A sculpture by a modern Italian artist differs in style from a sculpture produced by an Inuit artist even if they use the same stone and depict the same subject; such differences can be described with language and words for art, or with numbers and measurements in science. Sculpted figures clearly are three-dimensional representations, and so are the detailed structural models for a virus.
Most artists like to produce something that is new, personal, and striking. Scientists can have exactly this same goal for their research work! Creativity has the same meaning for art and science. Whether scientific research studies produce spectroscopy curves for a new nanomaterial, images of living genetically-modified cells, or, tables of numbers from astronomy and astrophysics, their output is quite beautiful for the eyes of scientists and also for those of many non-scientists. Rather than create images from their imagination, as do some artists, scientists make them by skillful use of research experiments, instruments, and data analysis.
One very large difference between art and science immediately pops into view: science often is displayed in black and white, but art mostly is displayed with colors. Some scientists purposely add colors to their grayscale images or data plots so as to make them more comprehensible and more interesting. A very simple, but good, example of the significance of colors is given in the text figure below, shown both in its purely black/white condition (upper panel) and with one added color (lower panel).
The information or statement provided in these 2 versions is identical, but the human mind is definitely more attracted to and tickled by the one with color(s)!
Images from science can be seen as abstract art!
People looking at graphic art often do not know exactly how this was constructed, yet they either like or dislike the display. Similarly, viewers seeing images from science often have zero understanding about what they are looking at or what it means; nevertheless, they will feel that one of several displayed images is prettier or more interesting than the others. I believe that this phenomenon is directly similar to the emotional judgments of viewers (including scientists and other artists!) regarding a piece of abstract art where nothing at all is recognizable. In both art and science, the emotional reactions of viewers are quite independent of their knowledge.
As one example of what I mean here, let us look together at an electron microscope image of a mitochondrion (see image shown under the title for this article). That object is one of the energy-producing organelles found inside all nucleated cells of humans, onions, sharks, jellyfish, butterflies, yeasts, and protozoa. All mitochondria (plural) have the same basic structure, but often differ in small details from one cell type (e.g., cells in salivary glands that produce and secrete saliva) to another cell type (e.g., islet cells in the pancreas making and secreting insulin).
Let’s say you have never before seen an image of a mitochondrion and had not even known they existed until now. Despite this ignorance, when you first looked at the foregoing image, certain feelings popped into your mind (e.g., “how cute!”, “how bizarre!”, or, “does it bite?”). You were reacting solely to the art within this science image! You can convert your reaction to the science inside this same image simply by learning more about the parts, structure, and functional activities of mitochondria; then, when looking again at the same image you might feel “how interesting!”, or wonder “what happens in cancer cells?”. The art and the science are both parts of this same display!
Beauty in science.
For Dr.M, beauty in science is everywhere! If one looks with a special light microscope at a solution of DNA while it is in the process of drying, one will see images that are exquisitely beautiful (see images and videos at: http://biancaguimaraesportfolio.com/mssng/ ). Many people will dispute my judgement, because they will say that chemicals or chemistry could not truly be beautuful and any apparent beauty is only some artifact or optical trick. My answer is that this example has all the elements needed for artistic drama: special characters, different paths of movement, balance or imbalance, discrete stages of development, boundaries, suspense, stylized situations, and the possibility for unanticipated endings; further, the videos show the specimen and colors moving and changing similarly to a troop of dancers gliding about on a stage. All of this easily can lead to a judgment of being pretty. Can you see beauty here?
Good examples of striking beauty in science.
A wonderful example of what I am trying to describe as “beauty in science” is shown in the collection of images from the Hubble telescope, taken as part of its astronomical research mission (e.g., see: http://hubblesite.org/gallery/wallpaper/pr2007030c/ ). Even without knowing exactly what real objects are present in these fantastic images from outer space, most people will perceive contours and boundaries, several repetitive components, some symmetries, connections and groupings, and certain repeated shapes, all of which lead to their conscious or subconscious judgment about the presence of beauty in these images. There is no true up or down in these images from outer space (e.g., view them at different rotations and you will see that these give quite different impressions to the human mind).
Science and art have a number of common aspects, including beauty, simplicity vs. complexity, mood, and tension. On the one hand, an artist creates a canvas or sculpts a figure; on the other hand, a research scientist collects experimental data and derives conclusions from their analysis. Both artists and scientists feature creativity, mental vision, hard work, experience, and personal talent. The outputs from both art and science can be pretty, stimulating, and meaningful, or, can be ugly, boring, and meaningless; each individual viewer must make this judgment.
Some scientists can be almost as creative as are artists. Some artists are as concerned about very small details as much as are scientists. Both workers produce outputs that stimulate the senses of onlookers. Both scientists and artists are essential for human society, and both types of authors should be more widely appreciated by everyone for their creative talents and expressive output.
What results come from controversies between research scientists?
The result of controversies between scientists basically is either a decision about which position triumphs, or a continuation of the unresolved dispute. Some loud controversies do not yield any settlement for many decades and sometimes never end (e.g., Darwin’s theory about evolution was published over 100 years ago, but still remains controversial). Disputes between scientists often have inputs from outside science (e.g., governments, religions, other cultures, dedicated institutions, businesses, associations, etc.); in such cases, arguments that originally were about science often shift into debates about official national or local policies, public health regulations, cultural and religious restrictions, predicted expansions of business profits, policy alliances, international interests and conflicts, etc. These non-science factors make such disputes much more complex, and easily can prevent any agreements about the science aspects from being reached.
Where a controversy can be kept at the level of science and research, further experimental investigations usually will permit some agreement or a consensus to be reached. In principle, if good experimental data are available, then any controversy between scientists should be settled readily; failure to arrive at a decision for a pure dispute about science can simply indicate that the needed experimental data are not yet available.
What can we learn about disputes between scientists?
In my personal opinion, all the following generalizations about controversies between scientists are valid and worthy of recognition.
(1) Arguments about science occur between scientists all the time, but infrequently reach awareness of the public.
(2) Issues in disputes that strictly involve science often are settled when further or better experimental data are acquired.
(3) Disputes between scientists are normal and good for science; the progress of scientific research always depends upon asking questions about everything.
(4) Many controversies between scientists about research are settled, particularly when further experiments are conducted; however, some other controversies never end.
(5) External factors often enter controversies involving science; this always makes the issues become more complex, since non-science factors inject self-interest, ignorance, and money into the dispute.
(6) Scientists in complex controversies often are being used; giving expert testimony about science commonly is intended to gain support for some non-science position.
(7) When scientists work for a company or a governmental agency, they must only support the views of their employer and so are not really free to objectively seek the truth; thus, expert testimony by doctoral scientists can have aims quite outside science.
(8) In theory, it would be better to initially let expert scientists argue and decide about the science, and only then let outside interests start disputing what should be done (e.g., by authorities, government, industries, lawyers, officials).
(9) Controversies between scientists can be ended outside science (i.e., by external authority, laws, or institutions); although an official decree can stop a dispute, the issues for science might not be settled.
(10) It takes personal courage and strong determination for a professional research scientist to maintain their position when confronted and opposed by traditional beliefs, esteemed authorities, government figures, or large crowds of opponents; those individuals who do continue to argue against such opposition always should be highly respected for their personal integrity and dedication to science.
Types of disputes involving science and scientists.
Based upon the above generalizations, we can identify and characterize several fundamental types of controversies involving science and scientists.
(1) Small disputes (e.g., 2 scientists do not agree about the best interpretation of some research data) vs. large disputes (e.g., many scientists and many in the public disagree about what should be done about humans intentionally altering the weather).
(2) Disputes within science (e.g., scientists in a discipline of science disagree about whether some new technology is truly a part of their research focus) vs. disputes with outsiders (e.g., scientists working in a laboratory facility disagree with local officials about whether their research activities pose any hazard to local residents).
Controversies between scientists are a prominent feature of science and research. These disputes are wonderful since they halp ensure that scientists are succeeding in seeking and actually finding the truth. When interests outside science enter disputes between scientists, the arguments become much more complex and more difficult to settle. The input of scientists into large and complex disputes is most meaningful when made for issues involving science and research, versus those issues involving the entire public (including scientists as citizens).
When scientists dispute something, attention generally is given to their research data and arguments, but not to the individual people. As a followup to the materials about disputes between scientists presented in Part I, Part II, and Part III, this article examines an individual scientist who is courageously active in disagreeing with some other scientists about several public health issues. Prof. Stephanie Seneff currently is best known for her proposed identification of a direct cause for the childhood malady, autism. She vividly exemplifies how unusual new thoughts by a scientist and new approaches to scientific research can produce unexpected advances for science and society. Following some introductory material, I will let Dr. Seneff speak for herself via some video recordings.
Who is Prof. Stephanie Seneff, and what does she investigate?
Dr. Seneff is a very active product of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she is a Senior Research Scientist at the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory ( http://people.csail.mit.edu/seneff/ ). Her collegiate degree in Biophysics was followed by a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (1985). For her earlier investigations, she used computation to model human audition and to develop understanding about language in conversations between humans and computers. More recently, Dr. Seneff has sought to identify correlations between human disease states, known biochemical and physiological pathways, and alterations produced by pathophysiology in diseases; this approach necessitates surveying extensive bodies of knowledge, but can lead to recognition of hidden interactions causing the known signs and symptoms of a disease. She has fruitfully applied this research approach to heart disease, brain and nervous sytem pathology, and developmental disorders; her findings and proposals are new, provocative, and often run counter to commonly held and widely supported beliefs in medical science (e.g., she has suggested that statin drugs actually hurt heart disease patients, and that reduced cholesterol levels are bad).
Prof. Seneff is a very controversial scientist. She is curious, open minded, fascinated by details, and driven to find answers to research questions. Current investigations center on her controversial conclusion that autism and certain other diseases are caused by the weed killer, glyphosate, from the popular agricultural herbicide, Roundup®. Dr. Seneff’s conclusions and proposals immediately resulted in her being criticized by large commercial concerns; not only were her research results and conclusions questioned, which is perfectly good, but there also were very personal attacks. She has never hesitated to vigorously push ahead with health-related research, in an effort to use her new scientific knowledge and insight to invite changes in current medical practices.
To get to know Dr. Seneff and her work, I recommend the selected video presentations listed below (1-5). These videos illustrate her background, controversial proposals, and commitment to science; they also give a glimpse into why curiosity and independent thinking are so highly important for research scientists. Many other videos also are available on the internet, including some disagreeing with Dr. Seneff’s proposals.
Prof. Stephanie Seneff is controversial because she is a very good scientific researcher! If and when her proposal about what causes autism becomes proven and accepted, an explosion of remedial measures then will be taken immediately in order to prevent her startling prediction that by 2025 half of new births in the USA will have autism. Even if she is mistaken, which I do not think will be the case, her controversial proposals serve to draw needed attention by researchers and government officials to critical health issues in the modern world.
The small organic chemical, glyphosate, kills many broadleaf plants and is the chief ingredient of the very popular herbicide, Roundup®, produced by the Monsanto Corporation. Glyphosate is used in agriculture to kill weeds and also for pre-harvesting applications to wheat. Its usage on farms rose dramatically when Monsanto also developed Roundup® Ready crop seeds (see: http://www.monsanto.com/products/pages/monsanto-agricultural-seeds.aspx ); these mutants of corn, soybeans, and other crops have resistance to higher levels of glyphosate that kill their nonresistant counterparts Today, (1) Roundup® and strains of crops more tolerant to glyphosate are in very widespread use on farms all over the world, (2) normal pollination by airborne dispersal easily results in crossbreeding of resistant and non-resistant strains, (3) widespread usage of Roundup® in modern agriculture means that resistant strains automatically spread and take over any neighboring fields originally planted with only non-resistant strains, and, (4) the amount of glyphosate-containing agricultural products consumed by humans is substantial and is increasing.
The first article in this series provided a general background for controversies involving scientists (see: Part I ). The second article discussed the ongoing controversy about global warming and climate change (see: Part II ). This essay examines the ongoing controversy about whether glyphosate is benign or harmful to humans.
How does glyphosate get inside humans?
Glyphosate enters human bodies via several different routes: (1) ingestion of agricultural crop products containing glyphosate due to treatment with Roundup®, (2) drinking of water having small or large glyphosate contents, (3) breathing of atmospheric glyphosate microparticulates due to its widespread dispersal during agricultural applications, (4) ingestion of farm aninals which ate corn or other plant material treated with Roundup®, and, (5) ingestion of bovine milk, chicken eggs, and other animal products.
Basically, everyone living on this planet now has glyphosate within their body. Monsanto originally performed short-term research studies showing that glyphosate has very low toxic effects upon humans. However, long-term research data for chronic exposures are missing. Very high levels of glyphosate inside human food sources mostly are being ignored by regulatory agencies, many farmers, and most scientists. The primary question for health researchers and clinical doctors is, “Does glyphosate have any toxic and pathological effects in humans?”. This is avery straightforward research question and should be readily answered by scientific investigations.
What does scientific research on glyphosate find about its safety?
An extensive examination of published biochemical investigations recently showed that glyphosate could have quite a few undesired consequences upon humans and mammals, aquatic organisms, and bacteria . The changes in metabolism caused by glyphosate affect cytochrome P450, enzymes, sulfate balance, amino-acid dynamics, and the human gut microbiome; these changes are alleged to be involved in such pathological states as Alzheimer’s disease, autism, breast cancer, developmental anomalies, irritable bowel syndrome, obesity, and vitamin-D deficiency . People already have been exposed to Roundup® for many years, but its causation of disease states remains uncertain; plausable associations alone are not sufficient to establish causality. Worrisome new research findings showing involvement of glyphosate in human pathology are disputed by Monsanto and some other scientists.
A good published, but retracted, experimental study by Séralini et al  investigated chronic toxicity in rats exposed to glyphosate in various forms and dosages. This professional research report aroused an amazing degree of controversy [3,4], resulting in empty disputes, personal attacks, and improper activities by the publishing journal . Regretably, that dispute includes documented examples where scientists associated with Monsanto have restricted publication of research manuscripts showing that glyphosate can be quite harmful to the health of humans and animals; this has caused accusations that some science journals are not honest, use double standards for review of manuscripts, and have become subordinate to commerce .
The United States Food and Drug Administration.
If Roundup® might be dangerous, why is it not being researched and regulated more? The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is charged with monitoring and regulating public safety of all the many chemicals, foods, and materials used in our country ( http://www.fda.gov/Food/ ). Toxicologists working at the FDA investigated glyphosate toxicity and established that anything below a certain level is not harmful to humans. Toxicologists in other countries conducted similar evaluations to establish a safe level, but some of their approved values are smaller than that validated by the FDA. Certain countries even ban use of glyphosate and genetically-modified crops resistant to glyphosate. Nevertheless, millions of pounds of glyphosate now are used annually on farms around the globe .
Almost all Americans are totally reliant on the FDA to keep them safe from poisons and dangerous foods. What does the FDA say about the glyphosate controversy? The answer is “not much”, since their scientists apparently are not conducting all the needed measurements. Why have these not been conducted? Or, why were the needed assays indeed conducted, but the results are not released? Is Monsanto influencing risk assessment by the FDA?
Could human diseases be caused by glyphosate?
Several different disease states now are postulated to be caused directly or indirectly by glyphosate [e.g., 1]. Where the incidence of these pathological states has risen in time, data for the amount and distribution of glyphosate in people runs a closely parallel course. The health implications of the glyphosate controversy are very extensive; it has even been proposed that the problem associated with gluten in bread actually is a problem with its glyphosate content . Clearly, much more research is badly needed; despite the increasing association of glyphosate with pathology, definitive causality of human diseases by this chemical has not yet been proven.
Many glyphosate-containing weed-killers now are being marketed to farmers. These contain different additives (e.g., adjuvants, detergents, surfactants) that enhance the toxic effects of glyphosate upon plants. This enhancement is due to augmented absorption by agricultural plants, thereby giving humans eating them an increased dosage . The amount of glyphosate in foods also is increased by the fact that many farmers now are adding additional Roundup® to their crops to deal with the new presence of glyphosate-resistant weeds. Global governmental regulations of approved glyphosate levels have conveniently been raised by large amounts to handle this new situation . Thus, despite the increasing evidence suggesting that glyphosate could have some bad effects upon human health, people eat more and more Roundup® each and every year .
The controversy about the alleged human toxicity of glyphosate and Roundup® already is more than a decade old. Despite the suggested pathology, the amount of glyphosate eaten by humnans and accumulating inside them constantly increases . It is alarming that the potential public health disaster of chronic glyphosate toxicity is not being researched much more vigorously by scientists.
This ongoing controversy not only has scientists arguing with other scientists, but also has scientists disputing with a very large well-established commercial company. The scientific issues regarding glyphosate toxicity are rather straightforward, but the needed research studies are not being conducted; it is suspected that these investigations are being hindered by Monsanto’s total focus on business profits.
While this controversy drags on, what should people do? Foods now are grown by some farmers without using exposure to Roundup® and are becoming more readily available in grocery stores. As one researcher involved with the glyphosate controversy has advised, “Go organic!” .
 Samsel, A., and Seneff, S., 2013. Review. Glyphosate’s suppression of cytochrome P450 enzymes and amino acid biosynthesis by the gut microbiome: Pathways to modern diseases. Entropy15:1416-1463.
 Séralini, G. E., Clair, E., Mesnage, R., Gress, S., Defarge, N., Melatesta, M., Hennequin, D., and de Vendômois, J. S., 2012. Retracted. Long term toxicity if a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize. Food and Chemical Toxicology50:4221-4231.
 Séralini, G. E., Mesnage, R., Defarge, N., Gress, S., Hennequin, D., Clair, E., Malatesta, M., and de Vendômois, J. S., 2013. Answers to critics: why there is a long term toxicity due to NK603 Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize and to a Roundup herbicide. Food and Chemical Toxicology53:476-483.
Controversy is good generally because it encourages discussion, questioning, debates, and testing of ideas. For science, controversy is completely essential as part of the search to find what is true. Both in the classical times and in modern years, some controversies between scientists take a very long time to be resolved. Disputes involving science today mostly feature scientists disagreeing with: (1) other scientists, (2) local administrators, (3) government officials and granting agencies, (4) regulatory bodies, and, (5) commercial companies. Disputes in conditions 2-5 often follow different rules than in class 1, and commonly aim for other goals than just finding the truth.
Controversies involving scientists are important for everyone because they often are the basis for making new laws and regulations. This series of articles examines different types of controversies involving professional scientists. Part I provides essential backround for the entire series. Later, we will take a look at certain specific disputes and some courageous scientists.
Controversies between individual scientists.
After research results are collected and analyzed, doctoral scientists in universities or industries typically interpret their data and then reach conclusions about what these show and mean. Forming interpretations and reaching conclusions often lead to disputes between scientists; that is completely normal and good. For controversies between scientists, the most essential question in all of science is at the forefront: “What is the evdence?”. When forced to discuss the opposing arguments, each side claims to have more expertise, and both point to features supporting their position or weakening the opponent’s position. In most cases, the opposing scientists will then conduct further research studies to try to find more definitive support for their positions. Soon, other researchers can begin participating in that debate about the truth.
This kind of controversy can be settled when the total evidence for one side becomes overwhelming, the number of other scientists agreeing with one position rises to a level sufficient to silence the opposition, or, the stalemated controversy withers and disappears after becoming seen to have little practical importance for science or society. Although this type of common dispute can become nasty and personal, most level-headed professional research scientists will abide by whatever conclusions are supported by reliable experimental results.
Controversies between scientists and local officials.
Controversies between scientists and local officials are quite different from those involving only other scientists. When scientists are confronted by local officials claiming that some rule or restriction is being violated, they typically try to make some changes aimed at either satisfying their accuser, or at least bringing their violation beneath the level of immediate concern. Some examples of typical responses by scientists are: (1) “I’m so very sorry … I forgot about that” (e.g., turn in some periodic inventory of a toxic chemical), (2) “I asked my technician to do that, but she was out with a bad cold last week” (e.g., bring some regulated waste from the lab over to a shipping dock), or, (3) “I’m going to a meeting next week, so I’ll have that ready for you in about 2-3 weeks” (e.g., clean up some mess in the lab). All such responses by a scientist cannot win against official authorities, but they do gain more time for the busy scientist to take corrective action.
Controversies between scientists and government.
Just like ordinary people, scientists can disagree with some policies, priorities, or pronouncements of government officials. The yearly crop of new governmental regulations for conducting research experiments often is disputed and resented by many scientists. Any controversy with the government is inherently risky for scientists, because they can come to influence the hoped for continuation of their research grant support. Particularly galling for scientists are any type of negative judgments by the agencies handling competitions for research grants. Scientists receiving only partial funding for a successful grant application usually become depressed and angry that they now cannot conduct the full range of their planned research experiments. However, any scientist serving on a panel reviewing research grant applications soon comes to realize that evaluations of proposals and judgments of funding priority are decisions which are inherently complex, difficult, and filled with divergent viewpoints. Since authority always can override opposition, there is little point in trying to win by open dispute; it is nuch better to win by channeling efforts into composing a better stronger proposal.
Controversies involving scientists and commercial businesses.
When disputes about some commercial product arise (e.g., activities, capabilities, performance, precision, sturdiness, etc.), the manufacturer often releases facts and figures obtained from research by their own in-house scientists and engineers. The opposing side also will have some scientists providing data that support its position. Both sides here will claim to have more authority and better data. This type of controversy is not part of the usual disputes between research scientists as described earlier, becuase investigators working for a commercial company almost always are not just seeking the truth, but have a bias in favor of their employer; they simply cannot stop trying to support their employer’s position no matter what research results they find and which data are brought forth by their opponents. This type of lengthy controversy between scientists and industry easily can become stalemated.
For a good example of this kind of controversy, we can think back several decades to times when smoking of tobacco was very popular and manufacturers of tobacco products brought forth research results that seemed to deny the validity of new scientific data showing that smoking of tobacco causes cancer and other major health problems [1-3]. This dispute lasted many years before more and more research results showing carcinogenisis accumulated; finally, laws were passed and information programs started in order to decrease smoking. Today, smoking still is not completely banned, but many fewer people now smoke; this decrease has resulted in considerably reducing the incidence of smoking-induced cancers and other pathologies [1-3]. This controversy exemplifies that science and research can take much time to have social impacts.
Controversies involving scientists and society.
We must examine 2 different kinds of controversies between science and society. The first is when a non-scientist in the public starts sincerely questioning why in the world would any scientist undertake some very esoteric research study, and why is it being funded by money from taxpayers? Even when the value for science is fully explained, there remains little chance that the questioners will change their mind; this type of dispute strongly involves psychology, rather than just science and reason.
The second is where members of the public, acting either from reason or emotions, hold some viewpoint very dearly. They regard scientists bringing forth research results which disprove their opinion as being outright enemies or demons rather than objective seekers of the truth. This kind of dispute involves a quite different set of rules (i.e., the number of scientists on each side, rather than their research results, can determine victory). Although both sides theoretically could come to agreement, this rarely happens no matter how much new evidence is gathered by each side; the easiest solution for such controversies is for some authority or politician to take action.
A very good recent example of this second type of dispute between scientists and society is the concept of global warming [e.g., 4-7]. Quite a few scientists have entered this ongoing debate and many have brought forth research results denying that global temperatures even have increased, let alone that such was caused by human activities. Both sides of the global warming controversy are strongly committed and neither will give up; this lengthy dispute now is continuing on its merry way as a shifted question about climate change. Teachers should take special note that both sides of this controversy are being supported by doctoral scientists and their research results . This ongoing dispute has much public importance because various new federal regulations are being sought even though no conclusions have been agreed upon by scientists, politicians, or the public.
Science and scientists are involved in many different types of controversies. When these are based upon the results of research experiments, the disputes usually are valuable for science. When these are based upon emotions, politics, or ignorance, these disputes usually are not able to be resolved and often are a waste of scientists’ precious time.
In forthcoming articles we will take a closer look at specific examples of controversies involving science, and at some scientists who are trying to win a dispute.
Scientists commonly are pictured as peculiar brainy people wearing a white coat and working in laboratories filled with many strange instruments and bottles of colored liquids. This Hollywood view of scientists has them working to create evil monstors, terrible new diseases, and unthinkable disasters for humanity and our planet. While that is acceptable for entertainment, when this false view expands into the real world it becomes very disconcerting for hard-working real research scientists; you can imagine the difficult problems that arise when a little boy asks his father the doctoral scientist, “What kind of new plague did you create today with your bacterial DNA work, Dad?”.
Doing high quality science with creative research is not easy, and so should be much better appreciated by non-scientists. I have earlier explained that the average adult today has never ever talked to a real living scientist or visited a research lab; they have very little idea what professional researchers actually do (see “On the Public Disregard for Science and Research” ). This large gap is filled by the Hollywood movies with science-created monsters and the television portrayals of crazy scientists. I believe that exposing everyone to some distinctive individuals who are research scientists will help normalize this unfortunate modern delusion.
I recommend the following videos to you! These will provide you with a taste for what sort of people real research scientists actually are. You will see that not all Ph.D. scientists wear white lab coats, some have many talents besides working with test-tubes or x-ray synchrotrons, and all have very distinctive personalities. Their lives are filled with adventures into the unknown, but some good scientists also are quite enthusiastic about aviation, cooking, gardening, surfing, or vacations.
KARY B. MULLIS is an utterly fascinating person with a great sense of humor. Among his many creative achievements in science are his childhood rocket experiments, his receipt of a Nobel Prize (Chemistry) in 1993, and his fearless disputes about what is true. His wonderful website ( http://www.karymullis.com ) is filled with loads of material, stories, and photos. I enthusiastically recommend a video of his talk to a general audience in California ( see “Sons of Sputnik: Kary Mullis at TEDxOrangeCoast” ). He always comes across as being very individualistic, curious about almost everything, and completely unafraid of anything!
SUMIO IIJIMA looks at the world through electron microscopes, and specializes in magically seeing what other scientists do not observe. He is very active with research in the still-expanding field of nanoscience. His website includes a gallery of candid photographs, including some showing lab parties and his bicycle ( http://nanocarb.meijo-u.ac.jp/jst/english/Gallery/galleryE.html ). I heartily recommend here the video of his elegant presentation in London (2007) about his celebrated work with carbon nanotubes (see “Nanotubes: The Materials of the 21st Century” ).
BRENDA MILNER is a pioneering neuropsychologist/neuroscientist who investigate memory systems in the brain. After over 6 decades of research work, she continues with an amazingly advanced age to do research enthusiastically at McGill University in Monreal. She recently added one of the 2014 Kavli Prizes in Neuroscience to her large collection of major honors. I recommend both a truly delightful, but overly short (only 59 seconds!), video showing her in action (scroll down the opening page to see “Short Presentation of Brenda Milner” ), and a slightly longer video at another website (see “Brenda Milner Video Biography” ).
There are many other good videos about research scientists available on the web. Try to find another one featuring a scientist working on some topic or research subject that interests you, and watch it! From these videos, you will see that scientists are very devoted individuals actively working at research, teaching, and life; in other words, they are not weird creatures from another planet, but are just your fellow people!
Libraries are undergoing many large changes due to the rise of digital technology, the ready availability of the internet and of multimedia recordings, and, the changes in modern society. As the main repositories for information, large libraries have been instrumental for scientific research, other areas of scholarship, and education; they are changing along with the neighborhood libraries in cities and the small libraries in schools. This essay examines how these changes in science libraries affect research scientists.
Science books now are being published both in traditional printed versions and in digital formats. For science journals, most now are published both in printed form and as digital editions; a number of new professional journals covering scientific research are only digital. Media play an increasingly important role for science education, research reports, and presentations at science meetings; all of these now are mostly in digital form. Instead of a book of printed abstracts, scientists attending annual science meetings frequently now receive a portable digitized recording. Many libraries, including both local public libraries and large scholarly libraries at universities, now contain many digital volumes and digitized materials in their collection.
This extensive shift into digitized formats means that students and scientists now can: (1) access almost everything traditionally found in libraries without a physical visit; (2) interlibrary loans are increasingly unnecessary; (3) searching for information on personal computers, as compared to spending several days or weeks camped out within a library, seems quick, efficient, and comprehensive; and, (4) even course textbooks now are being sold for use on the personal computers of students. I believe that many of these changes are good for science and society, but some also have unrecognized side effects (e.g., if anything is stated to be “fully known”, then there is no point to studying it further!).
What do research scientists need books and libraries for?
Common uses of library materials by research scientists include: (1) reading or viewing new books, new or old issues of science journals, new documents related to science, new or old science textbooks, and, new media, and, (2) searching for answers to certain questions, historic materials, published opinions and pronoucements about science, deposited research data, or, presentations at science meetings. Although almost all of these retrievals now can be accompished via the internet, some care is needed to ensure that such searches truly are extensive, complete, highly detailed, and include all related topics.
Most scientists and almost all students now rarely or never visit a library! Scientists doing research in universities, industries, hospitals, and technology institutes find the internet much easier to use from their office or residence. Internet search engines quickly display numerous websites in response to any search on a browser. Absolutely everything that a scientist could need soon will be readily available on the internet. Except for very special science libraries containing collections of rare and ancient materials, science libraries now are underutilized and increasingly seem unnecessary; since maintaining traditional libraries necessitates spending quite a lot of money every year, it is easy to predict that they will be converted into much less costly fully digitized libraries.
Why are internet searches about science often incomplete or superficial?
Internet search engines operate mechanically, unlike the human mind. Although searching on the internet is quite rapid, the information retrieved often can be limited in scope, one-sided or biased, and, includes only limited and highly-selected details. There are accounts that some internet materials have been truncated or express quite tilted views. If any data, materials, statements, or divergent opinions are not displayed, then the results of an internet search are incomplete; many persons using an internet search engine usually are not aware of those limitations. Living scientists are much better able than search engines to interrelate separate items and topics, judge relevancy, create a sequence of connected operations, and, proceed logically into new directions.
To state this in a different way, searching with search engines is not the same as doing research. In the good old days, searching in a library to find needed materials resembled going on a treasure hunt; different hunters even could find different treasures! Many youngsters and college students today believe that a classroom assignment to “do research” about something means to use a search engine on the internet. That mistaken viewpoint undoubtedly reflects the general lack of understanding about what is research and what scientists and other scholars do (see: “What Do University Scientists really Do in Their Daily Work?” ). For scientists, the internet is a very useful tool for research, but is best seen as only part of a longer and more complex mental activity.
Looking at the future of books and libraries.
Things are changing in libraries so quickly that it is now possible to visualize what will happen to them in the near future. The number of science libraries will decrease dramatically as most materials on science are moved into “The Cloud”. Library functions then will be taken over by special national or regional websites providing access to very large databases of digitized materials. These truly gigantic collections will be designated as digital megalibraries, and are based upon a super-database that combines several other huge databases.
In answer to emotional outcries that old and antique printed books are still good and useful, a worldwide effort will be undertaken to create digitized versions of the entirety of all previously published volumes. Practical problems with the numerous different languages in our world will be remedied by new software programs that rapidly translate anything published or audio-recorded into whatever language is needed. When all of these predicted developments happen, scientists and everyone else will have access to everything on their personal computer!
For research scientists, these changes mostly will be good, although the information available might at first seem overwhelming. New strategies for dealing with this glut of retrieved information will be invented and developed. This galaxy of total information also will stimulate new commercial software that objectively lists new and old publications that are important for any science topic or research question. Reviewers of manuscripts, grant applications, educational materials, and books then will use related special new software to ensure that authoring scientists have dealt with all the necessary information. Research reports will then need to provide a special listing of “non-cited references” in order to keep the actual article readable and its length reasonable.
Are science libraries going to vanish? No, but they will be completely transformed into digitized operations. The new digital libraries will continue to be vital for science and research.
Having spent many years looking at dusty old volumes in university libraries and then finding that the one for my particular interest was missing, I believe that the forthcoming availability of absolutely everything in digital form will be welcomed by all scientists and other scholars. Nevertheless, at a strictly emotional level, a discolored old book with a wonderful smell to it can never be equated to its digitized counterpart!
A scholarly search for the truth, obtained by observation and experimental studies, often involves obtaining detailed data to test one or more hypotheses. Ideally, experimental studies answer a research question in a complete and unambiguous manner that is consistent with other known results. Research always is chancy, and the expected results are not always obtained even when well-designed experiments are conducted by experienced scientists.
Good research uses well-designed experiments, includes adequate controls, and leads to solid interpretations. The conclusions drawn from good research enable accurate predictions to be made, and can easily be related to existing bodies of other knowledge. Future experiments can build successfully upon what is established from good research.
Bad research is the opposite of good research. It results from poorly designed experiments, and can feature incomplete or inadequate controls. The conclusions drawn from bad research usually are later shown to be completely or partly invalid; they make only incorrect predictions, and are inconsistent with other bodies of knowledge. The results from bad research often are not repeatable, and form a defective basis for any further studies.
Good versus bad research.
All scientists hope to conduct good research. Typical questions for judging research quality include the following: (1) are the experiments well-designed and properly conducted; (2) are the controls fully adequate; (3) are the data complete; (4) are the data and their interpretations self-consistent; (5) do the experimental data support the conclusions of the research study; (6) are the conclusions consistent with other data and known facts; and, (7) do these experiments answer the selected research question(s)? Failure or insufficiency in any of these parameters is a typical sign of bad research.
The judgemnent of research quality needs to be distinguished from several related evaluations. Quality of research is distinguished from quality of the research subject (e.g., either good or bad research investigations can be conducted on how to add multivitamins to a metropolitan water supply), and from good or bad usage of the research findings (e.g., good chemical research might later be utilized to make some extremely toxic new complex). Experimental results supporting a well-known theory or popular concept do not necessarily mean that this research is good; similarly, experimental studies that contradict or do not agree with some well-established theory are not necessarily bad.
Research in any branch or category of science can be judged to be good or bad. In general, judgements of research quality do not have any intermediate levels. These determinations are made in basic or applied research, theoretical or experimental research, small or giant studies, field or laboratory research, simple or complex research, etc. As one example, consider a modern research study of butterflies inside Columbia, which finds that one species there is simultaneously present in Argentina. Assume here that detailed morphological measurements, molecular genetics, and field observations were conducted properly, etc., and that all data show complete taxonomic identity, while other species in Argentina lack identity. Although there is no obvious usefulness in this discovery, it is a clear example of good research in basic science.
Who exactly best determines.whether research is good or bad? Here, a critical judgement is sought, and not a casual opinion. Since the necessary very careful evaluation of the experiments involved in any research project can be quite complex, this determination is best made by knowledgeable experts (i.e., other scientists). This judgement must be made objectively without regard to personal interest or emotional preferences.
Who utilizes the judgement of good vs. bad research?
The critical evaluation of research quality is part of several major job activities for university scientists, including determining priority scores for research grant applications and proposals, and, examination of manuscripts submitted for publication in a science journal. In both cases, peer review utilizes the evaluation by scientists who have expertise in the same area as the applicant or author.
Peer review of proposals and applications for financial support of research aims to make judgements be as objective as possible . To determine fundability, the design of experiments, adequacy of controls, methods for data analysis, and ability to answer the research questions proposed first are evaluated. The final conclusion for fundability also utilizes certain other criteria besides determining whether the research is good or bad (e.g., capability to answer the selected research questions, chances for success of the project in the time period proposed, previous training and experience with the methodologies used, atmosphere at the institution, track record of the applicant for success in previous research projects, relevancy to program targets, use of undergraduate students or special groups of people, research safety considerations (e.g., exposure to disease agents, toxins, or radioactive materials, etc.). A listing of official criteria for evaluating merit in the very numerous research grant applications sent to the National Institutes of Health (see: http://grants.nih.gov/grants/peer/critiques/rpg.htm) or to the National Science Foundation (see: http://www.nsf.gov/nsb/publications/2011/meritreviewcriteria.pdf) are published at periodic intervals.
Not all manuscripts submitted to science journals are accepted for publication. To determine publishability, the journal editor and assigned referees first take a critical look at whether the research reported is good or bad, and then examine the conclusions drawn from the experimental data. If their evaluations conclude that something is missing, the experiments are poorly designed, controls are inadequate, interpretations are not supported, data are incomplete, the subject area is not relevant to the journals’s focus, etc., then a manuscript will be rejected. The critical comments are relayed to the authors so they can try to make the needed additions, deletions, and other changes; after consideration of the revised manuscript, a final decision about publishability then is made and reported to the authors.
What can go wrong with judging good vs. bad research?
There are quite a few possibilities where the examination of research quality can go wrong. Selection of reviewers with insufficient expertise excourages mistakes to be made. Selection of scientists as reviewers who are unable to put aside the fact that they are competing with the applicant for research grant awards also leads to unfortunate mistakes. In the modern era, time is very precious for all research scientists working at universities; doing a rush job with evaluating research quality saves time, but increases the chance of making mistakes. As personal integerity decreases, there is increased likelihood that rigor of this important task for making objective evaluations is not maintained (e.g., ignoring some defect for a friend, colleague at the same institution, or former associate). In other cases, rigor is undercut by the unethical desire to please someone or to trade favors (e.g., “I will overlook this mistake in your manuscript if you do the same when you review my manuscripts!”). The agencies awarding research grants take explicit steps to try to preclude these improper diversions from good ethical practices; most professional science journals require at least two independent expert reviewers to critically examine each manuscript, in order to decrease the chance that any mistaken or improper judgement will be made.
Determination of good versus bad research can be made readily using standardized criteria for evaluating the quality of the experiments, particularly if this review is performed by several experts. These detailed evaluations must be done very carefully, and demand the critical capabilities of other expert scientists working in the same area. These peer evaluations constitute a major part of the review process for applications seeking research grant support, and of manuscripts submitted to science journals for publication. Determining the quality of research is not identical to determining the quality of science (i.e., good research can be part of bad science, and vice versa). Critical determinations of research quality are important to help science be rigorous, objective, and meaningful.
Science is everywhere! Everyone uses science! Everybody needs science! (http://dr-monsrs.net)
The general public is estranged from science and is afraid of scientific research (see: “On the Public Disregard for Science and Research” ). This sad state is due to several interrelated causes: (1) very defective education of people about what science is and what research does, (2) a general decrease in the educational status, such that most adults feel they cannot possibly understand anything having to do with science or research, (3) the issuance of science news on TV and the internet as gee-whiz stories that are strictly for amusement, (4) scientists are viewed as some weird creatures wearing white coats in labs with lots of strange machines and computers, and, (5) almost nobody has ever met and talked to a real living research scientist.
Basic research, applied science, and engineering: what does each do?
The research work resulting in some new commercial product or an amazing new medical development typically arose through the work of quite a few different scientists and engineers. Basic research starts this process by investigating the whys and wherefores of something; this seeks new knowledge for its own sake, irrespective of practical uses. Applied research takes some basic findings and seeks to develop their practical usage by improving their qualities and capabilities; this seeks to expand knowledge so that some potential practical use (i.e., a product or process) can be derived. Engineering development then pushes the progression of development further by making it economically feasible to produce, and commercially effective to sell, something that is new or better; this seeks to enable a new or improved commercial product to be manufactured and marketed. The 3 phases of this process can take place within the laboratory setting of a university or an industrial research and development (R&D) center. The entire process often takes years or decades to be completed.
Why does scientific research matter to everyone?
Ordinary people should feel emotionally attached to the progress of science and research, for several reasons. First, the public pays taxes for the research enterprise, and therefore everyone has some interest in the success of these studies. The basic research by scientists requires time, money, and good luck to be successful; the money from commercial profits or tax collections pays for all the salaries, supplies, and other essential research expenses. Second, the applied research and engineering R&D efforts are entirely devoted to satisfying the expectation of some future usage by the public. This anticipation is based upon the self-interest of numerous people in the public concerning practical matters in their daily life (e.g., better communication, better treatments for medical ailments, cheaper transportation, cleaner environment, less work and time needed to do something, more widespread good nutrition, etc.).
All people visit commercial stores, food markets, gasoline stations, sites for laundry and cleaning, etc. During all these transactions, they are using the results of research and development by scientists and engineers, whether they realize this fact or not. Naturally, devices and tools for daily life need to be modified, thus giving rise to development of improved commercial offerings; the wishes of the public, as well as the financial hopes of marketers, serve to encourage progress in technology. When people realize that scientific research impacts literally everything in their daily life, then they will begin to understand what scientists do and to be more enthusiastic about science and research. Modern science not only builds spaceships and manipulates atoms, but it also helps people to live and work in a more satisfying and healthy manner.
Can better education solve the estrangement of people from science?
Education must be remodelled so that all adults can comprehend the organization of the branches of science, what researchers and engineers actually do in their daily work, and, how science is a vital part of life that has importance for everyone. The divisions and subdivisions of science should be taught early, and should be explained with everyday examples. If the public saw scientists as being fellow people, instead of as some bizarre creatures from another planet, they would be much better able to learn about real science rather than pseudoscience. The stories about how some key discoveries actually were made by “famous scientists” should be taught in middle school. Selected laboratory exercises in science classes should be given in middle schools and colleges, but with much more background so that students will see these as concrete examples of how science and research lead to some important practical event(s); this cannot be accomplished by meaningless exercises to memorize as quickly as possible before all is forgotten forever. To see, touch, and hear scientific research in the real world, all students should have the opportunity in high (middle) school to visit a university or commercial research lab, along with the chance to ask questions and meet some actual doctoral scientists, graduate students, and research technicians working there.
Instituting these changes could remove many of the problems the general public now has in understanding and appreciating scientific research. However, I do recognize that this approach is made difficult or even impossible because most teachers of science working today in high schools have themselves been maleducated. If these teachers first will learn to be more fully knowledgeable and will develop the needed good understanding of their subject, then they will be able to show their students how science is involved with daily life and how interesting it is. Some recent programs on the internet are aiming to improve the regard of the public for science, but because they are using an entertainment medium to present a serious subject they will continue to achieve only very limited success.
Scientific research is everywhere in our daily life! All that we consider to be facts originated through the activities of scientists and other research scholars. It is not only prersent when a doctor prescribes a new medicine to alleviate some disease, but also is there when we eat a piece of dried pineapple or ride in a modern bus. People must be better educated so they can recognize the giant role science and research have in our daily lives, and see the activities of scientists and engineers as contributing much to progress in all aspects of our activities as individuals.
The main message is that science is for everyone, everybody uses science, and everyone needs science! Science is both fascinating and mysterious, but it should not be feared. It is time that ordinary people more easily recognize the very large roles scientific research and engineering developments play in their daily life!
Cancer Research is having some Good Effects, but Much More Progress is Needed! (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Just about everyone on this planet would dearly love to honor any research scientist who can find a cure for cancer. Despite all the money and time already poured into extensive research efforts in labs and hospitals, the goal of curing this devastating clinical disease still remains elusive; about 589,000 cancer patients are expected to die from cancer in 2015 . A big question thus arises, “What good is all the research and money spent on trying to conquer cancer, if a cure still has not been found after all these years?” The more you know about cancer as a biological phenomenon, the better will you be able to understand why attaining a general cure is so very, very difficult. This brief essay will teach you about the reasons for this frustrating situation that seems to damn the efforts of dedicated researchers in both basic and clinical science.
A brief background of essentials about cancer
At its most fundamental level, the biological phenomenon of cancer takes place in our cells. All cancers are thought to originate from one normal cell that changes into a cancer cell when it becomes “neoplastic”; this term means that the abnormal cell(s) divide independently of the regulatory mechanisms controlling cell growth and division. Multiple causes for development of cancer are recognized (e.g., chemicals, chronic inflammation, genetic heredity, mutagenesis, radiation, viruses). Unrestrained growth of neoplastic cells usually results in a “tumor”; this term specifically means some localized enlargement or swelling filled with the proliferating neoplastic cells. A neoplasm can be benign, meaning that it enlarges but does not spread to distant locations; this is contrasted to malignant neoplasms, where the abnormal cells can metastasize (i.e., spread to other regions of the body and start growing there).
About 1.67 million people are expected to be newly diagnosed with cancer in 2015 . Cancer is not always lethal (i.e., some 14 million cancer survivors now are alive and kicking (see: http://www.cancer.org/ ))! Some cancer patients are being cured (i.e., their neoplastic cells can be removed, caused to die, or to stop proliferating). Cures can be the result of surgical excision, localized exposure to lethal irradiation (i.e., radiotherapy), treatment with chemicals that cause cell death (i.e., chemotherapy), systemic exposure to high tech antibody treatments (i.e., immunotherapy), or, other newly developed experimental therapies. When treated cancer patients retain their disease, therapy can slow its progression and ameliorate their quality of life. Even if no treatments work, the situation for any cancer patient is never absolutely hopeless because there are some spontaneous remissions where the neoplasm miraculously regresses and disappears.
“Cancer” is a very complex and variable entity
Cancer is an extremely complex biological phenomenon showing enormous variability (e.g., age of patient, cell of origin, general health status, genetic background, location in an organ, nutritional status, presence or absence of continued development of neoplasia (i.e., carcinogenesis), presence or absence of enhancers, rate of growth and division, type and dosage of therapy administered, etc.). There are over 200 different types of cells in the human body, many of which can become neoplastic. Neoplastic cells are very similar to normal cells, but show some changes that give rise to aberrant functional activities. In particular, neoplastic cells reproduce without regard to the normal controls that restrict cell growth and division. Almost all the different varieties of cancer cells divide more frequently than do their normal (non-neoplastic) counterparts. In addition, neoplastic cells usually change their normal shape(s) and adhere to each other less strongly.
The enormous complexity and variability of neoplasia are the fundamental factor making the search for a general cure of cancer truly difficult. These features also make it wrong to refer to cancer as a singular term, e.g., “the disease, cancer”, because there are so many different cancers and each shows variability. The term “cancer” thus can be thought of as being analogous to the generic term “paint”; that label says nothing at all about the type of paint, its color, what it is made of, which kinds of surfaces it can be applied to, how it is applied, its durability, etc. The great complexity of cancer is strongly evidenced by the fact that a chemical agent completely curing one type of cancer typically has few effect(s) on many other kinds of neoplasms.
What can laboratory research do for cancer patients?
The most essential reason why cancer can not presently be cured despite therapeutic advances and improved methods for early detection is that this family of neoplastic diseases involves multiple different causes, many different cell types, and numerous variable conditions of human existence (e.g., quality and quantity of nutrition, hygiene, exposure to dangerous environments, screening and early detection, clinical monitoring, availability of expensive therapeutic protocols, etc.). The targets of treatments for cancer are the neoplastic cells; these are dynamic targets that change their status, properties, and metabolism as clinical therapy progresses. Despite tons of research, there still is no accepted general or molecular distinction known between the normal and neoplastic states of each cell type; this essential information will become available later through additional laboratory research studies. The complexity and variability of cancers, along with the absence of full knowledge about many key parts of neoplasia, have even led some to speculate that the long-sought goal of finding a general cure for cancer actually might be impossible.
At present, basic understanding about the whys and wherefores of neoplasia remains very incomplete. Once there will be much greater understanding about the nature of neoplastic versus normal cells, and about the mechanisms for carcinogenesis, then the chance for applied research to develop cures for cancer undoubtedly will increase. The main hope for finding a general cure for cancer therefore is to continue basic research vigorously; in my view, especially needed are development of very new approaches for clinical therapy, and formulation of very innovative concepts or unconventional theories that can be tested experimentally by lab studies. Any proposals that all research grants should be awarded only for cancer research, or that all scientists should work only on studies of cancer, are idiotic and as misguided as are proposals that it is pointless to spend more billions trying to find a general cure for cancer. All of us, and particularly cancer patients, must have great patience while the needed enormous amount of experimental work by both experienced and new investigators progresses.
What can clinical research do for cancer patients?
The fight against cancer now involves current efforts by clinical scientists (i.e., oncologists, who are MDs specializing in treating cancer patients) to find: (1) ways for earlier detection, (2) more effective means to kill cancer cells while leaving neighboring normal cells intact, (3) the genetic and physiological conditions needed to allow cancer cells to proliferate, (4) prevention of metastasis, (5) induced modulation of the immune system for experimental immunotherapy, (6) invention of new and better ways to use chemotherapy, (7) invention of new ways to improve specificity and lethal effects of radiotherapy, (8) identification of anti-neoplastic nutritional effects upon cancer cells, (9) development of new very innovative mechanisms and approaches to target and kill cancer cells, and, (10) development of more effective and less toxic multimodal therapies for cancer patients, etc. All this activity requires the work of doctoral scientists in many labs, and of clinical oncologists in many hospitals. Adjunctive work for the production and research use of very special new materials (e.g., new antibodies and immunomodulators, new genetic strains of cultured cells, new chemicals, new nanostructures as targeting devices and carriers of toxins, new detections of small cancers via advanced imaging assays, etc.) also are needed. Extensive clinical trials must be conducted to determine the efficacy and safety of all newly successful research treatments for human cancer patients.
Is research progress against cancer being made?
All basic or clinical studies of cancer are neither easy nor inexpensive. It is reassuring to know that good progress is being made in the clinical treatment of some previously untreatable cancers. Clinical applied research often is based upon previous basic research findings. Many cancer patients now live longer and more actively due to their new clinical treatment(s). Research progress indeed is being made; all the money and time spent with cancer research is having some very good effects for cancer patients, even though the final victory has not yet been accomplished.
Many scientists and clinicians working with cancer have the feeling that if there was a much greater fundamental understanding of neoplasia at the cellular, molecular, and genetic levels, then improved therapies and better preventive measures could and would be developed. Current research is looking closely at the interactions of different gene expressions and protein networks, within normal versus neoplastic cells. Further progress towards the goal of curing cancer undoubtedly will involve tackling difficult questions in both very basic science (e.g., exactly how does the metabolism of neoplastic cells differ from that of their pre-neoplastic or normal counterparts?) and applied clinical science (e.g., how can oncologists cause repression or expression of certain target genes in a safe manner within human cancer patients?). The road to a cure will be long, hard, and not straight; thereby it will take great determination, long persistence, and very creative experiments before success eventually can be obtained.
The materials presented above should enable all readers to have a basic idea of the nature of cancer, and to recognize why cancer in human patients is a very difficult disease to understand and to cure. Although the ultimate goal has not been reached yet, cancer research continues to progress slowly and incrementally. In my view, this will be made speedier by (1) more emphasis on cancer prevention, (2) evaluating completely new ideas for clinical treatment of cancer patients, and (3) development of innovative concepts about the fundamental nature of neoplasia. Patience with the progress of cancer research now is needed more than is additional support money. Cancer research requires intense dedication and long efforts by laboratory scientists, clinical oncologists, and cancer patients. These efforts necessitate spending additional enormous sums of money to support the hospital and lab work. Research results that do not produce a general cure for cancer still are valuable since the new facts acquired can be used subsequently for the generation of better experimental studies and of advanced clinical treatments.
A postscript from Dr.M
For those seeking further information or news about cancer, treatments for cancer patients, incidence, clinical cures and new trials, cancer research, costs, etc., I recommend that you visit the excellent websites of the Americal Cancer Society (see: http://www.cancer.org/ ) and the National Cancer Institute (see: http://www.cancer.gov ).
If general readers want to keep up with research progress and current science events, there are numerous websites available on the internet. Some even are updated daily with new material, but this is not what general readers require. Non-scientists need articles, illustrations, and videos that are readily comprehensible, and present a brief overview rather than a long comprehensive review. That audience is looking for brief illustrated explanations and summaries that serve as background or starting points for seeking further information.
I have recently discussed “How Can I Take the First Step to Learn About Science?” (see: http://dr-monsrs.net/2014/12/05/how-can-i-take-the-first-step-to-learn-about-science/ ). Here, I give my selection of just a few recommended websites covering almost everything in modern scientific research, along with my comments for each. I believe these sources for information and learning stand out from many others. Later, I will try to gather some recommendations for more specialized areas of science.
If you are looking for information that is about techniques, amusing, detailed, highly specific, promising some speculative bonanza, theoretical, unbelievable, or, unsupported by research results, then please look elsewhere!
Covering all of science is particularly difficult since the number of smaller branches in each major division (biology/medicine, chemistry, physics) is indeed very large. However, it is easy to recommend your first attention to the prominent weekly science journals, Science (http://www.sciencemag.org ), and Nature ( http://www.nature.com/news/index.html ). Both report on all parts of global science, as well as its interactions with society, governments, and industry. Coverages in these prestigious journals are somewhat similar, but each has a different flavor. You need not read both, so initially try each one to see which you prefer. Many scientists read them every week to try to keep up with progress, controversies, and problems, or to learn about new job openings. Readers who are not doctoral scientists should start by looking at their News sections, whose reports are comprehensible to all. Their search boxes are easy to use, and typically yield many informative materials.
Two long-standing magazines do a good job in presenting a large variety of reports about important current experimental research and the development of new technology: Popular Science ( http://www.popsci.com ), and Scientific American (http://www.scientificamerican.com ). Most articles in both are designed to be fully understood by anyone in the public, and cover many different aspects of science. They are widely read and studied by young people interested to learn about science and research. The reports in Popular Science are more numerous and shorter, while those in Scientific American are fewer and longer. Both present many explanatory illustrations, and are recommended for general readers.
Major Branches of Science: Physics
The American Institute of Physics has several excellent websites, including one for their outstanding monthly journal, Physics Today (http://scitation.aip.org/content/aip/magazine/physicstoday/issues ). This journal wonderfully covers all parts of modern physics, including research advances, controversies, policy issues, funding, and education. I recommend Physics Today for readers with a general interest directed towards the physical sciences.
Major Branches of Science: Biology and Medicine
Biological Science is so extremely diverse and spread out that it is completely unthinkable that any one source could even try to cover everything. Accordingly, at present I am not able to recommend any single source for general readers; I will make a few recommendations for some of the larger specialized areas in biology and medicine at a later time.
Major Branches of Science: Chemistry
News and materials about chemistry suited for general readers are readily available on several different websites. For non-scientists, I recommend the long-standing weekly journal from the American Chemical Society, Chemical and Engineering News ( http://cen.acs.org/index.html ). This presents important news about research, technology, controversies, and chemists. It covers all the different aspects of chemistry with some emphasis on applied research, and is recommended for general readers whose interest is focused on chemistry.
It is my hope that these recommendations will be useful for all non-scientists interested in starting to learn about new developments in modern science. My intention here is that these will serve as entry points for your interests and curiosity. Use of my recommended sources should save much time for those who have been simply entering some term into the search box of any browser, and then are overwhelmed by being confronted with many dozens of different internet sites to check out.
Let’s say that you are 34 years old and a perfectly good adult who draws a complete blank when wondering what science and research are all about. Even though you passed all the required science courses in school, you view scientific research as something of no concern to you, and scientists as weird creatures from another planet.
Right now, you are.fascinated hy the idea that asteroids might be harvested for their contents by some sort of rocket ship. Many different questions pop into your mind, including: what are asteroids, how big are they, what do they weigh, what are they made of, do they contain gold and silver, are they radioactive, where are they found, do they have orbits, how fast do they move, do they ever crash into our Earth, are they dangerous to humans, etc.? You have read Dr.M’s basic introduction to science and research (see “Fundamentals for Beginners: What is Science? What is Research? What are Scientists?” ), but you just do not see how this fits into asteroids.
These are all good questions, and scientific research already has discovered the answers to most of them! You want to find answers to your questions, but do not know where to look. This short dispatch is just for you! I will describe below a simple general sequence of first steps for you to find out about science studies on asteroids, or about any other subject of your personal interest. All that is required is that you have curiosity, access to the internet, and a little time; if you do not have your own computer, you can use one at the nearest public library.
A general sequence to find out about science for some subject of interest
(1) First, identify only one subject, topic, question, or controversy that has your personal interest (e.g., asteroids, global warming, gravity, nanostructures, some disease that had killed your brother when he was 29 years old, etc., etc.). This serves to focus your initial search onto a single subject.
(2) Second, search on the internet for your subject on one of the Wiki’s (i.e., direct your browser to Wikipedia, Metapedia, or any other large encyclopedia-type site); then enter the name of your subject in their search box and press return. This will display some sites covering general information for your designated subject (e.g., basic definitions, occurrence, origin, activities and effects, relationships, etc.), along with a few pictures and diagrams). Pick only 2 or 3 of these listed sites for your reading and study. This step furnishes you with an overview of the nature of your selected subject, and usually will be a good introduction.
(3) Third, identify which branches of science investigate your subject (e.g., asteroids fit into both astronomy and minerology; global warming fits into meteorology, oceanography, and physics; gravity fits into physics; nanostructures fits into chemistry and materials science; human diseases fit into medicine and pathology; etc.). Now, search either on a Wiki or on the internet for only one or 2 additional articles dealing in a general way with scientific studies of your subject (i.e., search for “astronomy +asteroids” or “minerology +asteroids”; for global warming, search for “meteorology +global-warming” or “oceanography +global-warming”; etc.). Try to find something showing and explaining what scientists have investigated about your subject and how they did their work. Now you have broken through your barrier! This third step lets you begin to learn as much as you wish to know about how scientists have worked to answer your questions through their research studies.
Go one step further for additional understanding
Although you now should have a good background, you still are missing knowledge about the individual scientists researching your subject of interest. Your understanding will be increased if you know a little about these persons. Good places to start looking are in: (1) the extensive videos and science-related materials on the website for the Nobel Prize ( http://www.nobelprize.org ), (2) the diverse topics covered by Popular Science magazine ( http://www.popsci.com ), and (3) the “News” sections of the weekly journals, Science ( http://sciencemag.org ) and Nature ( http://www.nature.com/news/index.html ). At any of these websites, you can enter your subject into the site-search box and a list of available materials will be displayed; some of these will include coverage about the activities of specific scientists. With luck, you will spot something that is quite new and interesting. Once you find a few names, you can look on the internet to see if those scientists have a website of their own; many modern university scientists do this, and include public information about all their research activities and projects.
A required postscript about Wiki’s
In my opinion, Wiki websites are a very useful starting point when utilized as outlined above. They certainly are quick and easy, but they do not always present a complete account, are known sometimes to give only approved or politically correct information, and occasionally deliver a biased or truncated coverage. Hence, you must be aware that you can be given info that is incomplete or less than totally true. If you ever need to quote something from a Wiki report, then it is necessary that you find and check the original source(s) listed and cite only those. Once, I found a most unexpected statement in a Wiki presented as a fact about a public figure I know, so I checked their referenced source and found that it said nothing at all about this peculiar statement; thus, the citation was either a mistake or a false reference, and this statement probably is not true.
November 14, 2014: No More Comments Means No More Spam! (http://dr-monsrs.net)
My website now has been active for one year! It is pleasing to note that there have been over 75,000 visitors, and that number still goes up at an increasing rate every week. I hope that all visitors have found something here that is either new, unusual, disconcerting, surprising, provocative, important, or interesting. There is a lot more to come!
I have received over 30,000 comments, but at least 99% obviously are spam. There are always many dozens of identical and very similar comments every single day, coming from several different continents and many different countries; since some messages arrrive within seconds of their duplicates from other addresses, this sounds like a botnet to me.
To solve this problem, I AM HEREBY DISCONTINUING ALL FURTHER COMMENTS. I do regret the necessity for doing this, but I have no other choice.
Notable quotations by FRED KAVLI about scientific research. Obtained from http:www.youtube.com/watch?v=ch6yMD4JGCo , and from http://www/kavliprize.org/about/fred-kavli .
The Kavli Prizes are bestowed every 2 years for the most outstanding research within 3 of the largest branches of modern science: astrophysics, nanoscience, and neuroscience . These international Prizes are made possible by the late Fred Kavli, who was born in Norway and later moved to the USA, held a degree in physics, and was a very successful industrialist; he generously donated funds to establish this new award program. Kavli Prizes were first awarded in 2008, and are regarded as having the same very high prestige as the Nobel Prizes in science . Nevertheless, the Kavli Prizes have several distinctive differences from the Nobel Prizes, particularly for their focus on only 3 topical areas in modern science, their open nomination process, and their recent origin in the 21st century. I recently covered the announcement of the 2014 awardees of the Nobel Prizes in science (see “The 2014 Nobel Prizes in Science are Announced” ). The honorees for the 2014 Kavli Prizes were announced in late May, and their awards were presented in September as part of the extensive Kavli Prize Week festivities in Oslo (Norway). In this article I will first give a short description about Fred Kavli and the nature of the Kavli Prizes, and then will offer an overview of the 2014 Kavli Prize awardees and their seminal research discoveries. Each segment is followed by sources for additional information that are available on the internet.  The Kavli Prize, 2014. Kavli Foundation – Science prizes for the future. Available on the internet at: http://www.kavliprize.org/about .  Nobel Prizes, 2014. Nobel Prize facts. Available on the internet at: http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/facts/ . Fred Kavli and the Kavli PrizesFred Kavli was an entrepreneur, a vigorous worker and leader in industry, an outspoken advocate for experimental research, a philanthropist, an innovator, and an amazing benefactor of science. After he sold his very successful business, he established the Kavli Foundation. This works to “support scientific research aimed at improving the quality of life for people around the world”. It does this through establishing research institutes at universities in many different countries, endowing professorial chairs at universities, sponsoring science symposia and workshops, engaging the public in science via education, promoting scientists’ communications, and, rewarding excellence in science journalism. As part of these programs, the Kavli Prizes were established by the Foundation in associatiion with The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, and The Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research. The Kavli Prizes are intended to honor scientists “for making seminal advances in 3 research areas: astrophysics, nanoscience, and neuroscience”. Fred Kavli elected to emphasize research areas representing the largest subjects (astrophysics studies the entire universe), the smallest subjects (nanoscience studies structure and function at the level of atoms and molecules), and the most complex subjects (neuroscientists can study normal and pathological functioning of the human brain). Fred Kavli was particularly enthusiastic about supportingbasic scientific research because he correctly viewed that as the generator of subsequent developments providing practical benefits for humanity. He also recognized that experimental science is not always predictable, and that practical consequences often arise only many years after a discovery in basic research. Clearly, all of the programs sponsored by Fred Kavli are having and will continue to have a very beneficial impact on science in the modern world.The selection of Kavli Prize Laureates is made by international committees of distinguished scientists recommended by several national academies of science. The awards are announced by the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters as part of the opening events at the annual World Science Festival. During the Kavli Prize Week in Oslo, each Laureate receives a gold medal, a special scroll, and a large financial award, from a member of the royal family of Norway. Very good information about Fred Kavli (1927 – 2013) is given on the internet by the Kavli Prize website at: http://www.kavliprize.org/about/fred-kavli . A glimpse into Kavli’s life, personality, and hopes for science progress is offered by several good short videos on the internet: (1) “WSF (World Science Festival) Remembers Fred Kavli (1927-2013), Giant of Science Philanthropy” at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ch6yMD4JGCc (wonderful!), and, (2) “Basic Research’s Generous Benefactor” at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lYkvP_HKZZY (very highly recommended!). The organization, purpose, and history of the Kavli Prizes and the Kavli Foundation are available at: http://www.kavliprize.org/about/guidelines , and at: http://www.kavliprize.org/about/kavli-foundation . 2014 Kavli Prize in AstrophysicsThe 2014 Kavli Prize iin Astrop hysics was awarded jointly to 3 professors working with theoretical physics: Alan H. Guth, Ph.D. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA), Andrei D. Linde, Ph.D. (Stanford University, USA), and Alexei A. Starobinsky, Ph.D. (Landau Institute for Theoretical Physics, Russian Academy of Science, Russia). These awards are made for their independent development of the modern theory of ‘cosmic inflation’, which proposes that the there was a very brief yet gigantic expansion of our universe shortly after its initial formation; this dramatic new theory now has been supported by some data from space probes and caused large changes in current theoretical concepts for the evolution of the cosmos. Further information about the 2014 Kavli Prize in Astrophysics and these Laureates is available on the internet at: http://www.kavliprize.org/prizes-and-laureates/prizes/2014-kavli-prize-laureates-astrophysics . 2014 Kavli Prize in NanoscienceThe 2014 Kavli Prize in Nanoscience was awarded to 3 university professors: Thomas W. Ebbeson, Ph.D. (University of Strasbourg, France), Stefan W. Hell, Ph.D. (Max-Planck-Institute for Biophysical Chemistry}, and John B. Pendry, Ph.D. (Imperial College London, U.K.). Each independently researched different aspects of basic and applied optics needed to advance the resolution level of light microscopy much beyond what had been believed to be possible; their research findings led to the development of nano-optics and the transformation of light microscopy into nanoscopy. The new ability of light microscopy to now see objects at the nanoscale dimension greatly expands and improves its utility for nanoscience research (i.e., nanobiology, nanochemistry, nanomedicine, and nanophysics). It is interesting to note that Prof Hell also will receive a 2014 Nobel Prize in recognition of his outstanding research. Further information about the 2014 Kavli Prize in Nanoscience and these Laureates is available on the internet at: http://www.kavliprize.org/prizes-and-laureates/prizes/2014-kavli-prize-laureates-nanoscience . 2014 Kavli Prize in NeuroscienceThe 2014 Kavli Prize in Neuroscience was awarded jointly to 3 professors: Brenda Milner, Ph.D. (Montreal Neurological Institute, McGill University, Canada), John O’Keefe, Ph.D. (University College London, U.K.), and Marcus E. Raichle, Ph.D. (Washington University School of Medicine). Their different research investigations revealed a cellular and networking basis for memory and cognition in the brain; their experimental findings resulted from the development and use of new technologies for brain research, and led to establishment of the modern field of ‘cognitive neuroscience’. The resulting new knowledge about memory and cognition advances understanding of human diseases causing memory loss and dementia (e.g., Alzheimer ’s disease). It is of special interest to note that Prof. O’Keefe also will receive a 2014 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, in recognitionof his very significant brain research. Further information about the 2014 Kavli Prize in Neiuroscience and these Laureates is available on the internet at: http://www.kavliprize.org/prizes-and-laureates/prizes/2014-kavli-prize-laureates-neuroscience . A discussion with all 3 of these 2014 Laureates, which will be readily understood and especially interesting for both non-scientists and professional scientists, is available on the internet at: http://www.kavliprize.org/events-and-features/2014-kavli-prize-neuroscience-discussion-lauereates . Concluding RemarksIt is indeed very striking that several honorees for the different 2014 Kavli Prizes also have been selected for the 2014 Nobel Prizes (see: http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/lists/year/index.html?year=2014&images=yes ). That convergence of judgment emphasizes that the choices of which scientists have made sufficiently important advances in research are made with consistency by the different selection committees for these 2 supreme science awards. Since Fred Kavli elected to emphasize work in several of the hottest research areas in modern science, this convergence of awards can be expected to continue in the future. There can be no doubt that all awardees selected for the 2014 awards of Kavli Prizes are very outstanding investigators who have made remarkable progress in scientific research. Everyone in the world should appreciate and celebrate the hard work and research success of the 2014 Kavli Laureates.
The Nobel Institute has just announced the awardees of this year’s Nobel Prizes in science. As always, the scientists selected are unquestionably outstanding researchers and contributors to the progress of science. The Nobel Prize  and the Kavli Prize  are the very highest honor any scientist can earn.
In this article, I will first present a short introduction to the Nobel Prizes in science, and then I will very briefly summarize the research work of the new 2014 honorees. For each topic I also will offer some good resources where more information can be found on the internet.
Alfred Nobel (1833 – 1896) is famed as the inventor of dynamite and other explosives, and as a very successful industrialist. Surprisingly, this Swede had very limited formal schooling. At his death, he held over 350 patents. Nobel left much of his substantial fortune to establish the honorific prizes that bear his name; his will directed that the awards in science should be for “those who during the preceding year have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind”. The first Nobel Prize was awarded in 1901.
At present, separate Prizes are devoted to all of the 3 major branches of science, and also to literature, economic sciences, and peace. The selection of honorees (Nobel Laureates) is administered by The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, The Nobel Assembly of the Karolinska Institute (Norway), and the Nobel Foundation. The Nobel Prizes in science are presented by the royal ruler of Sweden during the large celebration of “Nobel Week” in December; each new Laureate gives a Nobel Lecture and receives a Nobel Medal, a Nobel Diploma, and a document stating their financial award. As many Laureates have said, receiving a Nobel Prize is a spectacular once-in-a-lifetime experience; nevertheless, a few scientists actually have won a second Nobel Prize.
The official history of Alfred Nobel is presented at: http://www.nobelprize.org/alfred_nobel/ . General information about the Nobel Prizes, Nobel Prize Week, Nobel Laureates, and the topics for recent awards are presented at: http://www.nobelprize.org/ . A listing of all the awardees for each Prize is given at: http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/facts/ . Many good materials for science education and modern videos about the Nobel Prize awardees are available on that site. First, you are required to select one item from very extensive lists of all the yearly Nobel Prizes and Laureates , and then to select one year; lastly, indicate whether you want to see a Nobel Lecture, an Interview with a specific Laureate (highly recommended!), or a Commentary.
2014 Nobel Prize in Physics
The 2014 Nobel Prize in Physcs is awarded jointly to 3 professors : Isamu Akasaki, Ph.D. (Meijo University and Nagoya University, Japan), Hiroshi Amano, Ph.D. (Nagoya University, Japan), and, Shuji Nakamura, Ph.D. (University of California, Santa Barbara, USA). Their determined and detailed research investigations over several decades finally led to several successful ways to create emission of blue light from light-emitting diodes (LEDs). That invention then led to the long-sought development of LEDs that emit white light. There now is worldwide installation of commercial white LEDs as replacements for standard light bulbs, since these new LEDs are brighter, less costly, longer lasting, non-polluting, and much more efficient. These practical improvements for everyday life came about through the classical sequence of basic research, applied research, and engineering developments, and, will benefit all humans.
The 2014 Nobel Prize in Chemistry is awarded jointly to 3 academic scientists: Eric Betzig, Ph.D. (Janelia Research Campus, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Ashburn, Virginia, USA), Stefan W. Hell, Ph.D. (Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry, Göttingen, and German Cancer Research Center, Hdeidelberg, Germany), and William E. Moerner, Ph.D. (Professorships in Chemistry and Applied Physics, Stanford University, Stanford, California, USA). Working independently, each contributed to enable the difficult technological breakthrough that permits light microscopy to become “nanoscopy” or “super-resolution light microscopy. Much smaller details now can be seen than was previously possible with standard light microscopes. This great advance in research instrumentation even allows detection of location and movements of individual protein molecules within living cells.
The 2014 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine is awarded jointly to 3 university scientists: John O’Keefe, Ph.D. (Sainsbury Wellcome Centre in Neural Circuits and Behaviour, University College London, U.K.), May-Britt Moser, Ph.D. (Centre for Neural Computation, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway), and Edward I. Moser, Ph.D. (Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience, University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway). Their neuroscience research involves experimental studies of the brain, and seeks to define how place and navigation in the spatial environment are sensed, analyzed, and remembered. Spatial memory is frequently affected in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Their investigations show that this sensing of spatial positioning occurs in certain cells within 2 brain locations; these cells talk to each other and together form a map of spatial locations that is recorded in the memory.
The Nobel Prizes represent recognition that science, research, and scientists are producing new achievements that benefit all of us in our daily life. Ordinary adults who are not scientists should be generally aware of the new Nobel Prize awards, and can point these out to any of their children showing interests in science. For non-scientists, knowing the names of the Laureates is not important, but the nature and meaning of the research advances meriting these awards are significant (i.e., How are the results important to me and others?). The Nobel Prizes are a recognition of preeminent progress in global science, and everyone is invited to join this celebration!
Professional scientists should be particularly aware of the new Nobel Laureates in their branch of science. Only a small handful of scientists ever win a Nobel Prize, and some who clearly deserve one are passed over. All research scientists should join in celebrating the wonderful achievements of the 2014 Laureates, and also should celebrate their own less-recognized contributions to the progress of science!
2014 is the 100th year since the discovery that a beam of x-rays directed onto a single crystal comes out as multiple beams forming discrete spots. That monumental finding has been called one the most important scientific research discoveries of all time. Everyone in the entire public now is invited to celebrate this special 2014, designated by the United Nations as the International Year of Crystallography (IYCr2014)! Below, I give the briefest possible non-mathematical introduction to the basic essentials of crystals and crystallography, along with some recommended internet websites where much further information is available.
What are crystals?
We all encounter crystals every day, but most know little about them. Crystals consist of matter whose smallest subunits (i.e., molecules or macromolecules) are very highly ordered in all 3 dimensions (3-D), as depicted in the opening figure above. Some typical examples of the numerous crystals we commonly see are table salt (sodium chloride), diamonds in rings and jewelry (carbon), ice (water), and small granules of sugar (glucose). If you have a magnifier, take a look now at what is in your salt shaker and you will observe many tiny crystals!
The 3-D ordering of the components making up crystals is so perfect that each and every subunit has exactly the same orientation and positioning as do all its neighbors. This means that the atoms making up each subunit also have identical positioning to those in other subunits. When a beam of x-rays is directed onto a single crystal in a suitable manner, each atom in the highly ordered complex scatters the incoming radiation identically into discrete spots. The array of different spots produced from one crystal is the sum of the rays scattered by all its component atoms; because the innumerable atoms are so highly ordered, the many scattered rays join to form discrete spots.
What is diffraction?
Diffraction is a fundamental property of atoms whereby incoming x-rays, electrons, or neutrons are scattered at characteristic angles and intensities. The numerous scattered rays form an ordered array of diffraction spots and rings known as a diffraction pattern. A single crystal produces one set of periodic diffraction spots, 2 crystals produce 2 sets of spots (at different rotations), and multiple crystals in polycrystalline materials will produce diffraction rings (i.e., many sets of the same spots at numerous different rotations). The periodic order in diffraction patterns directly corresponds to the ordered position of the different atoms inside crystals; this means that diffraction patterns show atomic structure of the material making up each crystal. The diffraction pattern is totally distinctive for each crystalline material, since the locations (atomic spacings) and brightness (kinds and numbers of atoms) of spots or rings are unique for each kind of crystalline matter.
What is crystallography?
Crystallography is a research methodology for studying crystals. Diffraction patterns are used in crystallography to tell us about the arrangement of the component atoms inside many different materials. Since the beginning of x-ray crystallography one century ago, many thousands of materials have been crystallized and examined by crystallography; these include catalysts, enzymes, metals, minerals and biominerals, newly synthesized chemical compounds, proteins, salts, viruses, etc. Because the atoms inside crystals are so highly ordered in an identical manner, diffraction patterns can be recorded, measured, and then processed by computation to determine structure down to the level of individual atoms. This atomic structure determination of crystalline matter is the magic of crystallography!
Crystallography is a global activity for both science and industry, and almost all countries have scientists working as crystallographers. X-ray diffraction is the most frequently used approach for crystallography, and now is quite automated through the use of computers to carry out the extensive numerical calculations needed to define an unknown structure to a high level of resolution. Crystallography can be performed with laboratory x-ray sources or with very powerful and very fast x-rays produced by synchrotrons. The hugely expensive synchrotron facilities are rather few in number, but have well-organized programs permitting their use by many visiting scientists. Diffraction of electrons or neutrons also provides valuable special knowledge about structure at the atomic level. When all is said and done, crystallography simply is a special way of looking at structure.
Not all materials are crystalline
Not all substances are naturally crystalline or can be induced to form crystals. If the atoms in some substance are not ordered at all (i.e., they are randomly distributed), then this material is said to be in the amorphous state. Examples of amorphous materials we see frequently include liquid water, many plastics, and air. Inducing the formation of very highly ordered crystals is an essential requirement for structure determination by x-ray crystallography, since amorphous materials do not produce any diffraction spots or rings.
How does crystallography matter to you and me?
Why do research scientists spend so much time and effort to use the magic of crystallography for determining the atomic structure of many kinds of physical, chemical, and biological materials? The answer is that this knowledge about structure always provides information about functional capabilities and mechanisms for activities. As one example, consider what can be derived from new knowledge about the high resolution structure of a virus; this will often increase understanding about its biogenesis, mechanism for infecting host cells, immunoreactivity, and differences from other viruses. Knowledge about functional capabilities always is immensely valuable for both science and industry; for example: functioning of some inorganic catalyst or enzyme (e.g., mechanisms for activity and activation), interactions with other ions and molecules (e.g., changed functioning upon binding), formation of functional complexes (e.g., complex multi-protein assemblies), arrangement to form some more complex object (e.g., associations of 2-D polymers), changes producing specific toxic effects, prerequisites for binding to various ligands. sequential steps in genesis, characteristics of new materials (e.g., nano-materials made in university or industrial labs), etc.
Where can more information be found about crystals, crystallography, and IYCr2014?
In the year-long world-wide celebration of crystallography and crystallographers during IYCr2014, many very fascinating programs for non-scientists now are being featured on the internet. A large directory of instructive videos about crystals and crystallography for IYCr2014 is available at: http://iycr2014.org/learn/watch . Dr.M gives a rating of ‘outstanding’ to “Diving into the Heart of the Molecules of Life”, which shows how modern protein crystallography is done (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GfOyZch6llo ); regardless of which branch of science you prefer, Dr.M encourages everyone to see this video.
The International Union of Crystallography, which coordinates the international congresses on crystallography, has a special area on its website explaining the current celebration of IYCr2014 (see http://www.iycr2014.org/about/video , and, http://www.iycr2014.org/about ). Other large areas provide a listing of many internet resources and web tutorials dealing with crystals and crystallography; these include educational materials for students and teachers, and, recipes and instructions for growing your own crystals ( http://www.iycr2014.org/learn/educational-materials ). The American Crystallographic Association has annual meetings that always include a special presentation aimed to instruct ordinary people about crystals and crystallography ( http://www.amercrystalassn.org/ ); this and many other national or regional crystallography societies also feature special IYCr2014 programs on their websites.
Visitors to Dr.M’s website are urged to take a look at any of these internet resources. You don’t have to be a scientist to love crystals! The IYCr2014 is for everyone, and that includes you!
Not all good research scientists advance to become famous, and almost all famous researchers do not achieve the highest honor of winning a Nobel Prize  or a Kavli Prize .These facts make it seem rather mysterious how a scientist does achieve enough renown to be awarded one of those supreme honors.What is it that makes a research scientist become famous?
Working scientists traditionally become acclaimed by their peers (i.e., other scientists in their field of study) primarily on the basis of one or more distinctive characteristics: (1) their experimental findings achieve a breakthrough in research progress, thereby causing a dramatic shift of direction for many subsequent studies, (2) they resolve a long-standing research controversy, (3) they develop a new theory or concept that comes to have an expanding influence on the work of other researchers, or, (4) they invent and develop a new piece of research instrumentation or a new process for analysis of specimens.These individuals, unlike the great bulk of ordinary research scientists, seem to have much good luck and are not so perturbed by the usual practical research problems with time and money; in one word, very famous scientists usually appear to be “blessed”.These generalizations seem true for all the different branches of science, and are valid for scientists in numerous different countries.
The Biggest Prizes in Science
Only a very small handful of scientists are awarded the highest honors in science, a Nobel Prize  or a Kavli Prize .There are many other famous scientists besides those few winners!Some scientists are so ambitious that they undertake some of their experimental studies specifically to acquire a big prize; however, winning one of these awards is well-known to partly depend on circumstances beyond their control, such as being in the right place at the right time, succeeding with their research project to produce a widely hoped for result (e.g., creating a cure for some disease), or, working in a large field of study where many other researchers are active.In addition, it is widely suspected that earning one of these top science prizes also depends upon certain unofficial qualifications, such as who you know, who dislikes you, and what area of science you are working with.There can be no doubt that the awardees are fully deserving and are great scientists.
Readers can gain a much larger understanding about what it takes to win one of these elite honors by viewing some of the many fascinating video interviews with winners on the internet websites for the Nobel Prize (http://www.nobelprize.org/mediaplayer/ ).These excellent videos examine the life and work of very famous scientists, both in modern times and from the last century. Other videos present explanations of why their research work was judged to be so very important; corresponding written material is available for the Kavli Prize (http://www.kavliprize.no/seksjon/vis.html?tid=61429 ).I have personally seen many of these and very highly recommend them to all non-scientists, as well as to younger scientists.
The Path to Fame and Fortune in Science
The path to fame and fortune in scientific research often isa progression of steps leading from local to national and then to international renown.These steps reflect the formation of an enlarging network of other research scientists who are aware of the ambitious scientist, and have respect and admiration for what he or she is doing in the laboratory; eventually, the network expands so that even teachers, students, and various officials all become quite aware of this scientist.Another mark of progressing towards fame and fortune involves receipt of more and more invitations to speak, to write, and to participate in science events at diverse locations around the world.This advancement can be recognized by appointments to serve on committees of national organizations and editorial boards for science journals; in addition, progress also is shown by invitations to author review articles, and by receipt of public recognition within descriptive news reports in important general science journals such as Science and Nature.Professional reputation usually moves in parallel to achievement of these hallmarks.
Common signs of success and fame in research scientists are achievement of some breakthrough experiment or invention, enlargement of lab personnel and research budget due to success with the research grant system, and widely acknowledged mastery in one’s field of science.These hallmarks increase the reputation of research scientists.For many good scientists, a very wonderful major honor is simply getting their research grants renewed, so they then are no longer required to work only on projects lasting for 3-5 years.Nobel Laureates often, but not always, have success in dealing with the research grant system.In addition to all the glory of winning one of the largest science prizes, there also can be some undesired consequences, such as too much attention, too many new demands for time, and, difficulty in maintaining the awardee’s extremely elevated status.
With regard to fortune, certain universities are notorious for paying their junior faculty only a very meager salary, but that changes dramatically when they advance in rank. Professional scientists in academia and industry become financially comfortable, but do not usually consider themselves to really be rich.Some university scientists do become very wealthy by starting one or more new small businesses centered on their expertise, creativity, and inventions; industrial scientists can receive bonuses for key contributions in enabling some new or improved product to be produced and marketed.By the time of retirement, scientists usually have good savings and are entitled to full retirement benefits.
Comments for Non-Scientists about Reputations and Awards
Non-scientist readers should try to understand that a renowned and very appreciated faculty scientist at a college or small university might be very highly honored locally, and deservedly so, but could have little national renown and no international reputation.Some other famous scientist working at a prestigious very large university might be more appreciated nationally and internationally, than locally.My message here is that the amount of “success and renown” is relative; researchers do not have to become a Nobel Laureate or a Kavli Prize awardee in order to be recognized as being a famous and excellent scientist.
Some readers will wonder about whether a young scientist could direct all their professional efforts towards winning a big science prize, and succeed in this ambition?That is possible in theory, but is very, very unlikely in practice.Even if a researcher earned a doctorate at Harvard, was a Postdoc at Berkeley and Basel, achieved tenure at Columbia University (New York), and was good with both politics and people, there is no guarantee that this scientist will receive one of these very large honors.There simply are too many unknowns and too many personalities involved to make receipt of a Nobel Prize or Kavli Prize anything other than very uncertain and doubtful.In fact, some really outstanding research scientists do not receive the supreme award that they so clearly deserve .I believe that it is good for scientists to be ambitious and to strive to win a big prize, but the simple fact is that very few excellent and famous researchers achieve this highest honor.
Many research scientists in academia and industry work very hard to achieve excellence and to be appreciated by their peers, students, and employer, and by the public.There is no single path to becoming labeled as a famous scientist, and the route always contains many hurdles and frustrations.When all is said and done, it always is internally satisfying if a mature scientist regards themself as being successful, even if they also have some human defects or run into insurmountable problems.Self-satisfaction and peer recognition indeed are very big rewards for doing an excellent job in science and research.
Modern scientific research each year costs many billions of dollars in the USA, and over a trillion dollars in the entire globe [1,2]!Research studies are supported by money from taxpayers, industry, and some dedicated group associations.Even a casual look at scientists working on laboratory experiments shows that their activities always have a high cost.Why exactly are science and research so very expensive?
There are many separate reasons why modern research always is costly.First is the cost of salaries.Research scientists deserve a good salary, due to their very long education and advanced training, specialized job skills, and previous lab experience in science.Doctoral scientists have spent at least 4 years working on their graduate thesis, and then usually spend another 1-5 years as a postdoctoral research associate (see recent article in the Basic Introductions category on “All About Postdocs, Part I: What are Postdocs, and What do they Do?”).When academic faculty jobs are scarce, some researchers spend 5-10 years, or even more, working as Postdocs, before they finally land a beginning position in academia or in an industrial laboratory.This means that most scientists really find their first career employment at around 30-40 years of age.Other lab personnel also have special training, and thus must also receive a good salary.All the payments for salaries of the Principal Investigator, Postdocs, research technicians, and graduate students add up to many dollars each year.
Second is the cost of special research supplies and materials.Laboratory experiments frequently involve usage of special supplies for the preparation and analysis of research samples.Even the water used to prepare simple buffers and solutions must first be processed to a very high purity level before it becomes suitable for research usage.Unusual chemical supplies are expensive because they must be custom-synthesized or specially isolated; only after final purity assays do these become suitable for use in research studies.Special materials in high purity are essential for many lab experiments and inevitably cost many dollars.
Third is the cost of special research equipment.Typical lab research at universities requires at least several pieces of expensive research instrumentation (e.g., amino-acid analyzers, automated analytical chromatography systems, facilities for cell culture, light and electron microscopes, mass spectrographs, polymerase chain reaction machines, temperature- and pressure-controlled reaction chambers, ultracentrifuges, etc.).Even after their purchase, there are further expenses for annual service contracts or repairs, adjunctive support facilities, and add-on accessories; in addition, salaries for research technicians trained to operate these special research instruments must be included here.Special research instrumentation always costs lots of money.
Fourth is the cost of time.Good research typically takes much time to be completed.Conducting research is always an exploration of the unknown, and never progresses in an automatic manner.Many non-scientists have heard about the so-called “scientific method for research”, wrongly leading them to view experiments as cut and dried exercises that always work as planned; nothing could be farther from the truth!Not all experiments work, and many of those that do work proceed in a different manner than expected.Acquiring one unanticipated result sometimes necessitates undertaking several new experiments in order to pin down the whys and wherefores of the earlier new data.All research results must be repeated at least once in order to have confidence that they are bonafide and statistically reliable.Modern experimental research studies typically take about 6 months to 2 years to reach the stage of being able to publish the results in a professional journal.The long time needed for conducting research work costs lots of money.
Fifth are the adjunctive costs of conducting research studies.Where certain samples are used for the research studies, a number of special adjunctive costs arise.Use of laboratory animals for experimental research is increasingly costly, due to the rules for animal care regulations and required veterinary oversight/support.For cases where clinical research is conducted in a hospital setting, there are considerable costs for associated patient care, clinical and research chemistry, professional support services, etc.For cases where clinical samples are researched outside hospitals, work in special bio-containment facilities with safety monitoring is required. These required extra costs are in addition to all the many usual research expenses.
Scientific research costs lots of money because all he many different experimental operations require use of special supplies and instruments, salaries for specially trained research workers, specified safety measures for certain specimens, specified measures for use and disposal of radioactive materials andtoxic substances, and, many other adjunctive expenses.All these different costs are needed for a time period typically measured in years.As the saying goes, it all sure does add up!
I have tried to give enough details here so that non-scientists will readily see how modern research studies necessitate substantial total expenses in the USA.All of these perfectly usual costs for one individual scientist then must be multiplied by the number of research professionals, in order to arrive at the total national costs being spent annually on research.That is a huge figure, but sometimes one must add the large sums paid for those research projects involving Big Science (e.g., space probes, oceanographic surveys, clinical trials of new pharmacological agents, etc.), and for use of special research facilities at one of the national laboratories (e.g., Brookhaven National Laboratory, Sandia Laboratories, advanced photon source at the Argonne National Laboratory, etc.).The grand total costs for annual research expenses thus become a truly gigantic number of dollars.
This valid realization about the huge costs of doing scientific research in the USA sets the stage for a big follow-up question, asking whether the value obtained for science and society is worth this total cost?I will discuss this difficult question at a later time.
Scientists Love to Participate in Science Meetings! (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Just about all scientists happily attend at least one science meeting every year.Week-long annual gatherings are organized by national science societies.Since their membership can be large (i.e., many thousands of scientists), these gatherings are a big circus of activities.The annual USA meeting organized by the Society for Neuroscience attracted an attendance of over 30,000 in 2013 .Both graduate students, Postdocs, professional researchers from academia and industry, and, Nobel Laureates are found among the attendees.Very general science organizations, such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science , also hold large annual gatherings.
Yet other types of science meetings have a somewhat different and distinctive character.International science congresses for various disciplines are held every 2-4 years [e.g., 3,4].Unlike the national gatherings taking place each year around the world, most international meetings are conducted in English. For attendees, they offer both a chance to meet and talk to scientists from other countries, and to visit different parts of the world; scientific research truly is a very global endeavor.Various topical research meetings and technical workshops typically are organized every few years for researchers working in a discrete area of science; often they are centered on a certain subject, specimen, or methodology, and so attract around 25-200 attendees.These more intimate gatherings are very intense, and are invaluable for having access to unpublished new research findings; I found them to be particularly valuable for witnessing open debates between several scientists, and for getting to personally know colleagues who are actively researching in the same or similar areas.Publication meetings are organized at irregular intervals for the purpose of summarizing research advances and controversies in some specialized area, and then publishing a book with edited chapters composed by the invited presenters; typical attendance is similar to that of the topical research meetings.
Where are science meetings held?
The answer to this question depends upon how many persons will attend, where are there many scientists residing nearby, what rates are available from hotels or other accommodations, and what are the air transportation facilities.Meeting management companies will do all of the necessary organizational work for the science societies.Some larger societies are trapped by their very size, and so can meet only at the same very large convention centers every year.Other societies meet at a different city each year, which enables attendees to visit many different locales.Regional groups commonly meet at some central location.Smaller meetings can be held at universities during the summertime, which enables much lower costs for lodging and conference rooms.International meetings usually move around the world; this enables attendees to have a wonderful combination of science and vacation pleasures. Over the years, I have participated in international gatherings at such locations as Kyoto, Hyogo (SPring-8), and Sapporo (Japan), Grenoble and Paris (France), London and Oxford (U.K.), Caxambú and Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Toronto and Montreal, Canada, Davos (Switzerland), Brno (Czech Republic), and, Cancun (Mexico).Of course, some international congresses also take place in the USA!
Who pays for these science meetings?
For participation in the yearly national meetings, each attendee pays a registration fee (e.g., at least several hundred dollars) in addition to their annual dues for membership in that science society.In addition, attendees must pay for their travel and hotels.All these costs do add up, and have become substantial in modern times, particularly due to the annual rises in travel and registration costs.Some meetings are able to offer free registration and special rates for accommodations of graduate students and Postdocs.Many faculty scientists stop attending science meetings unless they are invited to give a presentation, in which case they receive free registration and/or reimbursement for their expenses; the commonly stated rather phony reason for not attending without an invitation is that, “I do not have any extra travel money in my grant(s)!”.I myself am unusual in this regard, since I have paid my own way to attend some meetings; I feel that I was simply investing in my own research efforts and career.
What is it that attracts so many scientists to attend science meetings?
In general, annual science meetings typically feature: (1) invited special oral presentations by research scientists who are famous leaders in their area of study, (2) contributed brief oral or poster presentations given by members of the society at many different topical sessions , (3) technical workshops about research instrumentation and experimental methodology, (4) roundtable discussion sessions where several well-known scientists have an interchange with each other and the audience about some research controversy or new feature of interest, (5) social events, such as a meeting opener and a banquet, (6) a commercial exhibition by manufacturers of research instruments and supplies, (7) evening cocktail parties with unlimited free alcohol are sponsored by some of the larger commercial concerns and are open to all meeting attendees (i.e., as potential customers), and, (8) opportunities to actually meet and talk with very famous researchers, competitors in your field, and graduate students seeking a suitable postdoctoral position.Thus, these gatherings are enjoyable, educational, interesting, important, and sometimes inspiring.
All of the above official activities are valuable, but sometimes can be considered as being secondary to a variety of certain unofficial meeting activities, including: (1) greeting old friends, such as former classmates and science teachers, (2) conversing with many other research scientists, (3) restaurant dinners sponsored by department chairs or laboratory heads, (4) meeting others whowork on the same research subject as the attendee, and discussing common issues or technical problems, (5) informal social activities, and (6) a chance to see a new geographical location.Clearly, there always is a lot to do at science meetings, and they constitute a major career enjoyment for many scientists (see my earlier article in the Scientists category on “What is the Fun of being a Scientist?”).
Although I have met only one or 2 scientists in my life who dislike going to science meetings, most do so enthusiastically.The success of annual meetings such as that of the giant Society for Neuroscience is paradoxically lessened by the sheer giant number of attendees; this makes it simply impossible to find certain persons you are eager to talk to, and all the session rooms are utterly packed with other participants.I thus developed a large preference for the smaller and more personal topical meetings, because: (1) they are much more intense, (2) you can find and converse with everyone else, even Nobel Laureates, (3) the very latest research results in your particular area of interest are presented and discussed, and, (4) everyone participating has a direct or indirect interest in the same research subject(s).
Are there any science meetings for non-scientists?
The answer to this question is a loud “yes!”.All the larger national and international science meetings have one or more free sessions designed to inform the public about their area(s) of science and recent advances in research.These special sessions last for 1-3 hours and can be targeted to children, teachers, media reporters, or the general public.They often feature dramatic videos showing amazing findings and research endeavors, along with explanations for non-scientists about what is being shown. Usually there is time reserved for questions from the audience.
Readers are urged to check on the internet to find out which science meetings will be held nearby, and what free public sessions are scheduled.I assure all readers that they will be welcomed to participate in these special public sessions designed for non-scientists.
I hope this introductory article explains to all readers the important usefulness of professional meetings for scientists.Please let me know if you have any questions about science meetings via the Comments button below.
 American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), 2014.2015 annual meeting.Available on the internet at:http://www.aaas.org/AM2013 .
Czechoslovak Microscopy Society, and, International Federation of Societies for Microscopy, 2014.18th International Microscopy Congress, 2014, Prague, Czech Republic.Available on the internet at:http://www.imc2014.com/ .
XII International Conference on Nanostructured Materials, Moscow, Russia, 2014.NANO 2014.Available on the internet at:http://www.nano2014.org/ .
Bright and Eager Young Postdoc in 2014! (http://dr-monsrs.net)
What in the world is a “Postdoc” in the arena of science?Why do most new science Ph.D.’s spend at least one additional year as a Postdoctoral Fellow?What do Postdocs work on?What do Postdocs get for their efforts? How are Postdocs important for scientific research?Most people in the general public have no idea about answers to these questions!This article is the first of a pair about Postdocs.All in Part I is intended for general readers who are not scientists, but who have curiosity about scientific research and wonder how it is accomplished; it willinform you about the why’s and wherefore’s of being a Postdoc.The subsequent Part II will not have interest for general readers, and is specifically aimed at advising graduate students and current Postdocs.
What are Postdocs?Why are 2-8 Years in Graduate School Not Sufficient to Make a Scientist?
Postdocs officially are Postdoctoral Research Fellows. They aim to become much more experienced, independent, knowledgeable, skillful, and versatile than are the raw products of any graduate school program.As nascent research scientists, Postdocs work (e.g., 1-4 years) to greatly expand their understanding and insight in experimental science, broaden their research skills, increase their research publications, advance their reputation as a productive researcher, and, mature into independent professional scientific investigators.
Why would any new doctorate in science need to get this advanced training and additional experience in scientific research?The basic answer is that a new science Ph.D. mostly has knowledge only in one subject area, and practical experience with only a small number of research approaches.The training acquired during coursework and the laboratory experiments that served as the basis for a Ph.D. simply are just a foundation that is not sufficient to make the young researcher qualified for university employment as a faculty scientist.New graduates need to go far beyond what their graduate school training and experience provided.They need to greatly widen their experience, deepen their expertise, and more firmly establish their professional identity, before they are qualified to find employment as a professional scientist.To do that, Postdocs work with new kinds of research instrumentation, new research systems, and new research questions.They also learn much about being a professional scientist and dealing with all the non-science problems that will arise during their later career.Postdocs thus work to become fully-fledged independent professional scientists.Postdocs do not receive any certificate or diploma for successfully completing their efforts; instead, they obtain confidence that their new high-quality research publications and advanced know-how will be a big help in finally finding a good job as a scientist and researcher.
Readers who are not scientists might better understand the purpose of the postdoctoral period if they will view it as being analogous to the advanced training of a professional chef.Being able to make a mousse dessert or cook a stuffed goose is not enough to be a master chef.To achieve that rank, they must work in a number of different apprenticeship positions before finally having enough of both specialized culinary knowledge and on-the-job experience to become a head chef, and later a restaurant owner.For hiring new university faculty in science, the postdoctoral experience is essential.For hiring at industrial research and development centers, there is a less rigorous demand for postdoctoral training, particularly because these employers generally have an extended and highly specialized training program for all their newly hired scientists; that program can be considered as being equivalent to a mini-postdoctoral experience.
What Do Postdocs Actually Do?
Being a Postdoc almost always is a particularly exciting time.It involves intense learning, development of skillful expertise in hands-on experimental investigations, maturing of critical judgment and ability to organize efficient research efforts, and, establishing one’s identity and reputation as a professional research scientist.Each year, hard-working Postdocs analyze their new data and then publish their research results, give presentations at a national or international science meeting, and ponder exactly what sort of job they will seek later.Postdocs must dive right in and try to produce good publications with important new research results within their first year of work.Thus, the work and time schedules of Postdocs are much more intense than was the case during their years of graduate school studies.
In addition to their laboratory experiments, Postdocs seek to learn many new skills outside the laboratory.These include observations and instructions about how to handle rules and regulations, deal with problems of time and money, criticize both their own work and that of other scientists, compose manuscripts, present research reports orally, apply for research grants, and, work in coordination with a team of laboratory co-workers.In their research investigations, some Postdocs even are given the opportunity to direct the operations of a research technician or graduate student.All of these instructive situations vastly increase the competence of the Postdoc to deal successfully with future activities and responsibilities arising later in the course of their career.
Many research scientists hold more than one postdoctoral position, either by choice or of necessity, before they find a good job in academia, industry, or elsewhere.Postdoctoral salaries now are at good levels so that this is a realistic proposition; quite a few Postdocs already are married.In modern times where good jobs are not so plentiful, some scientists even work in postdoctoral positions for over 10 years.I myself held 2 postdoctoral positions, one in France and the second in the USA; both were unique, exciting, utterly wonderful, and very valuable experiences for me!
What are Postdoctoral Mentors, and Why are They Important?
Not all university scientists have Postdocs in their labs, largely due to their relative lack of success with the research grant system.The supervisor of Postdocs, denoted as the Postdoctoral Mentor, is a successful research scientist who can offer time, financial support, good research facilities, experienced critical judgment, and professional guidance to their Postdoctoral Fellows.For the Mentor, Postdocs are a big prize and contribute greatly to the success of the Mentor’s research projects.The several Postdocs in my own research laboratory all were invaluable for research progress and much fun to work with.
The Mentor has a very important role because it is during the postdoctoral period that most scientists solidify their professional identity as a researcher specialized in some particular branch of science (e.g., microbial cell biology, or virology; materials science, or alloy metallurgy; lithium inorganic chemistry, or geological chemistry; astrophysics, or theoretical physics; etc.), and establish their basic reputation as a researcher.The Postdoctoral Mentor guides the maturation of the new scientist and often serves as a role model for what a Postdoc aims to become.Both the Postdoctoral Mentor and the thesis advisor certainly deserve some credit for what their younger associates later accomplish in the world of research.
How are Postdocs very Valuable for Science?
Postdocs have several characteristics as researchers that are different from both graduate students and employed scientists.Postdocs typically are: (1) semi-independent workers, and so do not need constant supervision; (2) particularly suited for carrying out difficult experiments since they are ambitious, eager, energetic,and highly motivated; (3) still young and more readily able to adapt unconventional approaches and make improvements to experimental research practices; and, (4) dedicated to completing research projects with efficiency (i.e., on time), so that they can publish their new results and thereby increase their reputation.These characteristics mean that Postdocs play an important role in grant-supported research, and comprise the next generation of scientific researchers.
In Part I, I have presented the role of Postdocs within modern scientific research, and explained the importance of Postdoctoral Mentors as shapers of future research scientists and leaders.Those who have never previously heard of Postdoctoral Research Fellows now should be able to understand and appreciate their important role in the research enterprise.Questions about this topic and article are welcome via the Comments section.
Since most adults know so little about science and research, I thought it would be good to briefly present how scientists have fun with their job activities.
Most research scientists, including me, have not won a Nobel Prize, are not heading a research institute, have never acquired research grants for many millions of dollars at one time, and publish a moderate number of good reports in professional science journals each year (i.e., rather than the minimum of 4-6 publications demanded yearly from “star scientists”).Most professional researchers, whether working in academia or industry, generally enjoy their work despite the presence of several frustrating job situations that perplex their research activities (see my earlier post on “Why is the Daily Life of Modern University Scientists so very Hectic” in the Scientists category).
What exactly do research scientists have fun doing?I will briefly list below only selected examples of common types of fun with being a faculty scientist in a modern university. Certainly there are some other types of fun, and corresponding examples are found for research scientists in industrial settings. (1) Working on experimental research in one’s own research laboratory, as contrasted to working in some other scientist’s lab, is big ego fun. ( 2) Making discoveries via conducting experiments is fun, because that is the classical goal of almost all research work. Being the very first to discover something (e.g., a new star or planet, a new species, a new enzymatic modulator, a new polymeric nanomaterial, etc.) is a complete thrill for any scientist; all the sweat and tears along the way then are made to seem quite unimportant. (3) A science breakthrough differs from a simple discovery by forming a new concept, setting off further studies in a new direction, overturning some established viewpoint, unexpectedly inventing a new and better assay system, etc.; breakthroughs are great fun for creative scientists, especially when they are a surprise (i.e., not everything in scientific research can be planned or predicted). (4) Working closely with students, postdocs, research technicians, and collaborators is fun because a well-organized lab group is almost like having a second family. (5) Seeing a former graduate student or postdoctoral fellow you have trained go on to become a very successful independent investigator always is professional fun, because some credit still must be given to their older mentor even if many years have passed. (6) Being put in charge of a research group or a research facility, or, being elected to a leadership position in a science society, is fun because it is public recognition that a scientist has expertise, problem-solving skills, reliability, and good judgment. (7) Publishing a long and detailed research report in a science journal is much fun, and often seems to young scientists to be quite analogous to all the work in giving birth to a baby. Being invited to write a review article or to contribute a chapter for a new edited book reflects a growing reputation amongst peer scientists, and always is fun even though it involves enormous additional effort. (8) Going to an annual science society meeting or an international science congress is a very common enjoyment for faculty scientists; it is exciting to present a platform talk or a poster display, and, to hear seminars given by very famous scientists and later to converse with them; these enjoyments are often surpassed by the personal fun of chatting with old friends and colleagues from graduate school or early positions. (9) Doing a good job with teaching in basic or advanced courses certainly can be challenging, but often is fun for members of the science faculty.
One big ongoing piece of satisfying fun for scientists is to personally conduct experiments successfully.This necessitates very much coordination of hands, eyes, and brain, and involves technical skills, practical experience, and mental alertness; one must deal with design of experiments, on the spot evaluation of data as it is being produced, and, careful and complete analysis of all the research results.
Many research instruments are fascinating and enormous fun to operate.Using some fancy, expensive, and complex instrument with success actually is a type of fun analogous to playing with a toy made for adults!Some research instruments, such as modern radio-telescopes and various multidimensional spectroscopes, require the operator to be very well-versed in computation, both for control and operation of the instrument, and for analysis of the data output.Skillful mastery with using these research instruments is not something every scientist is able to achieve easily.
Science really is people. The chief scientist (Principal Investigator) must spend much time and patient effort to enable all the different graduate students, Postdocs, technical assistants, and visitors to learn how to be part of a research team; after doing this successfully, the research work is purely fun.Lab parties are commonplace, and can be originated on the occasion of a new grant, someone’s birthday, a big new publication, an official holiday, etc.; all costs usually are paid by the chief scientist, but there also can be some private parties to which the boss is not invited.
Most research scientists are happy just to achieve renown and peer recognition from other scientists working in their branch of modern science.It is not necessary to win a Nobel Prize  or a Kavli Prize  to become either a research leader or a very famous scientist. Only a few researchers win one of these very prestigious honors each year.It is widely recognized by professional scientists that the selection committee for Nobel Prizes in the sciences sometimes overlooks some very accomplished researchers who are truly outstanding . Winning such a big honor can have both good and bad effects; it is not unusual that scientists winning one of these great awards suddenly find that it becomes more and more difficult to do further great research work because so very much attention, innumerable invitations, and enormous regard always are being directed onto them.
Many of the different types of fun during a science career do not simply happen, but necessitate that the scientist has considerable dedication, patience, energy, determination, and flexibility.Typically, fun occurs in conjunction with lots of hard work.Being good at solving problems and having good luck always is a big help for research scientists working in both industries and universities. Scientists can increase their fun and job satisfaction by finding a work environment that suits their individual characteristics, interests, and abilities. Being a successful research scientist is not always easy, but one indeed can have considerable fun along the way!
How much cheating and corruption is there in science?The best answer is that nobody knows!Even today in 2014, there continue to be much-publicized instances where some professional research scientist is revealed to have published research results in peer-reviewed journal articles where the reported experimental data were either fabricated (faked) or were grossly changed (i.e., to construct a surprising pseudo-result) [e.g., 1,2].While money is almost always involved in some way, for corruption in science money only rarely goes directly into the pocket of the dishonest scientists, unlike the usual situation for widespread corruption within politics and the business world. Instead, it often goes into their professional purse and is used for such personally rewarding expenses as the purchase of additional research equipment not paid for by their grants, salaries for additional research coworkers, extra business travel, a new computer with special software, etc.).
Dishonesty in science includes several different types of unethical activity.At a simple level, this corruption can involve such disgraceful events as (1) adding some imagined numbers to a chart of experimental results, so as to get better statistics, (2) changing or removing some numbers in a chart of collected results, so as to shift the conclusions being supported by these data, (3) misrepresenting the design of experiments, so as to support certain conclusions or deny others, or (4) not giving appropriate credit to internal or external collaborators and coauthors.Thus, these simpler types of dishonesty involve research fraud by data fabrication and manipulation, drawing false conclusions, theft of intellectual property, etc.At a more complex level, dishonesty in science can involve such activities as (1) stealing experimental research data from other labs, (2) stealing ideas or even research projects from other scientists, (3) fabrication of entire experimental datasets, or (4) constructing an application for a research grant using imaginary results or falsified statements.These larger types of dishonesty thus involve theft of data, lying about the experimental results gathered, stealing of ideas, misrepresentation with the intent to deceive, etc.Some or even many readers will wonder how in the world could any of these examples actually happen?I assure them that I have heard rumors, seen and listened to stories, and, read reports about all of these! Moreover, I have conversed with two separate doctoral workers who unsuccessfully pursued lawsuits for their claims of data theft.
I personally believe that almost all faculty scientists are completely honest.Any unethical behavior by professional scientists betrays the enormous trust given to them by the general public , and the necessary trust given by their fellow researchers. Any dishonesty thus destroys both the integrity of science and the practical ability of other researchers to proceed forward from what they believe is the truth when designing new research experiments.When dishonesty occurs in successfully acquiring a research grant, that event directly decreases the chance that some other scientist who is totally honest is able to acquire funding for their worthy project; this type of robbery is not often recognized as being a very important part of modern corruption in science.A shocking and disgraceful example of successful cheating in order to get a large research grant award was uncovered very recently .
In addition to outright dishonesty and deception by scientists, where research integrity is discarded, there also is a gray area where some very limited portion of collected data (e.g., a very few outliers in a data plot) is eliminated from the total pool of experimental results displayed. The opposite condition for this same kind of situation also occurs, where one or two pieces of individual data that are much better, clearer, or prettier than the average case, are selected to be shown in publications and in oral presentations.These practices are not at all unusual and are known generically as “fudging the data”; both can simply serve to make the quality of the collected data look better and be seen more easily. They commonly are not considered to be dishonest.
What happens when outright dishonesty by a faculty scientist is either proven or admitted?In many cases, there has been almost no penalty given beyond having a published article withdrawn or being discharged from a laboratory group.Part of this apparent lack of serious concern is due to the fact that in cases where some very celebrated scientist has been accused of being involved in corruption, long battles and countercharges in the courts have ensued [e.g., 4,5].If famous research leaders are directing some very large laboratory in which the cheating allegedly occured, it usually is totally difficult to prove either that they were involved in the dishonest act(s) carried out by some individual lab worker, or that the leader even knew about the wrongful event(s) [4,5]; separation of the supervisor from actual technical workers is very widespread within giant laboratory groups (research factories), where the chief scientist really is only an administrative manager and does not even know the names of all the people who work there.
Most corruption in science almost certainly remains undetected.Unless there is some witness who is upset enough and courageous enough to report the dishonesty, and unless hard and fast documentation can be acquired, the loss of research integrity will never become known or proven. A good example of this is given by the very recent case cited earlier , where the dishonesty was discovered only when some other research laboratories found that they could not duplicate some of the experimental results published by the unethical scientist. Despite new rules intended to protect whistleblowers and the recently increasing appointment of officials in charge of research integrity at academic institutions, it continues to remain very difficult to investigate and prosecute alleged dishonesty in science. There is a natural reluctance for anyone working in academia, whether faculty or students or lab technicians, to make accusations that necessarily will involve official investigations, prolonged legal activities, and possible retribution.
Clearly, the present measures being taken to prevent, detect, and punish dishonesty in scientific research are inadequate. There is too much lip service in dealing with cheating and corruption in science, and it seems likely that this problem will increase. I suspect that the amount of dishonesty in applications for research grants particularly is increasing now, and soon will become the most frequent form of corruption in science. The chief driver for my prediction is that it is very, very hard to detect, and nearly impossible to prove, any dishonesty in grant applications; moreover, there presently is only scanty attention and little concern being given to this problem by the different granting agencies.
Although all academic sicentists are quite aware of the problem of dishonesty and corruption in science, there generally are few casual or formal discussions about this issue. Exactly why do some few scientists become dishonest? What motivates cheating and dishonesty in science? How can dishonesty and corruption in scientific research be decreased and eliminated? What new penalties should be instituted for cheating in research? Can an unethical researcher be made honest by some curative process? I will discuss these complex questions and related issues within future postings.
It’s all money ! Is the purpose of research really just to acquire money ?? (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Money for experimental research plays a very large role in modern science.The key importance of money is due to: (1) research studies are very expensive, (2) without money, almost no experimental studies can be conducted, (3) not all good ideas are able to be funded by the granting agencies, and, (4) large portions of research grant awards are not being spent for actual research expenses.
Most research support in the USA comes either from federal grants to universities and small businesses, or from internal budgets for research and development in industrial companies.The sum of all this dedicated support for experimental research studies is many billions of dollars each year; this huge figure clearly demonstrates the great importance of scientific research for the good of all people.In Fiscal Year 2011, the grand total of all grants awarded for support of research by the US National Science Foundation (NSF) was $5,103,500,000 . The total research and development outlays for all nondefense studies from any sources in this same period were over 65 billion dollars . These billion dollar sums prove that modern research indeed is very expensive. Special fundung programs, often requiring establishment of a multi-user facility, have been set-up for applications to purchase very large and particularly expensive special research instruments.
Research grant funds are spent by scientists for the purchase of supplies (e.g., chemicals, blank DVDs, specimen holders, test tubes), acquisition or usage of some special research equipment (e.g., regulated very high temperature ovens, chromatography columns and systems, personal computers), and, purchase of business travel (e.g., to collect specimens or data in the field, to attend annual science meetings). They also are used to pay for telephone usage and copying costs, employment of laboratory personnel, support of graduate students working in the laboratory, provision of partial salary for the grant-holder (i.e., Principal Investigator), adjunctive costs of performing experiments (e.g., utilization of an institutional or regional research facilities, the costs of monitoring radiation exposure, care and housing for research animals), etc.Unless someone pays, all these activities would stop.
Although there are federal and institutional oversight controls to verify which expenses are bonafide and necessary, the inherent nature of the present research grant system means thatlarge amounts of money are not being spent for direct support of the actual research experiments (i.e.,therefore, my view is that they are being wasted!).Some of these wated funds are spent on redundant or unnecessary expenses.Other wastage comes from the frequent absence of organized mechanisms for re-assignment and re-use of expensive research equipment that is no longer needed (i.e., why pass along a 5-10 year old working research instrument belonging to the late Professor Jones, when the new faculty member, Assistant Professor Smith, can buy the very latest model with his newly awarded research grant?).It is well-known amongst grant-holders that all awarded funds must be spent; there is no official capability to bank any unspent research grant funds, nor is there any encouragement to ever try to save money and then return unspent portions of the awarded funds.
The very largest inappropriate expenditure of research grant funds in my view is for payments of indirect costs.Direct costs for scientific research are those necessarily spent to conduct experiments (see the many examples given above).Indirect costs are those needed for such purposes as cleaning, heating, cooling, painting, and maintenance of the lab room(s), safety inspections, administrative activities, disposal of garbage and chemical waste, provision and drainage of water, etc.). All of these expenditures for indirect costs are very necessary for the research conducted by faculty scientists, and certainly must be paid; however, I do question exactly who should pay for them.At universities, many faculty in mathematics and computer science, the non-science faculty, and scholars working in library science, music, and art all need the same type of services listed above; however, the indirect costs of these faculty mostly are paid by some institutional entity.Only faculty scientists holding a research grant and using a laboratory are required to pay for their indirect costs; senior doctoral scientists working at teaching and writing books, but no longer doing any laboratory studies, are not asked to pay for their indirect costs. This selective targeting seems very peculiar to me.
At some academic institutions research grant payments for indirect costs are even larger than those for the direct costs. Hence, big portions of research grant awards are being diverted away from their nominal purpose. I must conclude that the payment of indirect costs by grants awarded to support scientific research constitutes a large waste of research grant funds and is not necessary. My conclusion is very unusual since both the granting agencies and the universities agree to this peculiar policy. I suspect, but cannot prove, that many working scientists holding research grants agree with me; I do know from talking with numerous university faculty scientists that most believe that current indirect cost rates are unrealistic and must be way too high.
All of the research grant awards now being misdirected to pay for indirect costs would be much better spent if they were used to permit more awards for direct costs to be made that (1) provide full, rather than only partial, funding, (2) give funding to a larger number of worthy applicants than is presently possible, and (3) enable some funding programs to extend for at least 10 years, instead of the 1-5 year period of support that is typical at present. I will discuss all these issues and ideas for their solutions much further in later posts.
 American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), 2013. Research funding at the National Science Foundation, FY 2011. Available on the internet at: