Tag Archives: Scientific research

WHY DO SCIENTISTS ASK THEMSELVES SO VERY MANY QUESTIONS?

 

Research scientists ask many what-if questions! (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Research scientists ask very many what-if questions!   (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

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.

Brief discussion! 

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!

Concluding remarks! 

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!

 

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JOB PROBLEMS FOR SCIENTISTS GET BIGGER IN 2016: HELP! 

 

The biggest problem for scientists is the entire SYSTEM for conducting research! (http://dr-monsrs.net)
The biggest problem for scientists is the entire SYSTEM for conducting research! (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

The international science journal, Nature, has just released the results of its 2016 survey of job satisfaction by scientists and other professional research workers [1].  The new survey results are skillfully reported by author, Chris Woolston (see “Salaries: Reality Check” ).  This survey found that “nearly 2/3 of the 3,328 who responded to the question say that they are happy with their current job” [1]; that is good news, but the exact same figures also show that 1/3 of the respondents are unhappy!  The author concludes that the new survey “uncovered widespread unhappiness about earnings, career options, and future prospects” [1]!  Such a high level of job dissatisfaction is both amazing and worrisome!

My dispatch today discusses the shocking results of this 2016 survey.  For background information, please see my earlier articles on “Why Are University Scientists Increasingly Upset With Their Job?  Part I” , and, “Part II” .

Key features about the 2016 survey in Nature [1]!

Every 2 years Nature surveys salaries and job satisfaction with its many worldwide readers.  All in the survey are self-selected, meaning that those who are strongly disheartened or upset will be more likely to respond.  The respondents work in diverse positions, including everything from agricultural research to engineering; research workers in academia range from Postdocs to Full Professors.  The survey results are nicely broken down by age, geography, discipline in science, salary level, amount of job satisfaction or dissatisfaction, positive or negative effects of certain job conditions, and, biggest influence on career progression.  Woolston’s report on this 2016 survey is eminently readable (see: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v537/n7621/full/nj7621-573a.html )!

Notable results in this latest survey of researchers [1]! 

Money is the chief influence on scientists for creating positive or negative feelings about their job.  It determines their salary, pay raises, position, ability to do research studies, security, and future prospects.  Many report they are making financial sacrifices by pursuing a career in science [1].  Almost half the responders say that “the main challenge they face is competition for funding” (of their research) [1]. On the other hand, less than 20% of responders working in non-research positions listed competition for funding as a major problem; that probably is the chief reason they work in non-research jobs.

Geography has a major role in determining both salaries and job satisfaction for scientists, largely reflecting the status of the economy within different countries. At least 50% of responders in 8 nations believe job prospects now are worse than for previous generations; these include Brazil, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Soain, United Kingdom, and, United States [1].  Only 2 countries are listed where around 70% see job prospects now as being better than for previous generations (i.e., China, India) [1]; it seems likely that several other nations are in this group, but did not have sufficient responders to be listed.

Significant job problems for scientists beyond the very frequently cited harsh competition for research support funds d(see:  “All About Today’s Hyper-Competition for Research Grants” ) had only low levels of response, except for “lack of appropriate networks and connections” [1].  Scientists holding non-research jobs selected “lack of appropriate networks and connections” and “unwillingness or inability to sacrifice personal time or time with family” as their biggest job problem [1].

Direct quotations by working research scientists [1]!  

Many quotations from individual scientists are notably included in Woolston’s report [1].  These give a human side to the statistics reported, and some are very dramatic!

“There is no future in a research career in Italy” is stated by an Italian molecular biologist working in Naples [1].  She sees many young Italian scientists now relocating to other countries where their career path will not be so very difficult as in Italy [1].  Clearly, something must be extremely amiss to elicit this kind of explicit opinion!  Some other countries in Europe also are facing large difficulties in supporting research due to the condition of their national economy.

A Ukranian postdoc working on physics in Australia does not recommend a science career to people who ask him [1].  A faculty geneticist in Germany concurs and states, “Many people who wanted to do research end up as salespeople at some company” [1]!  Most of the public is blissfully unaware of these strongly negative feelings by scientists.

Are there other big problems besides money for today’s research scientists?  

Yes!  Several other big problems are particularly destructive for scientists working in academia (see: “The Biggest Problems Killing University Science Still Prevail in 2016!” ).  The increasing corruption in scientific research is not mentioned in the 2016 survey, but is painfully felt by faculty scientists.  Management of time is a very general difficulty for almost all academic scientists.

The large practical problems with money are directly caused by the bad policies of universities and of national research granting agencies or programs.  These causes and their effects are strongly interwoven, and combine into nothing less than a system problem!  It will not be enough to provide more money or to reform one or 2 conditions; instead, the entire system must be remodeled or replaced!

Many people do not see the devastating effects caused by the entrenched problems in scientific research.  Woolston’s report gives figures showing that 39% of all the different investigators responding would not recommend a research career [1]!  If the present downward course continues, the end result will be the death of science and research at universities (see:  “Could Science and Research Now be Dying?” ).

Concluding remarks! 

The 2016 survey of scientists by Nature indicates that today’s researcher is confronted by several difficult problems.  These result in conducting research becoming more problematic and scientists leaving the lab.  To rescue academic science from destruction, big changes must be made to the entire system for modern scientific research!

 

[1]  Woolston, C., 2016.  Salaries: Reality Check.  Nature  537:573-576.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v537/n7621/full/nj7621-573a.html .

 

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CAN EVERYTHING COMING FROM SCIENCE BE BELIEVED? 

 

Truth versus falsehood is an ancient question! (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Truth versus falsehood is an ancient question!   (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

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.

Concluding remarks! 

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.

 

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SCIENTISTS AND ENGINEERS INDEED WORK AS PARTNERS! 

 

Scientists and engineers are partners for new products and new technologies! (http:dr-monsrs.net)
Scientists and engineers are partners for new products and new technologies! (http:dr-monsrs.net)

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 time again 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.

Conclusions. 

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!

 

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WHAT HAPPENS WHEN SCIENTISTS DISAGREE? PART IV: A CLOSER LOOK AT A SCIENTIST WHOSE RESEARCH CAUSES IMMENSE CONTROVERSY!

 

Controversies Involving Science Affect Everyone!    (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Controversies Involving Science Affect Everyone!   (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

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. 

Concluding remarks. 

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. 

 

(1)  Inner Eye, 2014.  You must be nuts! – Dr. Stephanie Seneff interview – Part 1.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3x9zqTqSPFo

(2)  Biofilm, 2014.  How herbicides are killing us: Dr. Seneff, Part 1.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_3HyfoNa2Sw .

(3)  Next News Network, 2015.  MIT doctor links glyphosate to autism spike – Dr. Stephanie Seneff.  Available on the internet at:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6zOlGf_MWsg .

(4)  The Institute for Responsible Technology, 2015.  Gluten and GMOs, Jeffrey Smith interviews Dr. Stephanie Seneff.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KVo51yLnohY .

(5)  Mercola, 2012.  Dr. Mercola interviews Dr. Stephanie Seneff on statins.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_hbNSHPco0g .

 

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NEW KINDS OF RESEARCH GRANTS FOR SCIENCE, PART I: PILOT STUDIES!

 

It is Not so Easy to Decide Where to Send an Application for a New Science Research Grant!  (http://dr-monsrs.net)

It’s Not so Easy to Decide Where to Submit a New Research Grant!!   (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

Almost all scientists agree that the modern research grant system has both good and bad effects upon the science enterprise.  Periodic efforts by the largest granting agencies of the federal government create additional support opportunities for research scientists, but unfortunately these only seem to provide small improvements.  Scientific research costs billions of dollars annually in the United States (U.S.) (see:  “Why is Science so very Expensive?  Why do Research Experiments Cost so Much?”); financial support comes from government agencies (via taxpayers) and from industrial companies.  Background materials about the multibillion-dollars in research support funds currently awarded by the largest agencies are readily available on the internet for the National Science Foundation (NSF) (see:  “About the National Science Foundation” ) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) (see:  “About National Institutes of Health” ).

Many university researchers wish that new directions and new support programs would be initiated so as to remove or decrease the negative aspects of the current research grant system.  This short series of essays puts forth proposals for some really new and different kinds of research grants, as an attempt to insert some new ideas for funding mechanisms.  The proposed initiatives will help invigorate the decayed status of experimental research studies in U.S. universities (see:  “Could Science and Research now be Dying?” ).  My proposals will function nicely within the present research grant system. 

What are Pilot Studies, and Why are they Important?

Pilot studies are short-term experimental research efforts seeking to find which subjects, approaches, and methods are best suited to produce good results for a possible new research investigation.  Ideally, these initial studies result in identification of which designs for experiments will work, what experimental subjects can be used effectively, which research questions or hypotheses can be answered or tested by the proposed experiments, and what types of results will be obtained.  Pilot studies produce preliminary results confirming that a planned approach actually will answer a research question. 

Only a limited time and effort usually can be expended on evaluating and devloping a potential new research project.  In modern universities, pilot studies now often are: (1) conducted as minor side efforts during the investigations funded by a research grant,  (2) assigned to a graduate student or a research technician, or, (3) done during a sabbatical leave.   Pilot studies are important because they show how raw theoretical ideas can be converted into practical reality (i.e., sometimes a very clever idea just will not work in the research laboratory). 

The current research grant system requires preliminary data for all applications, but unofficially discourages pilot studies.  The grant system seeks solid new knowledge based on known approaches and building on already accomplished research results; this goal is inherently different from the exploratory nature of pilot studies.  Although most pilot studies are more or less supported by current research grant award(s), there is not much room in funded research projects for really creative experimentation, trying out unconventional new ideas, or starting new work in some different area of science; pilot studies focus on exactly these aspects of research, and are much less restricted than ongoing regular studies.  Additionally, use of research grant funds to conduct pilot studies is extremely difficult for the increasing number of good scientists now receiving awards with only partial funding.   

The hidden value of pilot studies for science is that they often are individual expressions of creative and innovative ideas.  Once a research grant is awarded, most activities are set in place and scheduled, with little necessity to think any new thoughts.  Most scientists in universities stick to what they can get funded readily, and rarely switch projects or start work in other fields of science.  Pilot studies often include creative designs, new approaches, and very innovative ideas.  Hence, the most important role of pilot studies for science is that they stimulate new thoughts, new questions, and new experiments.  Thus, pilot studies represent initial inputs of new ideas into science. 

Support for pilot studies at present.  

Current mechanisms for obtaining the necessary funds to conduct pilot studies are too limited.  I have not found any general supportive  programs at the NSF or NIH that fund only pilot study research.  Actual lab work in pilot studies more frequently is a short subsidiary effort funded by an ongoing research grant; there is little push to conduct creative or unconventional studies with really new research questions and ideas.   Some science organizations do make awards for pilot studies, and some medical schools do have special programs internally supporting pilot studies for their faculty researchers.  

The only other general funding source for pilot studies appears to be crowdfunding.  This new type of public-supported and -donated funding usually features limited amounts of money and time, but that is exactly what is needed for pilot research.  Most applicants already have a well-equipped research lab.  However, the chief problem with crowdfunding is that the general public often cannot readily comprehend what is involved in pilot studies and how that is used by science; therefore, proposals by scientists to support new pilot studies cannot readily compete with proposals for conducting creative projects in the arts.  Accordingly, grant support for pilot studies is quite limited, and a new kind of support program for pilot studies now is needed!  

Details of the proposed new research grants for pilot studies.

I propose a new type of research grant, dedicated to enabling the conduct of more new pilot studies.  This new award program will support worthy pilot studies at universities for a duration of 1-4 months.   At least a 25-50% effort by the Principal Investigator (P.I.) is required.  No expenses for salary of the P.I. and no indirect costs will be supported.  Direct costs for supplies, lab personnel, and research travel (e.g., to conduct studies at an off-campus location) will be supported.  All awards are limited to a maximum total of $40,000.  Successful outcome to a pilot study supported by this new granting program is expected to lead to a new proposal for funding by a regular research grant mechanism. 

Who can apply?  Applications for pilot study grants can be submitted by any scientist or engineer with a doctoral degree, and having access to adequate laboratory space and instrumentation facilities.  Applicants holding a faculty status are preferred.  Graduate students and Postdocs cannot apply for these grants.  Any individual scientist can have only one pilot study award for any calendar year. 

Proposals:  Applications for new pilot studies can involve any area of modern science.  Proposals must fully describe the new experimental investigations to be conducted, examine all possible results, explain what research project could follow if the pilot studies are successful, and, give reasons how and why both this pilot study and the anticipated subsequent research work are important for science and society.  Available research facilities to be used must be described in detail.  All anticipated costs must be justified.  Pilot study grants are not supplements to currently awarded research grants; applications must make clear how the proposed pilot study relates to any and all current awards.   This new granting program has no renewals.  Awards can permit new pilot studies by science faculty currently without a research grant, or, by those wishing to begin research on a new and different subject or branch of acience.  Proposals with innovative and unconventional new approaches are welcomed. 

How will proposaals be evaluated?  Priority for funding will be evaluated by peer review on the primary basis of: (1) quality of the planned new experiments, (2) likelihood that completion of the proposed pilot study will result in submission of a new meritorious research grant application, and (3) potential contributions to the progress of science. 

How will science benefit from new grants for pilot studies?  The proposed new granting program will provide funds that: (1) increase the number of pilot studies being conducted, (2) enable preliminary studies to be made where simultaneous regular grant awards do not provide sufficient “extra funds” for pilot studies, and (3) provide opportunities for established university scientists to switch their research into new subjects or new areas of science.  This new kind of research grant will increase creative research ideas and investigations, enlarge the scope of innovative research activities at universities, and, encourage new ventures in scientific research by professional scientists and engineers. 

Discussion.

There still are too many barriers to making important new research discoveries and advances.  In my opinion, the biggest problem in modern laboratory science is not  insufficient support money, but that there are restrictions for developing new ideas, thinking new thoughts about research,  using new designs for experiments, and, devising unconventional approaches to solve difficult or controversial research questions.  The new grants for pilot studies will be instrumental in overcoming some current restrictions limiting the progress of scientific research.  If support is given to pilot studies that investigate controversies, use creative designs with unconventional approaches, and start or switch research work onto very new projects, then significant research advances and science progress will follow.  

By increasing the number of pilot studies, the number of really new scientific investigations will be fostered.  This new support mechanism provides a good answer to the increasingly frequent question from university scientists, “How can I test my new idea for research and get the required preliminary data when I do not now have a research grant?”  Former faculty grantees who have been hung up to dry or die will have a new opportunity to return to active research.  By fostering new developments, new ideas, and new activity in experimental research, the new pilot study grants will stimulate the improvement and progress of today’s science. 

 

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THE KAVLI PRIZES ARE AWARDED FOR 2014

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 ,

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: astrophysicsnanoscience, and neuroscience [1].  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 [2].  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.    [1]  The Kavli Prize, 2014.  Kavli Foundation – Science prizes for the future.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.kavliprize.org/about .   [2]  Nobel Prizes, 2014.  Nobel Prize facts.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/facts/ .   Fred Kavli and the Kavli Prizes Fred 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 supporting basic 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 Astrophysics The 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 Nanoscience The 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 Neuroscience The 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 Remarks It 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. 

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SCIENTISTS TELL US ABOUT THEIR LIFE AND WORK, PART 8

 

Quotations by Prof. Nadrian (Ned) C. Seeman (from pages 20 and 23 of his Living History essay in ACA RefleXions, American Crystallographic Association, Summer 2014, Number 2, pages 19-23)
Quotations by Prof. Nadrian (Ned) C. Seeman (from pages 20 and 23 of his Living History essay in ACA RefleXions, American Crystallographic Association, Summer 2014, Number 2, pages 19-23)

 

In this series, I am recommending to you a few life stories about real scientists.  I prefer to let these scientists tell their own stories where possible.  Autobiographical accounts are interesting and entertaining for both non-scientists and other scientists.  My selections here mostly involve scientists I either know personally or at least know about.  If further materials like this are needed, they can be obtained readily on the internet or with input from librarians at public or university libraries, science teachers, and other scientists.

In the preceding segment of this series, the story of a very celebrated basic research scientist working on Protein Dynamics in Cell Biology was recommended (see “Scientists Tell Us About Their Life and Work, Part 7”).  Part 8 presents the life story of a research scientist who dreamed up and established an amazingly novel new branch of chemical engineering based upon the well-known double-helix of DNA.

Part 8 Recommendations:  NEW NANOSTRUCTURES BASED ON DNA

Prof. Nadrian (Ned) C. Seeman (1945 – present) originated several new fields of science and engineering: DNA Nanotechnology, DNA-Based Crystallography, and DNA-Based Computation.  His very creative investigations and innovative new concepts for “Structural DNA Technology” often were developed for practical applications (e.g., better production of highly ordered macromolecular crystals, nanocomputation, nano-electronics, nanomedicine, and nanorobotics); thus, he is both a basic and an applied researcher.  All of his dramatic innovations and unusual research topics are based on the structure and properties of DNA.  Numerous other research labs around the world now also are working with DNA-based nanostructures.

DNA is known to most as the double-stranded genetic material making up chromosomes.  The binding between each of the 2 associated strands takes place by specific pairing between their individual nucleotide bases; this binding is very specific and fairly strong.  In the laboratory, segments of synthetic single-stranded DNA can be  hybridized (reassociated) to form new double-stranded DNA; branch points and unpaired base sequences at the termini can be produced as desired, and are key points of technology for using DNA to produce new nanostructures.  Seeman developed and used these characteristic features from the early 1980’s to form self-assembled DNA polygons, and, 2-D and 3-D lattices; subsequently, he went on to invent nanomechanical devices (e.g., synthetic computers, robots, translators, and walkers), and other nanostructures (e.g., superstructures of DNA associated with other species, and nano-assembly lines).  In 2004-5, he was the founding president of a new professional science association, the International Society for Nanoscale Science, Computation and Engineering (see:  http://isnsce.org/ ).

Seeman’s unconventional research involves unique combinations of biochemistry, biophysics, chemical engineering, computer science, crystallography, nanoscience and nanotechnology, structural biology, and, thermodynamics.  His creative ideas and amazing lab studies for making new nanostructures involve both theory and practice, and are also being used to advance scientific knowledge and understanding about the biophysics of intermediates in the recombination of chromosomal DNA during its replication.

Prof. Seeman chairs the Department of Chemistry at New York University.  He has received many honors for his pioneering research, including the Sidhu Award from the Pittsburg Diffraction Society (1974), a Research Career Development Award from the National Institutes of Health (1982), the Science and Technology Award from Popular Science Magazine (1993), the Feynman Prize in Nanotechnology (1995), and the Nichols Medal from the NY Section of the American Chemical Society (2008).  He is an elected member of the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry (U.K.), and holds an Einstein Professorship from the Chinese Academy of Sciences.  In 2010, Prof Seeman and Prof. Donald Eigler (IBM Almaden Research Center, San Jose, California) were jointly honored as awardees of the Kavli Prize in Nanoscience [1]; also see the photo of these 2 awardees receiving their Kavli Prize from H. M. King Harald of Norway [2].  Seeman is without question an embodiment of what Dr.M wrote about in an earlier essay on the significance of curiosity, creativity, inventiveness, and individualism in science (see:  http://dr-monsrs.net/2014/02/25/curiosity-creativity-inventiveness-and-individualism-in-science/ ).

[1]  Kavli Foundation, 2010.  2010 Kavli Prize in Nanoscience.  Available on the internet at:
http://www.kavlifoundation.org/2010-nanoscience-citation .

[2]   Kavli Foundation, 2010.  The Kavli Prize in Nanoscience (2010).  Available on the internet at:  http://registration.kavliprize.org/seksjon/vis.html?tid=27454 .

Lots of interesting information about Prof. Seeman is displayed on his laboratory home page (see: http://seemanlab4.chem.nyu.edu/ ).  My recommendations (below) start with Seeman’s own explanation of his research in DNA Nanotechnology, as written for non-scientists (1A).  For working scientists, his review article provides a stimulating overview (1B).  The second recommendation (2) is an official summary of why Seeman and Eigler were selected for the Kavli Prize in Nanoscience in 2010.  The third item is Prof. Seeman’s personal description about his own career in science (3), and is filled with stories and anecdotes about both his difficulties and his triumphs; all readers will find this to be a very fascinating account.  Dr.M considers that essay to be extraordinary, since it is probably the most unusually forthright and outspoken piece ever authored by a modern scientist.

(1A)  Seeman, N. C., 2004.  Nanotechnology and the double helix (preview).  Scientific American  290:64-75.  Available on the internet at:
 http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/nanotechnology-and-the-double-helix .

(1B)  Seeman, N. C., 2010.  Nanomaterials based on DNA.  Annual Review of Biochemistry  79:65-87.  Available on the internet at:
http://www.annualreviews.org/doi/pdf/10.1146/annurev-biochem-060308-102244 .

(2)  Kavli Foundation, 2010.  2010 Nanoscience Prize explanatory notes.  Available on the internet at:
http://www.kavlifoundation.org/2010-nanoscience-prize-explanatory-notes .

(3)  Seeman, N. C., 2014.  The crystallographic roots of DNA nanotechnology.  ACA RefleXions, American Crystallographic Association, Number 2, Summer 2014, pages 19-23.  Available on the internet at: http://www.amercrystalassn.org/documents/2014%20newsletters/Summer%202014%20WEB.pdf .

 

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SCIENTISTS TELL US ABOUT THEIR LIFE AND WORK, PART 7

 

Quotation from Prof. David D. Sabatini (from 2005 Annual Review of Cell and Developmental Biology, volume 21, pages 1-33)
Quotation from Prof. David D. Sabatini (from 2005 Annual Review of Cell and Developmental Biology, volume 21, pages 1-33)

 

In this series, I am recommending to you a few life stories about real scientists.  I prefer to let these scientists tell their own stories where possible.  Autobiographical accounts are interesting and entertaining for both non-scientists and other scientists.  My selections here mostly involve scientists I either know personally or at least know about.  If further materials like this are needed, they can be obtained readily on the internet or with input from librarians at public or university libraries, science teachers, and other scientists.                                     

In the preceding segment of this series, the story of a very determined clinical research scientist working in Transplant Surgery and Immunology was recommended (see  http://dr-monsrs.net/2014/09/17/scientists-tell-us-about-their-life-and-work-part-6/ ).  Part 7 presents the activities of a very celebrated cell biologist whose research succeeded in untangling and explaining the extensive subcellular and molecular interactions occuring during the synthesis, trafficking, sorting, and secretion of proteins by our cells. 

 Part 7 Recommendations:  PROTEIN DYNAMICS IN CELL BIOLOGY

David D. Sabatini has led modern research efforts to understand the very complex interactions taking place with the dynamics of proteins during their biosynthesis, co- and post-translational processing, sorting, and, secretion.  After receiving his M.D. degree in Argentina he came to the USA and earned a Ph.D. in 1966 at The Rockefeller University (New York).  His training and early research studies flourished at the very special research center established at Rockefeller by several founding fathers of cell biology (Profs. George Palade [1], Philip Siekevitz [2], and Keith R. Porter (see Part 2 in this series at:   http://dr-monsrs.net/2014/08/07/scientists-tell-us-about-their-life-and-work-part-2/ )).   Much of Sabatini’s reseach efforts have centered on ribosomes, the ribonucleoprotein assemblies that synthesize new proteins inside cells; his lab investigations led to breakthrough findings about the molecular mechanisms directing newly-synthesized proteins to their different intracellular or extracellular target destinations. 

Prof. Sabatini is especially renowned for co-discovering the signal hypothesis in collaboration with Prof. Günter Blobel (Rockefeller University).  This concept nicely explains the dramatic initial passage of all secreted proteins across the membrane (translocation) of endoplasmic reticulum via the presence of a short initial segment of aminoacids that is absent from non-secreted proteins retained for intracellular usage; this segment is termed ‘the signal for secretion’.  Subsequent research studies in other labs added to this hypothesis by discovering additional signals that directed different  newly synthsized proteins to other destinations inside cells;  the generalized signal hypothesis now explains much of the intracellular trafficking of proteins. 

By his nature, Prof. Sabatini always is intensely knowledgeable and enthusiastic about research questions and controversies in cell biology.  His numerous research publications always feature analysis of very detailed experimental results where data and interpretations are elegantly used to form groundbreaking conclusions.  Sabatini led the Department of Cell Biology at the New York University School of Medicine since 1972, and developed that into a leading academic center for modern teaching, scholarship, and research in cell and molecular biology.  He has served as the elected President of the Americal Society for Cell Biology (1978-79), and was awarded the E. B. Wilson Medal jointly with Prof. Blobel by that science society (1986).  In 2003, he received  France’s highest honor in science, the Grande Medaille d’Or (Grand Gold Medal).  Prof. Sabatini has merited membership in the USA National Academy of Sciences (1985), the American Philosophical Society, and the National Institute of Medicine (2000).   His celebrated research career exemplifies the important contributions that scientists from many other countries have made to USA science.   Prof. Sabatini recently retired, but his family name will continue to appear on many new research publications since several of his children have become very productive doctoral researchers in bioscience. 

[1]  Farquhar, M.G., 2012.  A man for all seasons: Reflections on the life and legacy of George Palade.  Annual Review of Cell and Developmental Biology28:1-28.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.annualreviews.org/doi/pdf/10.1146/annurev-cellbio-101011-155813

[2]  Sabatini, D. D., 2010.  Philip Siekevitz: Bridging biochemistry and cell biology.  The Journal of Cell Biology, 189:3-5.  Available on the internet at:  http://jcb.rupress.org/content/189/1/3.full.pdf . 

All 3 of my recommendations (below) provide exciting glimpses into real scientists in action. The first recommendation (1) is a short video presentation by Prof. Sabatini at the conclusion of the special Sabatini Symposium held in 2011 to honor him upon the occasion of retirement.  My second recommendation (2) is a superb autobiography giving many interesting stories about his life and career as a research scientist.  Non-scientist visitors are urged to read (only) pages 5-11; these present a fascinating account of his exciting adventures as a young scientist researching first with Barrnett at Yale University, and then with Palade and Siekevitz at The Rockefeller.  Doctoral scientists should read all of this very personal account.  The third selection (3) is a brief obituary he wrote about his teacher and mentor, Prof. Siekevitz; the stories told here illustrate the importance of scientists as people, and show that some of the controversial items discussed on Dr.M’s website also are of concern to other scientists.    

(1)    Sabatini, D. D., 2011.  Speech at awards ceremony and closing.  Sabatini Symposium, Dec. 2, 2011, New York University School of Medicine.  Available on the internet at:  http://sabatini.med.nyu.edu/videos/awards-ceremony-and-closing . 

(2)     Sabatini, D.D., 2005.  In awe of subcellular complexity: 50 years of trespassing boundaries within the cell.  Annual Review of Cell and Developmental Biology21:1-33.  Available on the internet at: 
http://www.annualreviews.org/doi/pdf/10.1146/annurev.cellbio.21.020904.151711

 (3)     Sabatini, D. D., 2010.  Philip Siekevitz: Bridging biochemistry and cell biology.  The Journal of Cell Biology189:3-5.  Available on the internet at:  http://jcb.rupress.org/content/189/1/3.full.pdf

 

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SCIENTISTS TELL US ABOUT THEIR LIFE AND WORK, PART 6

 

 Cover of 1992 book by Thomas E. Starzl.  Published by the University of Pittsburgh Press, and available from many bookstores and internet booksellers.     (http://dr-monsrs.net)

Cover of 1992 book by Thomas E. Starzl. Published by the University of Pittsburgh Press, and available from many bookstores and internet booksellers. (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

In this series, I am recommending to you a few life stories about real scientists.  I prefer to let these scientists tell their own stories where possible.  Autobiographical accounts are interesting and entertaining for both non-scientists and other scientists.  My selections here mostly involve scientists I either know personally or at least know about.  If further materials like this are needed, they can be obtained readily on the internet or with input from librarians at public or university libraries, science teachers, and other scientists.  In the preceding segment of this series, the story of a very creative and individualistic research scientist working in Chemistry & Biochemistry was recommended (see “Scientists Tell Us About Their Life and Work, Part 5”).  Part 6 presents the dramatic story of a dynamic clinical researcher in surgical science, who pioneered in human organ transplantation and who now works on basic research studies of immunology.

Part 6 Recommendations:  TRANSPLANT SURGERY & IMMUNOLOGY

Prof. Thomas E. Starzl (1926 – present) developed the complex experimental procedures for human liver transplantation into a practical clinical treatment for human patients with liver failure.  His vigorous research efforts for transplantation of livers involved clinical practice with very endangered infant and adult patients, development of new technical procedures and surgical protocols, innovations of adjunctive manipulations in clinical immunology (i.e., therapeutic immuno-suppression), and logistical coordination of the several different clinical teams involved with each transplant surgery.  This long clinical development followed his preceding surgical career involving the transplantation of several other human organs.  Following his retirement from clinical surgery in 1991, Prof. Starzl turned his research attention to basic laboratory experiments on the immune system; this switch reflects his strong belief in bidirectional interchanges between the clinical hospital and research laboratories.  It is nothing less than astounding that he has authored several thousands of research publications during his long academic career and continues this blistering pace today.  The University of Pittsburgh has named a research building on their clinical campus as the Thomas E. Starzl Transplantation Institute.  Dr. Starzl has received many awards and prestigious honors, including the Medawar Prize (1992), the USA National Medal of Science (2004), and the Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award  (2012).

Much information about this giant in surgical science can be found at The Official Thomas E. Starzl Website      ( http://www.starzl.pitt.edu/ ).  My first recommendation is an illustrated story about his personal life and professional activities.  The second gives a clear exposition about what happens when an entire human organ is transplanted.  My third recommendation presents his account about the development of liver transplantation into a successful surgical treatment for end-stage liver disease, and is well-suited for general adult readers.  The  fourth recommendation is a truly wonderful video showing the very long research process needed to develop modern liver transplantation, and demonstrating how this surgical advance now greatly benefits clinical patients.

(1) The Official Thomas E. Starzl Website, 2014.  About Thomas E Starzl, M. D., Ph. D.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.starzl.pitt.edu/about/starzl.html .

(2) The Official Thomas E. Starzl Website, 2014.  Statement of impact.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.starzl.pitt.edu/impact/impact.html .

(3) Strauss, E., 2012.  Award description for the Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.laskerfoundation.org/awards/2012_c_description.htm .

(4) Lasker Foundation, 2012.  An interview with Thomas E. Starzl.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.laskerfoundation.org/awards/2012_c_interview_starzl.htm


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SCIENTISTS TELL US ABOUT THEIR LIFE AND WORK, PART 5

 

Quote from the 1993 Nobel Prize Lecture in Chemistry by Kary Banks Mullis

Quote from the 1993 Nobel Prize Lecture in Chemistry by Kary Banks Mullis

 

In this series, I am recommending to you a few life stories about real scientists.  I prefer to let these scientists tell their own stories where possible.  Autobiographical accounts are interesting and entertaining for both non-scientists and other scientists.  My selections here mostly involve scientists I either know personally or at least know about.  If further materials like this are needed, they can be obtained readily on the internet or with input from librarians at public or university libraries, science teachers, and other scientists.  In the preceding segment of this series, the life story of a world-renowned research scientist working in Experimental Pathology & Cell Biology was recommended (see “Scientists Tell Us About Their Life and Work, Part 4”).  Part 5 presents the adventures of an energetic individualist whose creative scientific research enabled the molecular genetics revolution to take place in biology and medicine.

Part 5 Recommendations:  CHEMISTRY & BIOCHEMISTRY

Kary Banks Mullis (1944 – present) is an extremely creative free-thinker who invented the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) during his chemical research studies at an industrial research center.  This technological breakthrough enables DNA amplification (i.e., creation of myriad exact copies of some length of DNA), and now has been expanded into many new protocols and new instrumentation for molecular genetics, paternity testing, genomics, and personalized medicine.  The 1993 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to him for this very influential research discovery.  Dr. Mullis recognized that his Nobel Prize provided the opportunity to be able to freely announce his reasoned viewpoints about controversial topics in science and in ordinary life; he always is a very outspoken scientist and a vibrant individual.  He has preferred to conduct research within industrial laboratories, and currently works as a Distinguished Researcher at the Children’s Hospital and Research Institute in Oakland, California.

A considerable number of very fascinating stories and personal information, as well as a very clear explanation of how the PCR operates, is available on the website of Dr. Mullis (http://www.karymullis.com ).  His childhood interest in chemistry and research is recorded as a most amusing video presentation (see “Sons of Sputnik: Kary Mullis at TEDxOrangeCoast”, available on the internet at:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iSVy1b-RyVM ).  The life story of Dr. Mullis epitomizes that many great researchers excel in personal determination, asking provocative questions, and thinking new thoughts (see my earlier article in the Scientists category on “Curiosity, Creativity, Inventiveness, and Individualism in Science”).

My first recommendation is his brief illustrated autobiography.  The second is a very personal account of how the notable discovery of PCR was made, and includes stories about his life as a student and a scientist.   The third is a video interview in 2005, 12 years after he became a Nobel Laureate; this includes some advice for young science students.  My fourth recommendation is his formal Nobel Prize lecture, presenting personal stories about his being a scientist, and including a vivid description of his “eureka moment” when he realized the significance of his amazing new research finding.

(1) Mullis, K.B., 2014.  Biography, and making rockets.  Available on the internet at:
http://www.karymullis.com/biography.shtml ).

(2) Mullis, K.B., 1993.  Autobiography, and addenda.  Available on the internet at:
http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/chemistry/laureates/1993/mullis-autobio.html.

(3) The Nobel Prize in Chemistry (1993), 2005.  Interview with Kary B. Mullis – Media Player at Nobelprize.com.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.nobelprize.org/mediaplayer/index.php?id=428 .

(4) Nobel Prize Lecture by K.B. Mullis, 1993.  Nobel Lecture: The polymerase chain reaction.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/chemistry/laureates/1993/mullis-lecture.html .

 

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SCIENTISTS TELL US ABOUT THEIR LIFE AND WORK, PART 4

Quoted from Marilyn G. Farquhar in 2013 interview by C. Sedwick (Journal of Cell Biology, volume 203, pages 554-555).
Quoted from Marilyn G. Farquhar in 2013 interview by C. Sedwick (Journal of Cell Biology, volume 203, pages 554-555).

 

In this series, I am recommending to you a few life stories about real scientists.  I prefer to let these scientists tell their own stories where possible.  Autobiographical accounts are interesting and entertaining for both non-scientists and other scientists.  My selections here mostly involve scientists I either know personally or at least know about.  If further materials like this are needed, they can be obtained readily on the internet or with input from librarians at public or university libraries, science teachers, and other scientists.

In the preceding segment of this series, the life story of a world-renowned research scientist working in Astrophysics was recommended (see “Scientists Tell Us About Their Life and Work, Part 3”).  Part 4 presents the activities and life of an experimental researcher who succeeded in bridging the gap between pathology and cell biology, and who today remains a very active research leader in modern cell biology.

Part 4 Recommendations:  EXPERIMENTAL PATHOLOGY & CELL BIOLOGY

Prof. Marilyn G. Farquhar (1928 – present) applied her many research skills to vigorously investigating the fine structure of kidney cells during several renal diseases.  These results greatly advanced understanding about the function and dysfunction of the filtration barrier during different disease states, and helped establish the now-routine use of electron microscopy of kidney biopsies for clinical diagnosis.  Her subsequent productive investigations in cell biology on the Golgi bodies, intercellular junctions, intracellular sorting and trafficking,  lysosomes and autophagy, protein secretion and uptake, receptor-mediated endocytosis, and, G-proteins have greatly enlarged modern understanding about the dynamics of subcellular structure and function.  Prof. Farquhar’s experimental work, research publications, and teaching lectures always are characterized by their completeness, uniform high quality, and establishment of connections to other research results.  She has served as the elected President of the American Society for Cell Biology (1982), and has received many honors (e.g., the E. B. Wilson Medal from the American Society for Cell Biology (1987), the Rous-Whipple Award from the American Society for Investigative Pathology (2001), and the A. N. Richards Award from the International Society of Nephrology (2003)).

My first 3 recommendations below provide recent appreciations of Prof. Farquhar for her pioneering and much admired research accomplishments in experimental renal pathology.  The fourth recommendation briefly recounts the delightful story of her life as an acclaimed  research scientist, based upon a very recent interview.

UCSD School of Medicine News, April 4, 2001.  Marilyn Gist Farquhar wins Rous-Whipple Award.  Available on the internet at:  http://health.ucsd.edu/news/2001/04_04_Farquhar.html .

Kerjaschki D, 2003.  Presentation of the 2003 A. N. Richards Award to Marilyn Farquhar by the International Society of Nephrology.  Kidney International, 64:1941-1942.  Available on the internet at:
http://nature.com/ki/journal/v64/n5/full/4494114a.html .

Farquhar, M., 2003.  Acceptance of the 2003 A. N. Richards Award.  Kidney International, 64:1943-1944.  Available on the internet at:
http://www.nature.com/ki/journal/v64/n5/full/4494115a.html .

Sedwick, C., 2013.  Marilyn Farquhar from the beginning.  Journal of Cell Biology  203: 554-555.  Available on the internet at:  http://jcb.rupress.org/content/203/4/554.full.pdf .

 

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SCIENTISTS TELL US ABOUT THEIR LIFE AND WORK, PART 3

The life and work of Prof. R. Chandrasekhar elicited many books.  The commendable volumes shown above both were edited by K. C. Wali.  Left: published by World Scientific Publishing (Singapore) in 2011.  Right: published by Imperial College Press (London) in 1997.  These and other volumes can be purchased at several booksellers on the internet.
The life and work of Prof. S. Chandrasekhar elicited many books. The commendable volumes shown above both were edited by K. C. Wali.  Left: published by World Scientific Publishing (Singapore) in 2011.  Right: published by Imperial College Press (London) in 1997. These and other books can be purchased at several booksellers on the internet.

 

In this series, I am recommending to you a few life stories about real scientists.  I prefer to let the scientists tell their own stories where possible.  Autobiographical accounts are interesting and entertaining for both non-scientists and other scientists.  My selections here mostly involve scientists I either know personally or at least know about.  If further materials like this are needed, they can be obtained readily on the internet or with input from librarians at public or university libraries, science teachers, and other scientists.

Part 2 in this series contained my recommendations for the story of a pioneering research scientist working in Cell Biology (see “Scientists Tell Us About Their Life and Work, Part 2”).  Part 3 presents fascinating accounts about a famous researcher working on Astrophysics, a branch of Physics and Astronomy that is very mystifying to almost everyone, including most other professional scientists.

Part 3 Recommendations:  ASTROPHYSICS

Prof. Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar (1910 – 1995) lived and researched on 3 continents, and was honored in 1983 with the Nobel Prize in Physics.  His life story is nothing less than utterly fantastic and inspiring.  Not many 18 year old youths either could or would work with mathematics of statistical mechanics (in physics and astronomy) during a ship voyage from India to England, but that is exactly what this young scientist did.  In his long academic career, Chandrasekhar was always a scholar’s scholar.  Most persons addressed him as “Chandra”.  He progressively studied different topics pertaining to the physics of stars and other subjects in astronomy, resulting in a series of much-admired and widely used books in physical science.  There is a story from his many years of research work at The University of Chicago that he had a personal rule that about every 7-10 years a scientist must change to work on a new research subject.   He accomplished this by first publishing a scholarly book completely summarizing and documenting his recently finished research project, and then throwing out the entire contents of several filing cabinets containing huge piles of reprints of published research reports and stacks of mathematical calculations needed for the previous project; only then did Chandra initiate his new research effort.  Few, if any other scientists have the extreme discipline and mental strength to follow such a dictum today!  Chandrasekhar’s research developed and moved forward until he became recognized as the world leader in the subscience of astrophysics.

I recommend here a descriptive obituary for general non-scientist readers, along with an excellent biographic article about Chandrasekhar’s life and influence on modern physical science.  These are followed by two brief recordings (click on “mp3” to start the audio) from a full transcript of a very extensive live interview in 1977 ( http://www.aip.org/history/ohilist/4551_1.html ).

Parker, E.N., 1995.  Obituary: Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar.  Physics Today 48:106-108.  Available on the internet at:  http://scitation.aip.org/content/aip/magazine/physicstoday/48/11/ptolsection?heading=OBITUARIES ; NOTE: after reaching this site for Obituaries, you must first click the title of this article and then click on the “download PDF” button).

Dyson, F., 2010.  Chandrasekhar’s role in 20th-century science.  Physics Today 63:44-48.  Available on the internet at:   http://scitation.aip.org/content/aip/magazine/physicstoday/article/63/12/10.1063/1.3529001 .

Weart, S., & American Institute of Physics Center for History of Physics, 2014.  Interview with S. Chandrasekhar (on his hopes for becoming a scientist), 1977.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.aip.org/history/ohilist/4551_1.html#excerpt .http://scitation.aip.org/content/aip/magazine/physicstoday/article/63/12/10.1063/1.3529001

Weart, S., & American Institute of Physics Center for History of Physics, 2014.  Interview with S. Chandrasekhar (on the motives for his style of work), 1977.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.aip.org/history/ohilist/4551_1.html#excerpt2 .

 

 

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SCIENTISTS TELL US ABOUT THEIR LIFE AND WORK, PART 2

Prof. Keith R. Porter (right) receives the USA National Medal of Science from President Jimmy Carter (left) at the White House in 1977.  Photograph by an unnamed White House staff photographer.
Prof. Keith R. Porter (right) receives the USA National Medal of Science from President Jimmy Carter (left) at the White House in 1977.  Photograph by an unnamed White House staff photographer.

 

In this series, I am recommending to you a few life stories about real scientists.  I prefer to let these scientists tell their own stories where possible.  Autobiographical accounts are interesting and entertaining for both non-scientists and other scientists.  My selections here mostly involve scientists I either know personally or at least know about.  If further materials like this are needed, they can be obtained readily on the internet or with input from librarians at public or university libraries, science teachers, and other scientists.

In the preceding Part 1 of this series, the life story of a world-renowned research scientist working in Nanoscience and Nanotechnology was recommended (see “Scientists Tell Us About Their Life and Work, Part 1”).  Part 2 presents fascinating materials about a wonderful research leader who was instrumental in founding 2 different bioscience societies, and was a pioneer in discovering how to get cells to reveal their secrets by means of electron microscopy.

Part 2 Recommendations:  CELL BIOLOGY

Prof. Keith R. Porter (1912 – 1997) is renowned today as a major co-founder of the modern science discipline, cell biology.  With his pioneering use of electron microscopy, he was able to define the organelles and macromolecular assemblies found inside cells, thereby setting the stage for interpreting other research findings coming from biochemistry, biophysics, cell physiology, and molecular genetics.  These results and his new concepts caused a large breakthrough in our understanding about relationships between structure and function in eukaryotic cells.  A good number of Porter’s younger associates in cell biology, experimental cellular pathology, and neuroscience went on to become famous research leaders.  Prof. Porter was honored with the USA National Medal of Science by President Jimmy Carter in 1977.

I am recommending 3 different articles about this outstanding biomedical scientist.  The first is a memoir about Prof. Porter composed by one of his long-time research co-workers, Prof. Lee D. Peachey (University of Pennsylvania); it includes several candid photographs from different periods in Porter’s career, some of which reflect his enthusiastic sense of humor.  The second nicely describes his many important activities and different research accomplishments.  The third is one of Porter’s own articles, relating the difficult technical innovations and engineering efforts needed to invent and develop effective methods for making meaningful images of cells and their internal parts with the electron microscope.

Peachey, L.D., 2006.  Keith Roberts Porter, biographical memoirs.  Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society  150:685-696.  Available on the internet at:
http://www.amphilsoc.org/sites/default/files/proceedings/150416.pdf/ .

University of Colorado Libraries (Boulder), 2014.  Biographical Sketch.  In: Guide to the Keith R. Porter Papers (1938-1993), Archives, pages 3-5.  Available on the internet at:
https://ucblibraries.colorado.edu/archives/guides/porter_guide.pdf .

Pease, D.C. & Porter, K.R., 1981.  Electron microscopy and ultramicrotomy.  Journal of Cell Biology  91:287s-292s.  Available on the internet at:
http://jcb.rupress.org/content/91/3/287s.full.pdf .

 

 

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SCIENTISTS TELL US ABOUT THEIR LIFE AND WORK, PART 1

 

Prof. Sumio Iijima giving an invited talk to "Nanotechnology in Northern Europe Congress and Exhibition" in 2006 at Helsinki, Finland (http://swww.nanotech.net/ntne2006.htm )
Prof. Sumio Iijima speaking to “Nanotechnology in Northern Europe Congress and Exhibition” in 2006 at Helsinki, Finland (http://www.nanotech.net/ntne2006/news.htm )

 

Some scientists are traditional sedate scholars, while certain others fulfill the Hollywood image of being quite mad.  Most research scientists are somewhere in between these extremes, but often have lives filled with new experiments, several surprises, and much perspiration, as well as with some acclaim by other researchers, personal satisfaction, and at least a little bit of fun (see my article in the Basic Introductions category on “What is the Fun of Being a Scientist?”).  Winners of the biggest science prizes often show major strengths at being imaginative, argumentative, and humorous during many years of work in their research laboratories.

Ordinary people typically know nothing at all about the life of any individual scientist.  Children in school unfortunately study only dead scientists and almost never get to see and learn about living professional researchers as fellow people.  Teenagers like to read about strong personalities in fantastic predicaments, but very few teens realize that some living scientists have exactly those adventures.  Most modern adults worship sports stars and TV celebrities, and so are not able to perceive that after many years of effort, a hard-working research scientist who is one of their neighbors finally succeeds in establishing a new theory by the sheer strength of will and character.

Introduction

In this series, I am recommending to you a few life stories about real scientists.  I prefer to let the scientists tell their own stories.  Their autobiographical accounts are interesting and entertaining for both non-scientists and other scientists.  My selections here mostly involve scientists I either know personally or at least know about.  If further materials like this are needed, they can be obtained readily on the internet or with input from librarians at public or university libraries, science teachers, and other scientists.

Most of these materials reveal the human aspects and personalities of individual scientists, and are not primarily intended to explain or instruct about science.  By getting to know more about the life of a few real scientists, I hope that readers/viewers/listeners will conclude that all these special individuals are also their fellow human beings.

Part 1 Recommendations: NANOSCIENCE & NANOTECHNOLOGY

Prof. Sumio Iijima (1939 – present) is known globally for his co-founding of the new discipline, nanoscience, through his 1991 discovery of carbon nanotubes.  Today, many hundreds of other research scientists and engineers around the world are working to further develop carbon nanomaterials for dramatic new devices and innovative uses in energy storage, clinical medicine, and industrial processes.  This leading Japanese scientist was honored in 2008 as one of the inaugural Kavli Prize awardees in Nanoscience.

Prof. Iijima is somewhat unusual because he is working on research both in academia (Meijo University, at Nagoya) and in industry (NEC Corporation).  I recommend everyone’s attention first to viewing a wonderful video of his masterful public presentation given at a Friday Evening Discourse (London) in 2007.  Secondly, read the delightful autobiographical account describing his childhood and research career; this also presents his personal advice to youths beginning their career in science.  A third article gives his own story about discovering carbon nanotubes.  Much further information about his life and work are available on Prof. Iijima’s own website  (http://nanocarb.meijo-u.ac.jp/jst/english/mainE.html ); a gallery of photographs also is available (http://nanocarb.meijo-u.ac.jp/jst/english/Gallery/galleryE.html ).

Iijima, S. & The Vega Science Trust, 1997.  Nanotubes: The materials of the 21st century.  Available on the internet at:   http://vega.org.uk/video/programme/71 .

Iijima, S., 2014.  About myself.  NEC, Carbon nanotubes.  Available on the internet at:
http://www.nec.com/en/global/rd/innovative/cnt/myself.html .

Iijima, S., 2014.  The discovery of carbon nanotubes.  Available on the internet at:
http://nanocarb.meijo-u.ac.jp/jst/english/Iijima/sumioE.html .

 

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COULD SCIENCE AND RESEARCH NOW BE DYING?

They Just Don't Realize What Will Happen if Science Dies!!  (http://dr-monsrs.net)

They Just Don’t Realize What Happens if Science Dies!!   (http://dr-monsrs.net)

Several knowledgeable science writers have published provocative and shocking speculations that science and research are dead [e.g., 1-3].  I myself do not believe that science now is dead, because new knowledge and important new technology continue to be produced by the ever-increasing large number of graduate students, postdocs, academic and industrial researchers, and engineers.  A very good example of recent major progress is found in “3-D printing and nanoprinting” [e.g., 4,5]; this remarkable advance developed from a combination of pure basic research, applied research, and engineering developments, and exemplifies to me that science and research indeed still are alive today.

Other science writers have concluded that science is undergoing decay and degeneration despite its celebrated progress [e.g., 6,7].  I agree with these perceptions.  The nature and goals of modern scientific research at universities have changed so much that I am sadly convinced that modern science is withering from its former vigorous state.  Since there presently is almost no push against the causes of this very undesirable situation, and since there are no easy means to accomplish all the reforms and rescue efforts needed to reverse the current very negative trends, I do indeed believe that modern science actually could be dying.  Although science still is quite alive, to me it obviously is not well.

Many who disagree with my harsh conclusion will point to the enormous number of scientists now doing research studies, the massive number of tax dollars being spent on academic research, the even larger amount of dollars spent by industries for their commercial research and developmental efforts, the huge number of research scientists reporting on their latest experimental findings at the annual meetings of science societies, and, the modern advent of new research centers, new subdivisions of science, and new directions of research.  Instead of responding to each of these true statements, I will counter that most of them are not reasons why science is successful, but rather are actual symptoms resulting from the decay and degeneration of modern science.

All of the following are strictly personal opinions, and represent my reasons for believing that science now is dying.  The fundamental goal of scientific research at universities has changed into acquiring more research grant money, instead of finding more new knowledge.  Today, science seems to be progressing more and more slowly, with research advances coming in smaller and smaller steps.  The research questions being addressed almost all are smaller than those asked by scientists just a few decades ago; very many scientists in academia now seek to work only on niche studies.  The significance of the reports found in the numerous new and old research journals is decreasing with each year; superficial rather limited reports now are becoming commonplace.  Few scientists are enthusiastic about undertaking the experimental study of any really large and important research questions, since those would require at least several decades of work to find a complete answer; such efforts  are made impossible by the fact that research grants mostly are available only for 1-5 years of effort.  Many modern PhD scientists working in universities today are functioning only as highly educated research technicians working within large groups (see my recent article in the Essays category on “Individual Work versus Group Efforts in Scientific Research“); group-think is prevalent and research in academia now is only a business activity (see my earlier article in the Essays category on “What is the Very Biggest Problem for Science Today?”).  The extensive commercialization of university science sidetracks basic research, stifles individual creativity, and encourages ethical misconduct.  Individual scientists still are the fountain for new ideas and research creativity, but in modern academia they are increasingly restrained by the misguided policies of the research grant agencies and the university employers; both of these have only a very restrained enthusiasm for basic research studies.

A different large and important question always is lurking in the background whenever the status of science progress is being evaluated: could it be that much of the totality of possible knowledge already has been established by all the previous research discoveries?  In other words, is modern scientific research only working to fill in gaps within the massive amount of knowledge already acquired?  I feel that this proposal is quite debatable, since there still are many large and important research questions that remain unanswered.  However, if one switches to asking about understanding, rather than about knowledge, then I believe that very much understanding remains remains to be uncovered in all branches of science.  Although many more new facts and figures will lead to some increase in understanding, I do not actually see that outcome resulting from the many superficial research studies today; many new experimental results are publicized and certified as being “very promising”, but these often simply increase the complexity of the question and  rarely result in significant advances for real understanding.

All of these negative situations adversely impact upon the research enterprise and make it less productive, less significant, less satisfying, and more costly.  Unless changes and reforms are made, the decay in scientific research will progress further.  I feel that therapeutic interventions must be made in order to save science and research from actually dying.  The time to start these needed changes is right now, before everything gets even worse.  My hope is that more and more research scientists, science historians, science philosophers, science teachers, and science administrators will come to see the truth in my viewpoint that the research enterprise currently has decayed and is approaching a morbid condition.

Can science and research be saved from death?  What changes must be made?  Which change needs to be made first?  Is more money to support science needed to rescue science, or will more supportive funds only make this pathological situation even worse?  Who can make the needed changes and reforms?  Who will take the lead in these efforts? How can more scientists and more ordinary people be persuaded that scientific research is dying and needs to be rescued?  I will try to deal further with some of these very difficult and complex questions in later essays at this website.

 

[1]  Horgan, J., 1997.  The End of Science.  Facing the Limits of Knowledge in Light of the Scientific Age.  Broadway Books, The Crown Publishing Group, New York, 322 pages.

[2]  Staff of The Gleaner, 2011.  Is science dying?  The Gleaner, Commentary, February 28, 2011.  Available on the internet at:  http://gleaner.rutgers.edu/2011/02/28/is-science-dying/ .

[3]  LeFanu, J., 2010.  Science’s dead end.  Prospect Magazine, July 21, 2010.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/magazine/sciences-dead-end/ .

[4]  Aigner, F., & Technische Universität Wien, 2012.  3D printer with nano-precision.  Available on the internet at: http://www.tuwien.ac.at/en/news/news_detail/article/7444/ .

[5]  3dprinterworld, 2014.  News.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.3dprinterworld.com/news  .

[6]  Hubbert, M.K., 1963.  Are we retrogressing in science?  Despite superficial evidence to the contrary, science in the United States is in a state of confusion.  Science, 139:884-890.  Abstract available on the internet at:  http://www.sciencemag.org/content/139/3558/884.abstract . [7]  Phys-Org, March 27, 2012.  Has modern science become dysfunctional?  Available on the internet at:  http://phys.org/news/2012-03-modern-science-dysfunctional.html .

 

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IS MODERN SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH WORTH ITS VERY LARGE COST?

 Are We Spending Too Much Money for Scientific Research?   (http://dr-monsrs.net)

Are We Spending Too Much Money for Scientific Research?   (http://dr-monsrs.net)

            Recently, I explained why scientific research costs so very much (see article in the Money&Grants category on “Why is Science so Very Expensive?”)  With that understanding we now can wonder whether spending this very large total amount of money to support research studies is worthwhile (i.e., do the results justify the costs)?  This is a very natural question for all taxpayers who are forced to support research studies; but, this question is not so easy to answer because there are no objective measures upon which to base the evaluations.  The public views scientific research almost totally only on the basis of practical considerations (e.g., will this study cure a disease, will that research produce a much cheaper product, will these investigations help agricultural productivity, etc.).  To be fair both to taxpayers and the scientists conducting grant-supported research, we will first look at how to evaluate individual research projects, and then step back to consider the value received from all the total research activity. 

Are Individual Research Projects Worth their Costs? 

            Basic research seeks new knowledge for its own sake.  Most people judge the importance of basic research studies as being a total waste of money (e.g., “What difference does it make to me or to society if we know more facts about the nest-building behavior of another tropical fruit-eating bird?”).  This type of judgment by non-scientists is based on ignorance; moreover, they do not recognize that many esoteric findings from basic research much later turn out to have a very wide importance and significant practical uses.These thoughts lead me to believe that it is best to look at the critical opinions of experts rather than to use our everyday opinions based on emotions and ignorance.   Only experts have the full background and technical experience needed to form valid judgments about the worthiness of research projects in basic science.  My conclusion here is that the costs and benefits of basic science research can only be validly evaluated by experts. 

            For applied research, experimental and engineering studies are used to design a new offering or improve an existing commercial product.  Applied research and development efforts all are funded by a commercial business only up to the point that the total expenses must be less than the expected profits coming from future sales of the new or improved product.  Judgments by non-scientists about the worthiness of applied research are based only on personal preferences, and therefore commonly differ from one person to another. Again, opinions from experts are better.

How are Official Judgments Made about Worthiness in Proposed Research Studies? 

            Given that it is difficult for non-scientists to objectively evaluate the worthiness of most basic research studies in modern science, we must look briefly at how the official decisions about funding are made by granting agencies.  They are supposed to carefully consider whether the money requested is appropriate to accomplish the stated aims in each project, and how the results will have value for science and society. Both quality and quantity are evaluated for the different aspects of all reviews (e.g., design of experiments, significance of answering the research questions, amount of time and money required, availability of needed laboratory facilities, training of the principal investigator, etc.).  With applications for renewal of research support, reviewers then must look both forward (i.e., what will be done?) and backward (i.e., what has been accomplished during the previous period of support?).  The expert reviewers also make both official and unofficial examinations about whether the selected research subject needs further study, and if significance of the expected results will justify the budget being requested.   

            The evaluation mechanism used by granting agencies avoids the ignorance problem by using experts to make these evaluations.  Critical judgments of grant applications by expert reviewers (i.e., other scientists) constitute peer review.  Expert reviewers often have approved research studies that non-scientists in the public regard as being a waste of money; as explained earlier, this lack of agreement largely is due to the very large difference in knowledge and technical experience.  The validity of decisions by the official referees is enlarged by the fact that research grant applications are evaluated and judged by several experts, thereby usually avoiding any one opinion from becoming a mistake.  Projects judged to have little conceivable significance for science, poor design, inadequate controls, mundane ideas, technical problems, etc., all usually are eliminated from funding by reviewers for the research grant agencies.  The official evaluation of research grant proposals is a filtering mechanism, and this includes evaluation of the costs and benefits. 

            In principle, all the expert evaluations of applications by scientists for research grants should lead to funding of only those research projects having importance for science and society.  Although this usually does happen, due to the very large number of research grant applications and the even larger number of reviewers, some small number of mistakes is made both for what is funded and what is not funded. 

The Cost/Benefits Question for the Total Scientific Research

            How can we best make a valid judgment about whether spending very large amounts of money on all scientific research is worthwhile?  Looking at the evaluations for many thousands of individual research projects and then averaging does not give a very satisfying answer.  Accordingly, we must ask here whether a different approach needs to be taken to obtain a more meaningful conclusion?  By looking at the totality of all funded research projects, then there is a much more solid basis upon which to make an evaluation of costs versus benefits.  I will explain this below, using the well-known examples of transistors and carbon nanotubes. 

            The invention and development of the transistor was initially only a physical curiosity (see the fascinating personal recollections by one of the leading research participants [1]).  Its discovery exemplifies basic research in action, because its ultimate usefulness was not foreseen.  Non-scientists all would have concluded that spending money for its discovery was pointless.  After much further research and many engineering developments, electronics and computers using transistors now are found everywhere in the modern world.  Once its practical importance was documented, the initial negative judgments rapidly changed to become strongly positive. 

            Carbon nanotubes were observed by Iijima in 1990-1991 while conducting basic research studies on a different type of carbon specimen with his electron microscope [2,3].  This unexpected observation of carbon nanotubes was a chance event, and is a wonderful example of serendipity in basic research.  Iijima was not trying to study carbon nanotubes, because nobody was aware that they existed!  Today, after further research investigations both in academia and industry, carbon nanotubes are found in several different important commercial products, and hundreds of scientists and engineers now are working on new uses for these very small materials within innovative products designed for medicine, energy storage, and high technology. 

            Early judgments about the worthiness of studying transistors and carbon nanotubes were negative and wrong.  The money produced from all the present widespread usage of transistors is absolutely gigantic, and probably is, or soon will be, matched by the value of new products and many developing uses for carbon nanotubes.  Thereby, the cost/benefits ratio for both are small, and all the money spent for their research studies must be judged to be very, very worthwhile.  Moreover, the dollars coming from these 2 research discoveries alone have more than paid for all the numerous other scientific investigations that have had a much less notable outcome.  Therefore, I believe that public funding of all worthy research studies is very worthwhile.  My positive conclusion about the huge pile of money spent on research is that this is good, because by enabling all the very numerous ordinary research investigations that result in less spectacular or even mundane results, the chances that some really great unanticipated breakthroughs will be produced are notably increased. 

            Money most certainly is not the only measure for significance of scientific research!  Investigations producing a breakthrough in research or a dramatic change in knowledge can have enormous importance for the progress of science.  One good example of this is the recent arrival of the new concept of nanoscience; this new branch of physical science deals with materials just slightly bigger than individual atoms and molecules.  Nanoscience now has extended into specialized areas of research, such as nanochemistry, nano-engineering, nanomedicine, nanotechnology, and, others [e.g., 4].  Nanoscience really represents a new way of thinking for scientists in these areas.  

Concluding Statements

            History is the ultimate judge for the worthiness of funding research studies!  From the considerations described above, I draw 3 conclusions.
1.  Basic research findings can take many years to develop into spectacular commercial products that are widely utilized.  The ultimate success and worthiness of specific grant-supported basic research is almost impossible to predict.
2.  For research projects in basic science, worthiness must be judged one at a time, and independently from practical usage.  Significance of results from this or that research project only can be judged validly by other expert scientists.
3.  The value of spending so much money to support scientific research is best measured by considering the totality of research results acquired by all funded studies.  When viewed in this light, the funding of numerous projects that turn out to be only ordinary is seen to be good because this increases the chances that some unanticipated spectacular findings are acquired and thereby greatly benefit both science and society. 


[1]  Mullis, K.B., 2012.  Conversation with John Bardeen.  Available on the internet at:
http://karymullis.com/pdf/interview-jbardeen.pdf .  

[2]  Iijima, S., & The Vega Science Trust, 1997.  Nanotubes: The materials of the 21st century.  Available on the internet at:  http://vega.org.uk/video/programme/71 .

[3]  Iijima, S., 2011.  The discovery of carbon nanotubes.  Available on the internet at:  http://nanocarb.meijo-u.ac.jp/jst/english/Iijima/sumioE.html .

[4]  XII International Conference on Nanostructured Materials, Moscow, Russia, 2014.  NANO 2014.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.nano2014.org/ . 

 

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WHY IS SCIENCE SO VERY EXPENSIVE? WHY DO RESEARCH EXPERIMENTS COST SO MUCH?

Why are Science and Research so Very Expensive? (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Why are Science and Research so Very Expensive?      (http://dr-monsrs.net)

            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 and  toxic 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! 

 Concluding remarks

             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. 

 

[1]  Hourihan, M., for the American Association for the Advancement of Science, 2014.  R&D in the FY 2014 omnibus: The big picture.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.aaas.org/news/rd-fy-2014-omnibus-big-picture . 

[2]  Battelle, and, R&D Magazine, 2013.  2014 global R&D funding forecast.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.battelle.org/docs/tpp/2014_global_rd_funding_forecast.pdf?sfvrsn=4 . 

 

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ALL ABOUT SCIENCE MEETINGS

 Scientists Love to Participate in Science Meetings!   (http://dr-monsrs.net)

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 [1].  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 [2], 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 who  work 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. 

Concluding Remarks

            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.

 

 [1]  Society for Neuroscience, 2013.  Neuroscience 2013 attendees share science from around the globe.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.sfn.org/news-and-calendar/news-and-calendar/news/annual-meeting-spotlight/neuroscience-2013-spotlight/neuroscience-2013-attendees-share-science-from-around-the-globe .

[2]  American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), 2014.  2015 annual meeting.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.aaas.org/AM2013 . 

[3]  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/ . 

[4]  XII International Conference on Nanostructured Materials, Moscow, Russia, 2014.  NANO 2014.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.nano2014.org/ . 

 

 

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INDIVIDUAL WORK VERSUS GROUP EFFORTS IN SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH


Individual Researchers  versus Group Efforts in Science  (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Individual Researchers versus Group Efforts in Science   (http://dr-monsrs.net)

Ultimately, progress in science depends upon the work of many individual scientists.  Even where important new concepts or dramatic new research advances arise over a long period of time, one individual researcher with insight, determination, and innovation usually has a central role.  The importance of individuals as investigators and inventors in modern science becomes very obvious when the career efforts of certain giants in research are examined; new readers should refer to my earlier articles briefly presenting Thomas A. Edison and Nikola Tesla (see article in the Basic Introductions category on “Inventors & Scientists”), and, Edwin H. Land (see article in the Essays category on “Curiosity, Creativity, Inventiveness, and Individualism in Science”).  All 3 of these renowned researchers were extraordinary individuals, both in science and in life.  It is interesting to note that when these 3 continued their pioneering experimental studies and commercial innovations, all formed large research groups so as to be able to carry out their many complex and extensive research activities. 

Any one individual scientist can only conduct and complete a few experimental studies in a given year of time.  To really be able to work to a larger extent, more than 2 hands are needed!  The simplest way to do this is to win a research grant that pays for salaries of technicians, graduate students, and Postdocs.  Another good approach is to form research groups.  Research scientists often associate with others for collaborative studies, either informally or formally.  Small successful research groups easily can grow larger.  For the complex and more extensive research work needed by projects in Big Science (i.e., the Manhattan Project during WW2 [1,2], and the projects of NASA in space research [3], are typical examples of Big Science), very large groups of research scientists are essential. 

Research groups of any size have certain general advantages over isolated individual scientists: (1) larger financial resources, (2) more lab space, (3) more brains, (4) more hands, (5) better ability to apply multiple approaches to any one project, (6) more flexibility, (7) greater efficiency of effort, and, (8) increased productivity.  This essay examines the general roles of individuals and of groups for working in scientific research. 

Individual Scientists and Small Research Groups

The early research scientists all were very strongly individualistic.  Classical science recognized that individual researchers are the primary basis for creativity, new directions, inventions, and research breakthroughs; this has not changed even in today’s science.  For research conducted in universities, one still finds many individual scientists pursuing good laboratory projects.  However, with the modern system for grant-supported research studies, an increasing number of individual scientists now are moving their experimental investigations into group efforts.  Small research groups in universities typically have around 5-20 members and staff (i.e., faculty collaborators on the same campus, faculty collaborators and visitors from other universities, graduate students, postdoctoral research associates, research technicians, etc.); small groups typically work within several laboratory rooms.  At the other end of the scale are giant research groups working under one Director, having over 100 scientists and research staff, and, occupying several floors or even an entire separate building.  Some medium- and large-sized research groups fill the interval between the small and giant associations. 

For studies in industrial research and development (R&D) laboratories, both individual scientists and various research groups are utilized.  Individual doctoral researchers often function as leaders or specialized workers in small or large groups.  Larger groups in industrial research often extend between different divisions and locations of the company.  Several or many small industrial research groups can be networked into extensive research operations in different states, nations, and continents.   Since many research efforts in industry pursue coordinated applied research and engineering studies targeted towards specific new or improved products, group activities are very appropriate for these R&D operations.

Large and Giant Research Groups

Since success breeds more success, there is a general tendency in universities for flourishing small groups to become larger.  All large research groups have greater capabilities for producing extensive results within a shorter period of time.  They also minimize the impact of the hyper-competition for research grants upon most members within the group, since one large award or several regular awards provide for the group’s experiments.  In academia, one even can find some entire science departments where almost all faculty members, other than those working exclusively with teaching, are organized to function as a single large research unit. 

In very large groups of researchers, group-think often becomes usual.  Most decisions are already made and each worker generally is concerned only with their small area of personal work.  Thus, individualism of everyone except The Director is squelched.  In many cases, the role of doctoral scientists within the large and giant groups at universities devolves into serving only as very highly educated research technicians.  The Big Boss is happy when everyone does their assigned tasks well, and thus there is little need for any individual input, creative new ideas, questions about alternatives, or self-development.  In my view, this group-think situation is very consistent with the new trend for academic science to now be just a commercialized business entity (see my earlier article in the Big Problems category on “What is the Very Biggest Problem for Science Today?”).  One can even think here about an analogy of giant research groups to the assembly lines of commercial manufacturers; indeed, giant groups operating in universities commonly are referred to by other scientists as being research factories.  In those factories, it is doubtful that the Big Boss even can recall the names of all the many individual scientists working there. 

Nevertheless, giant groups can achieve notable successes in scientific research.  As described above, they also have some disadvantages for lab research studies.  It seems to me that the Chief Scientist in a research factory mostly functions for expert planning, integrating the many different experiments and diverse results into a cohesive whole, and, shielding all group members from the distractions of dealing with the research grant system and bureaucracies; these activities all are both difficult and important for research progress, and, therefore are deserving of praise. 

Small versus Large Research Groups

 Each of the differently sized environments for laboratory research at universities has both advantages and disadvantages.  The degree of positive or negative features for any given research endeavor must be evaluated in order to determine which situation is best.  It seems obvious that the different group situations will appeal to different types of personalities, and will be more productive for certain kinds of research studies.  Most of the classical and modern breakthroughs in scientific research have been brought forth by individuals or small research groups, and not by large or giant groups.  Research scientists working today as individuals in academia usually are dedicated to highly specialized niche studies, and are extremely careful to select a subject for their research which has no likelihood of competing with investigations of any large research group.  Such competition would be the instant kiss-of-death for any individual scientist, since it would be analogous to one mouse attempting to outdo a huge grizzly bear. 

 I have always researched as an individual scientist, whether all by myself or in a small group.  I also have known several other scientists in academia who were both very productive and quite happy to work within very large groups.  I view small research groups as being mostly good, but large and giant groups often seem problematic with regard to creativity and individualism; these qualities are vital for the success of scientific research (see my recent article in the Essays category on “Curiosity, Creativity, Inventiveness, and Individualism in Science”). 

The large federal agencies offering research grants now seem to favor giving awards to larger groups.  This probably is done because those groups always provide a much, much firmer likelihood that all their proposed studies will progress as planned, everything will be completed on time, and the anticipated research results will be validated by the “new” experimental data.  Interestingly, these capabilities often come about because the giant research operations actually conduct, analyze, and finish all the planned studies during the period of their last funding; thus, any of their proposed experiments and anticipated results can be almost guaranteed.  Small groups and individual researchers simply are not able to do that, and therefore their proposals always seem somewhat chancier to evaluators of grant applications. 

With the present hyper-competition for research grants at universities, very large groupshave the easy capability to completely overrun everyone else.  They can very easily pick up any new study, start researching immediately, and, complete everything in a much shorter time period than could any individual scientist or small group.  The overwhelming strength of very large research groups necessarily has an inhibiting influence on individuals and small groups; this seems to be the price that must be paid for obtaining the beneficial functional advantages and strong output of larger research groups.  Even some brilliant individual scientist inevitably will find that they are at a strong disadvantage if they directly compete with large research groups for funding of a similar experimental project.

Concluding Remarks

Small research groups often form naturally in universities.  As soon as several individual faculty scientists in one or several departments discover that they have some common research interests, new small group efforts often can arise.  Scientists love to talk and argue with other scientists, and this often encourages the formation of these smaller associations.  Small groups can retain many of the advantages of single research scientists, along with having some of the good characteristics of large research groups.  However, successful small research groups must try to avoid growing too much, such that they do not acquire the negative features of very large research groups; successful small groups should recognize that growing into a much larger research group will not necessarily make the former better. 

 Smaller research groups can be viewed ass hybrids having some of the advantageous features of both individual researchers and giant research groups.  Small groups thus seem to me to be a very good model for the organization of future university research activities in science.

[1]  Los Alamos Historical Society, 2014.  Manhattan Project.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.losalamoshistory.org/manhattan.htm .
[2]  U.S. History, 2014.  51f.  The Manhattan Project.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.ushistory.org/us/51f.asp .
[3]  NASA Science, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 2014.   Science@NASA.    Available on the internet at:   http://science.nasa.gov/.

 

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WHAT ARE THE LARGEST LIMITATIONS TO FREEDOM OF RESEARCH?

 Some Research Topics Still Cannot be Investigated!  (http:dr-monsrs.net)

Some Research Topics Still Cannot be Investigated!  (http://dr-monsrs.net) 
                   

           Research freedom is the totally open choice of scientists and scholars for what to investigate, exactly how it is studied, and what to conclude from the experimental data gathered.  Freedom of scientific research is inherently fragile.  Traditional restrictions in classical science involved the adequacy of financial support, presence of religious or political dogmas, availability of technical means to gather certain experimental data (i.e., capabilities of research instruments), duration of time needed for the investigation, availability of certain samples, and, public health and safety concerns.  Thus, the limitations to research freedom generally involve money, time, technology, official regulations, and various authorities.  All these classical restrictions still are active today! 

 

            Many current restrictions to research freedom for scientists at modern universities have a practical nature.  These can make it very difficult or even impossible to conduct some research studies by scientists working at an academic institution.  Common examples of these limitations include:

(1)     ability to acquire funding from research grants, such that support is available in a sufficient amount to fully conduct all the proposed work;

(2)     only insufficient time is available to conduct the needed experiments, because their duration takes much longer than the usual period of any research grant (i.e., the project needs more than 5 years of support to be completed);

(3)     the required research experiments are deemed too dangerous to be conducted at a given institution or facility;

(4)     where the needed experimental data can be obtained only at one or two very special research facilities in the entire world, scheduling priorities might be such that it is necessary to  wait for several years before data collection can begin;

(5)     although a research grant would provide the large funds needed to purchase some very special and very expensive large research instrument, there is no suitable building available on the present campus for its installation; and,

(6)     the proposed experiment necessitates violating some official prohibitions or laws established by the national government agencies (e.g., DNA cloning, stem cell studies, chemical synthesis of certain toxic materials, etc.). 

            In fact, there often are some paths for determined researchers to bypass these restrictions. Working on a research project in a small group of other funded scientists can provide more funds than are available from any one research grant.  Some scientists still are able to successfully pursue construction of a book with long-term research studies by obtaining a number of consecutive research grants, such that each of these enables production of one or 2 chapters at a time until the full set is completed; this tactic is common for very successful scientific researchers, but necessitates strict discipline, a well-defined focus, and much good luck with the current research grant system.  If some special research instrument is needed but has not yet been developed, then one could invent (i.e., design, construct, and test) and use the very first one.  Other researchers work with a collaborator in some other country having different regulations, thereby enabling very special facilities to be used or forbidden dangerous experiments to be conducted.  Where the roadblock is located at the local institution, frustrated scientists must also think about the possible necessity of moving to a new employer where there is more flexibility.  All of these difficult problems and possible work-arounds mandate that research scientists have a strong personal commitment to their research project, along with much patience and a steadfast determination to succeed. 

 

            Another general category of limitation to research freedom is based on human psychology.  This concerns restrictions in the mind of most research scientists.  All research scientists, whether young or old and famous or relatively unknown, are hesitant to openly disagree with eminent other scientists who have stated some view or published some conclusions that differ from their own convictions.  It is striking to realize that many young students or non-scientist adults viewing this same situation often will have little hesitation to disagree with the eminent expert.  All of us are taught to conform, be respectful, and be obedient to authority, but research scientists must break through this psychological barrier and learn to think more independently in order to be creative and able to find hidden truths. 

 

            Another very serious limitation to research freedom fortunately does not occur in all nations within the modern world.  This is a governmental restriction about what research questions can be asked or what conclusions can be derived from new experimental results.  Either situation obviously goes totally against the very foundation of scientific research, since in the search for truth absolutely anything and everything is open to question regardless of its widespread or longstanding acceptance.  The classical modern example is Lysenkoism in Stalin’s USSR (Soviet Union), where the conclusions of one research scientist were incorporated into state policies such that they could not be disputed or even questioned by other scientists [1].  Research freedom completely ceased to exist in this subject area (i.e., inheritance of acquired characteristics).  Fortunately, these politicized governmental mandates were later removed so that research freedom in modern Russian science again has bloomed.  

 

            The most recent example of a sad loss of research freedom is Germar Rudolf [2].  As an enthusiastic graduate student in chemistry at a German university research center, he decided to conduct research investigations seeking chemical evidence for use of gassing in certain “death camps” run by German military operations during WW2.  His extensive and careful chemical assays unexpectedly produced only negative results for the use of cyanide gas, but control situations at on-site locations were positive with the same chemical tests.  From the experimental data, Rudolf then drew the straightforward conclusion that cyanide gassings were not conducted where everyone else was certain they were done.  His German professor refused to publish Rudolf’s thesis results and tried to terminate his degree candidacy.  Rudolf’s conclusions from his chemical research studies directly contradicted and violated German national laws forbidding such statements and beliefs, even if presented as a summary of scientific research findings; he was later indicted for violation of these anti-science laws, lost his court case, and wound up in prison for several years.  Today, the same dogmatic laws and restrictions now exist in several other nations, as well as continuing in Germany.  Undoubtedly, other young researchers also are encountering this difficult situation where their freedom as a research scientist is very limited by a national policy on some mandated dogma. 

 

            Where scientists are not 100% free, there can be no research freedom!  The search for the truth is never finished, and demands freedom for scientists and other scholars to ask any questions and draw any conclusions so long as the experimental evidence supports those views.  Research is at its best when it is unrestrained by either political convictions or arbitrary dogmas.  Even established conclusions and universally accepted concepts are open to questioning and further testing.  The nature of science is such that research conclusions are not determined by political mandate, religious dogma, or arbitrary individual beliefs, but rather are built and progressively modified from the total range of experimental results gathered by many different scientists. 

 

[1]  The Skeptic’s Dictionary, 2013.  Lysenkoism.  Available on the internet at:
http://www.skepdic.com/lysenko.html .

[2]  Rudolf, G., 2012.  Resistance is Obligatory.  Castle Hill Publishers, Uckfield, United Kingdom, 367 pages. 


               

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CURIOSITY, CREATIVITY, INVENTIVENESS, AND INDIVIDUALISM IN SCIENCE

 

Edwin H. Land inspects an oversized Polaroid BLACK AND WHITE image of himself taken with one of his Polaroid cameras; recorded by an unknown photographer in the late 1940's.
Edwin H. Land inspects an oversized Polaroid black and white image of himself taken with one of his Polaroid cameras; recorded by an unknown photographer in the late 1940’s.

 

            Curiosity is the desire in some individuals to wonder about the whys and wherefores of something (e.g., how does a clock work, what causes headaches, why do humans get old and die, when will cars drive themselves, is a mouse just a little rat, where was copper mined for making the first ancient copper pots, etc.?).  Creativity is an inborn ability to think and act in new directions, and to make unrestrained or unconventional associations.  Inventiveness is an inborn ability to devise and develop new or better objects, and new ways of doing something;  inventions are new devices or processes, made and developed by an inventor (see my earlier post on “Inventors & Scientists” in the Basic Introductions category).  Individualism is found in people who readily assert their own personal characteristics of thought, interests, and demeanor, and, who are not afraid to have some of their own viewpoints be quite different from those of the general public.   Any one person, whether a scientist or a non-scientists, can potentionally excel with any of these characteristics.  Some of these features, but rarely all 4 of them, frequently are found in research scientists; when several are well-developed in one individual researcher, the results often are quite spectacular.  

 

Most scientists started out as youngsters with the natural curiosity and creativity found in almost all children.  Sometime later, during the course of their education and advanced training, they become molded into adult scientists who are more ready to think along certain channels, accept participation in group projects, and perform research with standardized experimental approaches; this process often results in very restrained individualism, diminished curiosity, near absence of  research creativity, and, redirection of activities into only tried and true pathways.  Although everyone has a distinct personality with individual likes and dislikes, most research scientists now are inhibited from thinking creatively, trying to prove that some established belief is wrong, questioning interpretations or conclusions coming from very famous other scientists, and expressing their individual  curiosity.  In the modern world, most of us, whether we are scientists or non-scientists, are expected to conform, not be very curious, and not ask too many questions (i.e., “do not rock the boat!”).  It really takes guts for any artist, musician, poet, or scientist to be a creative individual in today’s world. 

 

            In modern science, the current research grant system unforunately opposes creativity in scientists.  This is largely because a big push is given to being able to actually produce the anticipated results with the proposed experiments; grant applications proposing to conduct experiments and attack research questions with well-established experimental designs generally are favored by the grant system over those more exploratory studies seeking to use new approaches, ask unconventional questions, or, use innovative designs and new tools for analysis.  For truly creative scientists, results of their experiments often either cannot be anticipated at all or are likely to be very different from traditional expectations; this condition generally is not viewed with favor by the modern research grant system. Inventions are widely sought in modern science and research because they can produce financial gain and help provide touchable evidence that new practical devices are generated by publically-supported research grants; in other words, the granting agencies like to show the tax-paying public that research grant funds are indeed helping make daily life better or easier.  Although today’s scientists are very appreciative that the research grant system does provide considerable support for experimental science, they also are at least vaguely aware that it also tends to suppress expression of the several attributes found prominently in dedicated and innovative research scientists. 

 

            Exceptions to the above generalizations about repression of curiosity, creativity, inventiveness, and individualism in modern science are among the most fascinating of all people.   One particularly well-known example is Edwin H. Land (1909-1991), who had vigorous expression of all 4 of these characteristics.  He is most widely known as the inventor, developer, and manufacturer of the Polaroid Camera and Polaroid films [1-4].  These comprised the amazing invention of “instant photography”,  and occurred decades before the now-commonplace digital imaging cameras were born.  Land dropped out of Harvard College in order to conduct research studies, but later went on to obtain his bachelor’s degree; he succeeded in educating himself largely through self-study, similarly to what Thomas Edison did.  It now is obvious to all that Land didn’t need academic degrees in order to achieve renown, because he was supremely individualistic and a remarkably self-driven worker.  His open curiosity, creative ideas, energetic drive, and engineering insights led this researcher and inventor to develop new means to polarize photonic light, and also a new theory of color vision.  His special cameras and unique films both had multiple models and diverse varieties [3].  The Polaroid Corporation had multiple buidings and laboratories with over 10,000 employees; the research and development labs housed several talented co-researchers and engineers toiling to make very new technological advances in photography [4].  Land was a very self-motivated creator throughout his entire life.  He felt that everyone should havre direct experience in conducting experimental research as a very valuable part of getting a college education, so he established new programs for laboratory research by undergraduate students at several universities.  By the time he died, Land the physical scientist, inventor, and manufacturer had obtained over 500 patents [1,2]; this giant number stands as an objective testimonial to the inventiveness of this very creative human [3,4]. 

 

            Creativity is not essential for science, but is very useful and helpful in speeding up research progress by enabling breakthroughs and large jumps over the usual step-by-step progress in laboratory activities.  Quite often scientists have become famous largely because they invented some key device or process that enabled them to examine and study something that was unseen or unrecognized by other eager researchers.  Today, it is often believed that younger individuals are the major source for new concepts and new ideas in science.  All of these basic recognitions force the conclusion that both the agencies awarding research grants, and the academic institutions employing faculty researchers, should do more to encourage creativity, individualism, and inventiveness in scientists, instead of repressing these capabilities.  Any funding program that intentionally or unintentionally suppresses creativity and curiosity by demanding that a proposed project be almost guaranteed success, proceed only with some currently hot methodology, or follow strictly along well-known pathways of logic and analysis, is thereby retarding the progress of scientific research.  Society, schools and universities, and, granting agencies, all need to recognize the fact that the unknowns in research make good experimental studies always risky, not easily guaranteed, and very challenging; but, at the same time these conditions also make science investigations quite wonderful.  Encouraging curiosity, creativity, inventiveness, and individualism in scientists will promote better results in scientific research, and that will benefit everyone. 

    

[1]  McElheny, V. K. The National Academy Press, 2013.  Biographical Memoirs: Edwin Herbert Land, May 7, 1909 – March 1, 1991.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.nap.edu/html/biomems/eland.html

[2]   Linderman, M., 2010.  The story of Polaroid inventor Edwin Land, one of Steve Jobs’ biggest heroes.  Available on the internet at:  http://signalvnoise.com/posts/2666-the-story-of-polaroid-inventor-edwin-land-one-of-steve-jobs-biggest-heroes .

[3]  BBC News Magazine, 2013.  The Polaroid genius who re-imagined the way we take photos.  Video is available online at:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-21115581 .  

[4]  Polaroid Corporation, 1970.  Edwin H. Land in “The Long Walk” (directed by Bill Warriner).  Video is available online at:  http://film.linke.rs/domaci-filmovi/edwin-h-land-in-the-long-walk-1970-directed-by-bill-warriner-for-polaroid-corporation/ .

 

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THE LIFE OF MODERN SCIENTISTS IS AN ENDLESS SERIES OF DEADLINES!

A Life of Endless Deadlines
Research  Scientists  Live  A  Life  of  Endless  Deadlines                                (dr-monsrs.net)

         

            Faculty research scientists working at modern universities always are very busy (see my post on “What do Scientists Actually do in their Daily Work” in the Scientists category).  Almost none can avoid having their professional life being characterized by far too many deadlines.  Some job deadlines are yearly or monthly events, while others occur weekly and even daily.  For many university scientists, there are major deadlines for submitting applications for competitive grant renewals or new research grants, annual forms and reports to the granting agency, signed forms going to the employing institution, and, yet other business and financial submissions related to research grant awards.  These deadlines for research grant activities in turn create secondary deadlines for sending in new or revised manuscripts to professional journals, submitting abstracts for science meetings, and getting certain lab results finalized.  Yet other deadlines occur intermittently throughout the academic year, involving lectures and examinations in university courses, safety inspections, chemical inventory updates, radiation usage reports and inspections, graduate student meetings and examinations, writing invited chapters for new science books, participating in journal clubs, obtaining travel approvals and arrangements, preparing and giving invited seminars at other institutions, attending meetings of science societies, reviewing assigned manuscripts, etc.  Most of these many deadlines cannot be avoided or postponed. 

 

             For industrial research scientists working at research and development centers in commercial companies, there also are very many job deadlines.  Progress in their projects must be kept on a mandated schedule, formal internal reports must be prepared and approved by the target dates, supplies must be acquired in certain business periods, presentations for internal and external meetings must be finalized and approved, proposals for patent applications and future investigations must be generated and finalized, training of new staff employees must be finished during the allowed period, and, all assigned tasks must be brought forward to meet targeted goals set by the commercial employer.  Most of these deadlines cannot be postponed or ignored.  The fact that industrial scientists often work on more than one project intensifies the number of their deadlines.  

 

            Of course, every salaried worker in almost any type of non-science job also has deadlines.  This is normal and serves to encourage progress in the job.  But, here I am describing something much larger and more extensive.  When the schedule of one’s entire job life becomes only an endless series of deadlines, the main question each and every day then is, “What is my next deadline?”.  This is typical for the life of university scientists actively doing grant-supported research.  It is truly like running on a treadmill and being unable to jump off.  If a deadline ever is not met, there always are unfortunate consequences.  The traditional solution to this problem is to hire more helpers (e.g., lab coworkers, secretaries, a lab manager/administrator, graduate students); this does not always work as anticipated, since these new personnel also add to the existing pile of deadlines.  Common casual attempts to deal with the problem of too numerous deadlines also do not usually work very well (e.g., thinking about new experiments while one is driving to work or taking a train, preparing the agenda for a committee meeting while eating lunch, analyzing experimental data just before going to bed, etc.). 

 

            In addition to requiring great discipline, much stamina, and intense dedication, the endless deadlines for scientists often produce some very negative effects.  Ultimately, the frazzled working scientist begins to feel that he or she is doing something in a very mechanical manner.  Most importantly, the endless deadlines readily conflict with the very important need of all scientists to spend some time simply thinking about their present and future research activities (e.g., how can I make this experiment give clearer results, do I have enough of a certain very expensive chemical to last for the rest of this year or should I purchase more now, should I pay an external service lab to run this assay or is it better to do it in-house, what should I do about my graduate student being a very slow worker?).  The numerous deadlines too easily also can result in there being little or no time to spend elsewhere for family life and normal outside activities. 

 

            At its worst, the dedicated university or industrial scientist trying to deal with all their job deadlines never has sufficient free time to be able to think and generate new ideas, carefully design new experiments and good controls, dream up new research projects, or take a day off to organize and assemble a new presentation showing results of the latest experiments.  The problem of time management created by all these many job deadlines is a major practical difficulty for university scientists doing research, and can also be a major job concern for industrial research scientists.  I myself  encountered this very large difficulty with handling deadlines, and in response I always used to work on weekends and most holidays!  The time crunch induced by the endless deadlines inevitably has negative effects upon the professional work of scientists for advancing the research enterprise. 

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MOST OF TODAY’S PUBLIC EDUCATION ABOUT SCIENCE IS WORTHLESS!

 

What  is  Research?
What  is  Scientific Research?     (dr-monsrs.net)

 

            The general public today perceives science as being something much beyond their ability to understand.  Many people actually are afraid of science!  Since science and research seem to have no direct impact upon their daily lives, the simplest solution is for people to completely ignore them.  In today’s world, these conditions have resulted in the enormous estrangement of most ordinary people from scientific research.  

 

On television and the internet, science programs almost always portray science as an amusement.  These programs often feature titillation and try to illustrate science in action (i.e., research) by showing unknown instruments having lots of colored blinking lights and noises, somewhat bizarre men and women wearing white lab coats, laboratory shelves with myriad vials and bottles, and, computer screens filled with a galaxy of numbers.  This caricature of scientific research supports the common fear of science, and directly leads to seeing it as being something quite amusing. 

 

The present “science-of-the-day” format found in many media programs about science almost always features claims that the most recent research finding promises some wildly fabulous advance.  Probably most viewers do not even hear the obligatory follow-up statement that the promised glorious results will be many years in the future.  Any attempt to explain what is being shown is always very abbreviated and superficial; the result is that the audience is amused and always dutifully repeats, “Isn’t that wonderful!”, but really learns and comprehends nothing new.  This entire approach for public education demeans the audience, is grossly unrealistic about what science does and how research advances, and so seems worthless.  These programs and their warped approach will not be helpful to anyone in the public. 

 

 Science would be much better presented via examples of real scientists showing and talking about their research work, particularly when these studies involve some of the current problems we all face.  Actual scientists, not actors and actresses, should be presented and interviewed.  This use of real living scientists will reveal them as neighbors and fellow people, not as mad monsters from some other world.  The message of these presentations should present simple and clear step-by-step explanations showing how the selected question or problem is approached, how the experiments are conducted, what was found, and what conclusions are drawn from the data.  All such presentations must explain what this means for the public, and be produced to be readily understandable by ordinary adults. 

 

Practical matters are more easily understood than theoretical concepts.  Showing some real examples of practical problems where basic research, applied research, and engineering are being conducted will help counter the mistaken general viewpoint that scientific research has no impact on daily life; attentive viewers will come to see that nothing could be farther from the truth.  Probably the most difficult part of my proposal for better adult education will be to get people in the public to watch the 10-30 minute expositions; all too many modern adults have a very limited attention span, thus inclining them to watch sport events rather than any presentation about science and research. 

 

Most ordinary people have never ever talked with a real live scientist, and very few have ever visited a research laboratory.  Ideally, this should occur during education in primary and secondary schools.  By introducing new and more effective formats that are not presently being utilized for media presentations, science will become much more personal and much more human for everyone.  When the public becomes more familiar with scientists as real people, and comes to see how research can benefit everyone, they then will become more understanding and supportive of the long efforts needed to solve the difficult practical problems affecting everyone (e.g., behavior, energy, environment, genetics, health, nutrition, politics, society, water, etc.).  Improved understanding that real science (eu-science) is about finding new knowledge and helping everyone will remove the current emphasis on amusement and pseudo-science. 

 

When the public better understands that science is people, and that scientific research is important for everyone, they will become more enthusiastic about eu-science, and will come to recognize the falsity of being entertained by pseudo-science.  Kickstarter [1] and other mechanisms for crowdfunding [2-4], where hundreds to thousands of ordinary people each make a small financial contribution to a selected project, recently has become popular; in some cases with support for science research projects, the contributors can  become personal participants in the actual experimental studies.  This aspect of crowdfunding dramatically reveals that the hidden large potential interest of the public in scientific research is waiting to be unlocked. 

 

 [1]  Kickstarter, 2013.  What is Kickstarter?  Available on the internet at:  http://www.kickstarter.com/start . 

[2]  Stewart, M., 2013.  With funding becoming scarce, scientists are looking to the public for help.  ASBMB Today, 12:21-23.  Available on the internet at:                                          
http://www.asbmb.org/uploadedFiles/ASBMBToday/Content/Archive/ASBMBToday-2013-11.pdf .

[3]  Rice, H., 2013.  Crowdfunding, Overview.  The New York Academy of Sciences, Academy eBriefings, October 9, 2013.  Available on the internet at:                        http://www.nyas.org/publications/EBriefings/Detail.aspx?cid=82c4e4b4-f200-49b3-b333-c41e1e2f46aa .

[4]  Schmitt, D., 2013,  Crowdfunding science: could it work?  Higher Education Network, The Guardian, Nov. 11, 2013.  Available on the internet at:                                                        http://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/blog/2013/nov/11/science-research-funding-crowdfunding-excellence .

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