Tag Archives: Scientists

GRAD STUDENTS AND POSTDOCS IN SCIENCE CAN FIND NEW CAREER DIRECTIONS! 

 

Trials and tribulations of a postdoc! (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Trials and tribulations of a postdoc!   (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

Traditional careers in academic science increasingly are recognized by many grad students and postdocs as being restrictive and problematic.  Rather than drop out of science, many individuals escape the negative features of the traditional faculty job in academia by finding more satisfying positions permitting research and teaching of science to be continued long-term.  Since this escape requires thinking new thoughts and a willingness to be unconventional, it is never easy.

Today’s dispatch covers an explicit and inspiring story of how one postdoc overcame these difficulties.  A heartfelt biographical note by Dr. Matthew Tuthill [1] describes how he found satisfaction and fun with both research and teaching at a somewhat unusual job position, after being progressively disheartened when pursuing the usual path to get a Ph.D. and advance up the academic ladder.  His story emphasizes that hunting for a new science job in science is never hopeless!

A postdoc becomes dissatisfied! 

Matthew Tuthill was following the traditional route for young researchers to obtain a job as a university scientist, but after several years researching as a postdoc he began to have serious doubts about his possibilities for landing long-term employment as a faculty scientist and getting research grant awards  It was disheartening that the research grind was diminishing his interest for continuing to work at science.  Many other postdocs today have exactly the same difficult feelings.

What to do? 

He then made the difficult decision to abandon the stock academic path and try to find a new career that would better satisfy his ongoing enthusiasm for being a professional researcher.  His choices widened when he looked at the work of his graduate school mentor, who had made important contributions to society by founding a Cord Blood Bank, and of a professor at a local 2-year college, who advanced student training in scientific research by involving them in the lab production of monoclonal antibodies.

He met with that professor, who worked at a 2-year community college, and came to see that the standard view about the limitations of working at such institutions is very wrong.  Those realizations opened his mind to recognizing that there are some good science careers with research and teaching outside of big universities and medical schools.  These opportunities had not been apparent earlier because they are wrongly considered unworthy for serious researchers; that realization emphasizes that job seekers must consider all possibilities for their job hunt (see:  “Other  Jobs for Scientists, Part I” , “Part II” , and “Part III” )!

A new job with both research and teaching opens up! 

Dr. Tuthill then was appointed to a faculty position at the same “quiet junior college in the middle of the Pacific” (i.e., in Honolulu) [1].  His employment involves both teaching science and scientific research, and provides the opportunity to help the young science students to develop personally and learn to conduct research.  He states that “many of my research mentors and peers considered it career suicide” to work at a community college [1]; however, for certain individuals this unconventional choice really is a dream come true.

After 10 years of working in this small academic institution, Dr. Tuthill concludes that his job there has helped him grow as a dedicated academic and as a science mentor.  His earlier dissatisfaction has been replaced by renewed enthusiasm for science and growing self-satisfaction for being an unconventional academic.  Thus, there is a very happy ending to this story!

Lessons to be learned from Dr.Tuthill! 

This true story nicely illustrates several directives that young scientists often overlook!  (1) There are many jobs outside universities and medical schools that are open to Ph.D.s in science; some involve research and/or teaching, while others do not involve direct research  (e.g., in advertising, finances, industries, law, media, sales, software, etc.).  (2) The more you talk with other working scientists, the more you will learn about which unconventional job possibilities are available.  (3)  Always be open minded and think creatively when seeking a new job; sometimes you even can create your own new position.  (4)  Never give up your hunt, and, be open to unexpected and unconventional options.  (5) Your final goal is to find a position that suits your abilities, your ambitions, your interests, and your skills; all individuals are different, so concentrate on finding a position that .will be good just for you!

Concluding remarks!  

I enthusiastically encourage all graduate students and postdocs to read Matthew Tuthill’s fascinating biographical story for themselves.  “Making a difference, differently” is in a recent issue of Science (December 2, 2016, volume 354, page 1194), and is available on the internet at:  http://science.sciencemag.org/content/354/6316/1194 .  Good luck!

[1]  Tuthill, M., 2016.  “Making a difference, differently”Science 354:page 1194.

 

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ONLY FOR BEGINNERS: HOW TO VIEW SCIENCE AND RESEARCH! 

 

What are science, research, and scientists all about? (http://dr-monsrs.net)
What are science, research, and scientists all about?    (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

Are you a raw beginner?  It is hard for beginners to understand science, research, and scientists, so most just ignore them!  In this dispatch I explain some points so you will be able to understand more on what science and research are all about!

Why is scientific research needed? 

We need to know more about ourselves, our world, and our universe in order to be able to do more (e.g., treat and cure more diseases, rescue everyone from pollution, produce healthier food, make cheaper gasoline, etc.).

How does science differ from engineering? 

Scientists work to discover new knowledge.  They evaluate the truth by observing, measuring, and experimenting.  Engineers work to develop or improve some commercial product (e.g., better batteries, steam-powered autos, more sensitive and safer machines, faster trains, etc.).  Both are very useful to society!

Are inventors the same as scientists? 

Inventors make some new object or device.  Anyone can be an inventor, even you! Some scientists also are inventors (i.e., by making a new attachment for one of their research instruments).  Inventors generally are not scientists (i.e., they do not have graduate degrees or teach at universities).

Why are salaries for scientists so much more than I get? 

The average doctoral biomedical scientist working as an Assistant Professsor at U.S. academic institutions in 2015 received a salary of about $91,000 per year [1].  The average salary for senior biomedical scientists working as a Full Professor was around $152,000 per year [1].  Please note that these are averaged figures that ignore regional locations, science subspecialties, years of employment, etc.  Salary levels for faculty scientists are based primarily their highly specialized expertise, ability to do both teaching and research, and very extensive education taking over 10 years (i.e., after 4 years in a college, they typically spend 3-8 years in graduate school, plus 2-5 more years as a postdoctoral trainee).

Why is modern research so expensive? 

Research to make discoveries of new knowledge requires obtaining accurate results from measurements and experimental tests by salaried research workers (e.g., professional scientists, postdoctoral fellows, technicians).  Most experiments use special supplies, expensive instruments, and special facilities within a laboratory.  Since the experiments in a typical research project last from weeks to years, the total costs are substantial.

Who pays for scientific research?  Do you pay?  

Payment for research expenses primarily comes from 2 separate sources: taxes paid by the public, and business profits in industrial companies.  Yes, you pay for research!

Why is money so important in modern science? 

Everything costs and someone must pay!  No research gets done unless expenses are paid for!  Awards of taxpayer dollars are given by  governmental science agencies to support worthy research studies by scientists.  These awards are termed research grants, and all  scientists at universities, medical schools, and technology institutes compete for them so they can conduct research investigations.

Why do some scientists kill animals for their research project? 

Research on diseases, nutrition, and toxic chemicals often is impossible to conduct  directly on humans, so the needed studies must use experiments with laboratory mice, rats, or other suitable animals.  Since humans are not mice (and only certain humans are rats!), the results from animal-based studies must be extended by clinical researchers onto humans.  Computer models can be used for some research, but those results later must be verified by tests on animals and humans.  Scientists I know feel bad about using animals for their research, but accept that such is necessary to get the needed new knowledge.

Scientists on TV always are either weird or maniacs; why are all scientists like that? 

They are not like that!  The phony Hollywood model for scientists is only aimed to be entertaining!  Unlike in TV and movies, real scientists are strongly individualistic, very dedicated to their research work, want to make important discoveries, like to laugh, and work very hard.  A real scientist might be one of your neighbors (if so, see if you can chat with them or visit their lab)!

Why are scientist so evil (e.g., nuclear bombs, genetically modified organisms (GMO), fraudulent drug studies, hidden poisons, etc.)? 

Your view of scientists confuses what they actually discover from research studies, with what practical outcomes develop later.  The instances that you cite were developed in response to making advances in agriculture, developing new chemicals for specific purposes, producing the needs for warfare, etc.  What you view as evil, other people see as being useful and even good!  Never forget that scientists are people, and they do make mistakes and have some faults.  I join you in damning cheaters who hide or change test results and market new drugs that actually harm patients, hiders of labeling GMO foods, and, commercial vendors of disguised poisons.

Why can’t all research be focused only on making the next really big discovery?  

Research discoveries depend upon scientists who work best as individuals or in small groups.  Forcing all scientists to work only on one super-project and giving them unlimited money for research, is not likely to reach the desired goal because that condition limits freedom of individuals to think, explore, and ask questions.  Those characteristics are basically required in scientific research!  Consider the analogy where everyone is forced to drive a Chevy, and no other cars are permitted on the roads!

I don’t understand the Nobel Prizes!  Wasn’t Nobel a destructive monster? 

Alfred Nobel (1833-1896) was a scientist in chemistry, and also a builder, businessman, engineer, industrialist, inventor, traveller, and writer.  He made lots of money from inventing dynamite after years of work, and willed his fortune to establish several ongoing big prizes for scientists whose research provided the greatest benefit to all humans (see:  “The 2016 Nobel Prizes in Science are Announced” ).  Dynamite remains very useful for construction, levelling mountains,  and mining.  Regarding your question, you should know that his brother was killed by an unplanned explosion during the development of dynamite, Nobel lived and workedk on several continents, and he wanted to benefit humanity.   His very eventful life is nicely described in 2 illustrated pieces (see: “Alfred Nobel – St. Petersburg, 1842-1863”, and, “Alfred Nobel – His Life and Work” ).

What does science and research mean to me, a raw beginner? 

Please see my earlier article: “What Does Science Matter to Me, an Ordinary Person?” !  You will be surprised to learn that scientific research impacts everything you do and are (e.g., aging, dreams, health, internet, personality, sex, success at sports, travel, your job, etc.).

What does modern science need to produce more important research discoveries? 

In my opinion, modern science needs the addition of more freedom, more curiosity, asking many more questions, longer research grants, better honesty, lots of patience, plus its separation from commercialism, government, and political correctness!

Concluding remarks! 

I hope the above has given you a better understanding about science and research!  Once your curiosity is stimulated, you can have lots of fun looking at many videos, articles, and stories about science on the internet!

 

[1] Zusi, K., and Keener, A.B., for The Scientist, 2015.  “2015 Life Sciences Salary Survey”.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/44275/title/2015-Life-Sciences-Salary-Survey/  .

 

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STUFF YOU NEVER HEAR ABOUT SCIENTISTS: GETTING SCOOPED!

 

Getting scooped really can happen to scientists! (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Getting scooped really can happen to scientists!   (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

Being a researcher is an adventure! You will never hear about experiments that don’t work, great results that cannot be duplicated, good manuscripts or patent applications that keep getting rejected, problems with jealous bosses, or, not being able to get adequate lab space! This article discusses one situation involving research publications that is always lurking around and ready to pounce on innocent hard-working professional researchers.

Publication of research reports in science journals!

All scientists want to be the first to report some new research discovery or new concept. Researchers at all levels always try to avoid getting scooped. This term is derived from the competition between daily newspapers, whose reporters always vigorously seek to be the very first to notify the public about something alarming, scandalous, or newsworthy.  For scientists, getting scooped means that some scientist publishes a research result just before the same new finding is independently published by another scientist; the first to publish scoops the second.

This situation of getting scooped typically occurs in science because it often is impossible to know whether some other scientist is working on the same research question (i.e., there is no database listing what global research studies are in progress). The act of scooping almost never is done on purpose, but rather simply happens as a coincidence. When 2 very similar research reports appear, both authors are very surprised to learn about this duplication. The authors of the report published first are delighted when a second scientist soon verifies their findings; such confirmation more usually takes months or years to appear in print, but in the case of scooping, the second report appears within a few days or weeks after the first report. Scientists authoring the second publication inevitably get upset!  Some journal editors receiving 2 manuscripts that are very similar will publish the pair side by side in one issue; in such cases, both authors equally get full credit for making a discovery.

This situation of being outrun in the race to publish first means that all research scientists are in a hurry to publish their research findings so as to decrease the chance of getting scooped. Those researchers working on very hot topics are especially paranoid about getting scooped. While rushing into print or publishing short limited aspects of a long study now is commonplace, that tactic can have its own negative consequence (i.e., decreased quality).

Scientists working at industrial labs face very analogous issues with obtaining patents.  Until a patent application is finally approved, everything must be kept totally secret in order to preclude simultaneous applications submitted by research groups in other companies. Getting the first patent is desired by everyone’s ego, and is deemed totally essential by their employer!

Can scoopage be avoided?

Getting scooped is a risk that really cannot be prevented! However, there is a common way to try to avoid it. This is done by publishing abstracts at the annual meetings of science societies. Abstracts are only one paragraph long and report only some limited portion of experimental results and preliminary conclusions. Nevertheless, publication of abstracts in a science journal usefully serves to establish priority. Of course, a more definitive way to avoid the problem of getting scooped is simply to publish first.

What are the consequences of getting scooped?

Getting scooped is unpleasant since that automatically reduces the credit given to the author-scientist issuing the second publication. With further research work, both authors try to rapidly turn out more publications, so as to raise their identification for being the leader with studying that research topic. The consequences of getting scooped can be much more severe for graduate students than for other scientists; if their thesis project is scooped, it is no longer new to science, and often then cannot be approved for an advanced degree without much additional research.

One of my fellow graduate students was finishing several years of research work on his thesis project. Upon completing the preparation of illustrations for a long manuscript to be submitted a few days later to the Journal of Cell Biology, the latest issue of this monthly journal arrived and he was truly shocked to see that there was a big article by a famous professor on the East Coast that was almost duplicating his own manuscript! Even some of the figures were nearly identical! Neither researcher knew that the other was working on exactly the same topic, and this coincidence was simply some very bad luck for my friend. Since he was a very hard worker, he fortunately also had a second major aspect in his thesis research, and so was able to successfully use those other results to rewrite and compose a doctoral thesis different from his original plans.

Concluding remarks!

Yes, some scientists really do get scooped! One of the hazards of working in scientific research is that nobody knows whether others are researching on the same topic until abstracts or full publications appear. The presently increasing number of research scientists and increasing pressure from the current research grant system undoubtedly raise the incidence of getting scooped!

 

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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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QUESTIONS ABOUT SCIENCE FROM YOU TO Dr.M, AND FROM Dr.M TO YOU! 

Asking questions, answering questions, and questioning answers are vital for education! (http://dr-monsrs.net)

Asking questions, answering questions, and questioning answers are vital for science education!   (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

Following my recent posts with Q&A for assistant professors in science” , I now present some interesting  questions and answers between you and me!

Dr.M, please tell me why should I care anything about science and research?  It just doesn’t matter to me! 

Dr.M:  It will matter a whole bunch when you run into health problems, when new wars break out using weather as a destructive weapon, when TVs listen to your every spoken word at home, and, when it finally is admitted that you really are poisoning yourself and your children by what you eat and drink!  Due to the very deficient public education about science, you and most other adults have no idea what scientists do or how many of your everyday activities involve the products of science and engineering.  It will be fun for you to explore science; for starters, look on the internet for “NASA pictures from outer space” and, “3-D printing”!

Dr.M. asks you:  What is the thrill of research discovery for a scientist? 

Typical soccer mom:  It is just the same as finding a $50 bill when you are walking from your car into a supermarket!  I guess that research is fun and discovery is pure luck; it looks just like the lottery to me!  Discovery by scientists means they then are famous, can write a textbook, and get rich!

I love to watch science on TV for many hours almost every day because it all is so amusing!  Dr.M, can you please recommend which are the best science shows? 

Dr.M:  Most adults see science and research only as being some fantastic amusement.  Unfortunately, none of these science-as-entertainment shows deal with real scientists or real research. They are only for mindless amusement, and have much too much emphasis on who is the star researcher of the day, what horrible disease might be cured, and how science could solve some new global calamity.  Since I see all of this idiotic garbage as being a total waste of time, I will not recommend any to you!

Dr.M asks an Assistant Professor:  If your university employer turns down your application for tenure, what are you going to do? 

Assistant Professor:  Nobody taught me anything about how to get tenure in grad school.  I thought it was almost automatic so long as you were funded by research grants.  I know I will never win a Nobel Prize, but I still believe I am a successful research scientist!  If I didn’t enjoy lab research so much I would simply quit this nonsense and find a new job in the stock market or selling computers!

My husband and I want our young children to learn about science.  What is the best way to help them do that?  Do you think we should buy them a chemistry set, Dr.M? 

Dr.M: All young children have a strong curiosity, and they often focus that on what they see, hear, smell, taste, and touch.  For these youngsters, encourage them to explore and examine nature, and to learn about the world in your backyard or town (e.g., insects, birds, flowers, seeds, leaves, ponds and rivers, stars, beaches and soil, pollution, lightening, snow, garbage dumps, our moon, stars, etc., etc.).  Much can be done with little expense!  As they grow up they can use a magnifying glass, camera, and personal computer, all of which involve science and engineering.   A chemistry set is good for somewhat older children who show a special interest and liking for chemistry; however, for young kids having no affinity for chemistry it will probably only be a potentially dangerous toy (e.g., What does that taste like?).  Let your kids decide for themselves what they are interested in!

I looked on the internet for info about nanomaterials after reading one of your posts, Dr.M, but I just do not understand most of what I read.  What should I do?

Dr.M:  This situation is due to unfortunate general deficiencies in  science education.  Recognize that you have selected a large topic!  I suggest that you will find it easier if you study only a single more specific subject within the world of nanomaterials (e.g., carbon nanotubes, buckyballs, nanomedicine drug carriers, nanomachines, etc.).  Even without much background, you should be able to understand some descriptive articles about that subject in any Wikisite on the internet; be sure to also take a look at internet diagrams and videos for whatever subject you choose.

Dr.M. asks you:  Do you believe scientists should receive a much smaller paycheck than do star baseball players? 

Teenager:  What are the salary numbers?  Don’t star scientists get several million each year?  Postdocs must be equivalent to minor league players in baseball; what do they get?  Baseball players deserve millions because they bring in many more millions for their team owner.  Good research scientists should be paid at least as much as are professional baseball players!

I haven’t looked at any science since I was in high school.  Now I just retired.  Tell me, Dr.M, why should I spend any time with science now? 

Dr.M:  Science is not something you have to do, but it sure makes life more interesting!  Have you ever heard of 3-D printers?  Do you realize what they can create?  Don’t you wonder how they work?  Aren’t you curious about why your knees now are causing you pain, or why some new medicine might magically be able to give you full mobility again?  Do you realize that your children might not retire until age 80, and could live to be over 100 years old?  All of that is science in action!  Pick any topic that has some personal interest for you, and see what videos are available about that subject on the internet; I can almost guarantee that you will find something fascinating!

Dr.M. asks you:  Do you admire any scientist? 

College undergrad:  No, because I don’t know any scientists, and have no idea what they have done with their research.  I don’t know any Nobel Prizers or local scientists.  They all mean nothing to me!

I tried to read about research on new batteries, but I just cannot understand all the special terms and concepts.  Are there any translations available just for ordinary folks, Dr.M? 

Dr.M:  You are totally correct that all the special terminology creates a barrier preventing many people from reading about science.  The closest to actual translations are simplified articles found in some science magazines and news websites.  Take a look at such internet sites as: “ScienceNews for Students” (https://student.societyforscience.org/sciencenews-students ), and “Popular Science Magazine” ( http://www.popsci.com/tags/science ).   Good luck!

Dr.M. asks you:  What is the purpose of scientific research? 

Hollywood celeb:  I really have absolutely no idea, but I do love to watch science on TV!  It’s just so funny!  Research scientists must be mad!  I always laugh my head off and cannot believe these guys and gals are for real!

I appreciate science and would like to help scientific research, but I am not wealthy.  Tell me, Dr.M, how can I help out? 

Dr.M:  Even small financial contributions to promote scientific research always are welcome at science research organizations, universities, high schools, science societies, research workshops, museums, and other special science organizations.  Some people like to donate via contributions to crowd-funding organizations (i.e., search with any internet browser for “crowdfunding for science”).  Money-free ways to support science and research are to attend public presentations and discussions by professional scientists, or, sign up for a free subscription to specialized science journals, magazines, and websites (e.g., Microscopy Today ( http://www.microscopy-today.com ), “Microscopedia” ( http://www.microscopedia.com ), SciTechDaily ( http://scitechdaily.com/ ), and, “Chemical and Engineering News” (  http://cen.acs.org/magazine/93/09334.html ).  You also can volunteer to personally participate in research projects at a nearby field site or laboratory.  Last, but definitely not least, encourage your own children and young relatives to  have some interest in science!

Dr.M. asks you:  Why can’t scientists agree about whether global warming is real? 

Aunt Maggie:  I guess they just love to argue!  Why don’t they do more research and less yapping?  Last winter was really cold, so I don’t believe whatever they say!  Maybe they are arguing about nothing?  It doesn’t matter much to me, anyhow!

Dr.M. asks you:  Why do some scientists cheat? 

Uncle Joe:  Probably they are after more money!  There are only small penalties if they do get caught, so why shouldn’t they take a chance on getting rich faster?  Everybody else today cheats at their work,  so why shouldn’t scientists?

Dr.M, Why won’t you allow any comments and e-mails on your website?

Dr.M:  I refuse to waste my valuable time dealing with lonely souls, morons having an empty life, or hungry entrepreneurs, as announced on November 14, 2014 (see: “Special Notice to All from Dr.M!” ).  Although It was necessary to do that, if 99.9% of 100,000 comments to you were ads for other websites or duplicate messages disguised as comments, then I believe you also would ban them.  It still amazes me that on any one day I used to receive multiple word-for-word identical messages from several different continents!  The blogosphere certainly is polluted by spamming on botnets!

 

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INTRODUCTION TO ART AND SCIENCE

 

Electron micrograph of one mitochondrion within a mouse liver cell (hepatocyte).  The cytoplasm surrounding this organelle contains free polyribosomes, cisternae of rough endoplasmic reticulum, glycogen granules, and vesicles.  May 20, 2015 © Dr.M   (http://.dr-monsrs.net)
Electron micrograph of one mitochondrion within a mouse liver cell (hepatocyte). The cytoplasm surrounding this organelle contains free polyribosomes, cisternae of rough endoplasmic reticulum, glycogen granules, and vesicles.      May 20, 2015 © Dr.M   (http://.dr-monsrs.net)

 

As a scientist, I believe that I also am an artist!  My science is my art, and my art is my science!  I am not referring only to esthetic beauty of the output from scientific research, but also to the mental beauty found in numbers and equations, spectroscopic curves, theoretical concepts, and crystallography.  Science certainly is distinctive, but also has many similarities to art.

Similarities and differences between science and art. 

The standard opinion is that science and art are nearly opposite endeavors.  My own view is that  science and art often are interchangeable!  Art frequently is a representation of something real or imagined, and so is analogous to a model or hypothesis in science.  Art can be quite stylized (e.g., portaits), and so can the output of science (e.g., histograms of measurements).  Both art and science are produced by an individual or a small group of people, and usually reflect some of their special skills and personal characteristics.  A sculpture by a modern Italian artist differs in style from a sculpture produced by an Inuit artist even if they use the same stone and depict the same subject; such differences can be described with language and words for art, or with numbers and measurements in science.  Sculpted figures clearly are three-dimensional representations, and so are the detailed structural models for a virus.

Most artists like to produce something that is new, personal, and striking.  Scientists can have exactly this same goal for their research work!  Creativity has the same meaning for art and science.  Whether scientific research studies produce spectroscopy curves for a new nanomaterial, images of living genetically-modified cells, or, tables of numbers from astronomy and astrophysics, their output is quite beautiful for the eyes of scientists and also for those of many non-scientists.  Rather than create images from their imagination, as do some artists, scientists make them by skillful use of research experiments, instruments, and data analysis. 

One very large difference between art and science immediately pops into view: science often is displayed in black and white, but art mostly is displayed with colors.  Some scientists purposely add colors to their grayscale images or data plots so as to make them more comprehensible and more interesting.  A very simple, but good, example of the significance of colors is given in the text figure below, shown both in its purely black/white condition (upper panel) and with one added color (lower panel). 

Colored text_edited-1

The information or statement provided in these 2 versions is identical, but the human mind is definitely more attracted to and tickled by the one with color(s)!

Images from science can be seen as abstract art! 

People looking at graphic art often do not know exactly how this was constructed, yet they  either like or dislike the display.  Similarly, viewers seeing images from science often have zero understanding about what they are looking at or what it means; nevertheless, they will feel that one of several displayed images is prettier or more interesting than the others.  I believe that this phenomenon is directly similar to the emotional judgments of viewers (including scientists and other artists!) regarding a piece of abstract art where nothing at all is recognizable.  In both art and science, the emotional reactions of viewers are quite independent of their knowledge. 

As one example of what I mean here, let us look together at an electron microscope image of a mitochondrion (see image shown under the title for this article).  That object is one of the energy-producing organelles found inside all nucleated cells of humans, onions, sharks, jellyfish, butterflies, yeasts, and protozoa.  All mitochondria (plural) have the same basic structure, but often differ in small details from one cell type (e.g., cells in salivary glands that produce and secrete saliva) to another cell type (e.g., islet cells in the pancreas making and secreting insulin). 

Let’s say you have never before seen an image of a mitochondrion and had not even known they existed until now.  Despite this ignorance, when you first looked at the foregoing image, certain feelings popped into your mind (e.g., “how cute!”, “how bizarre!”, or, “does it bite?”).  You were reacting solely to the art within this science image!  You can convert your reaction to the science inside this same image simply by learning more about the parts, structure, and functional activities of mitochondria; then, when looking again at the same image you might feel “how interesting!”, or wonder “what happens in cancer cells?”.  The art and the science are both parts of this same display! 

Beauty in science. 

For Dr.M, beauty in science is everywhere!  If one looks with a special light microscope at a solution of DNA while it is in the process of drying, one will see images that are exquisitely beautiful (see images and videos at:   http://biancaguimaraesportfolio.com/mssng/ ).  Many people will dispute my judgement, because they will say that chemicals or chemistry could not truly be beautuful and any apparent beauty is only some artifact or optical trick.  My answer is that this example has all the elements needed for artistic drama: special characters, different paths of movement, balance or imbalance, discrete stages of development, boundaries, suspense, stylized situations, and the possibility for unanticipated endings; further, the videos show the specimen and colors moving and changing similarly to a troop of dancers gliding about on a stage.  All of this easily can lead to a judgment of being pretty.  Can you see beauty here? 

Good examples of striking beauty in science. 

A wonderful example of what I am trying to describe as “beauty in science” is shown in the collection of images from the Hubble telescope, taken as part of its astronomical research mission (e.g., see:  http://hubblesite.org/gallery/wallpaper/pr2007030c/ ).  Even without knowing exactly what real objects are present in these fantastic images from outer space, most people will perceive contours and boundaries, several repetitive components, some symmetries, connections and groupings, and certain repeated shapes, all of which lead to their conscious or subconscious judgment about the presence of beauty in these images.  There is no true up or down in these images from outer space (e.g., view them at different rotations and you will see that these give quite different impressions to the human mind). 

Another excellent example of artistic beauty in science is found in 3-D representations of the structure of viruses or protein complexes.  These come from research into their structure using electron microscopy or x-ray diffraction; the reconstructions displayed on a computer monitor are color-coded 3-D representations that the scientist can rotate into various orientations.  A large gallery of such images for the 3-D structure of poliovirus is gathered by Google (see gallery at : https://www.google.com/search?q=3D+structure+of+poliovirus&client=opera&hs=01j&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=dJ5XVYD8Lcu4sAW2koGYBg&ved=0CCsQ7Ak&biw=800&bih=502#imgrc=MFsAz8D1Bzj2WM%253A%3BFiyXCzSZPuuKVM%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252Fvirology.wisc.edu%252Fvirusworld%252Fimgency%252Fp1mPOLIO12.jpeg%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252Fictvdb.bio-mirror.cn%252FICTVdB%252F00.052.0.01.001.htm%3B641%3B487 ).  All these images are scientifically meaningful representations of Nature’s sculpting, but also are esthetically very pretty.  Do you see beauty in any of them?  Note that it is not necessary to understand anything at all about science in order to perceive beauty in many displays at this gallery! 

Concluding remarks. 

Science and art have a number of common aspects, including beauty, simplicity vs. complexity, mood, and tension.  On the one hand, an artist creates a canvas or sculpts a figure; on the other hand, a research scientist collects experimental data and derives conclusions from their analysis.  Both artists and scientists feature creativity, mental vision, hard work, experience, and personal talent.  The outputs from both art and science can be pretty, stimulating, and meaningful, or, can be ugly, boring, and meaningless; each individual viewer must make this judgment. 

Some scientists can be almost as creative as are artists.  Some artists are as concerned about very small details as much as are scientists.  Both workers produce outputs that stimulate the senses of onlookers.  Both scientists and artists are essential for human society, and both types of authors should be more widely appreciated by everyone for their creative talents and expressive output. 

 

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WHAT HAPPENS WHEN SCIENTISTS DISAGREE? PART III: IS GLYPHOSATE POISONING US ALL?

 

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

The small organic chemical, glyphosate, kills many broadleaf plants and is the chief ingredient of the very popular herbicide, Roundup®, produced by the Monsanto Corporation.  Glyphosate is used in agriculture to kill weeds and also for pre-harvesting applications to wheat.  Its usage on farms rose dramatically when Monsanto also developed Roundup® Ready crop seeds (see:  http://www.monsanto.com/products/pages/monsanto-agricultural-seeds.aspx ); these mutants of corn, soybeans, and other crops have resistance to higher levels of glyphosate that kill their nonresistant counterparts  Today, (1) Roundup® and strains of crops more tolerant to glyphosate are in very widespread use on farms all over the world, (2) normal pollination by airborne dispersal easily results in crossbreeding of resistant and non-resistant strains, (3) widespread usage of Roundup® in modern agriculture means that resistant strains automatically spread and take over any neighboring fields originally planted with only non-resistant strains, and, (4) the amount of glyphosate-containing agricultural products consumed by humans is substantial and is increasing.

The first article in this series provided a general background for controversies involving scientists (see: Part I ).  The second article discussed the ongoing controversy about global warming and climate change (see: Part II ).  This essay examines the ongoing controversy about whether glyphosate is benign or harmful to humans.  

How does glyphosate get inside humans?  

Glyphosate enters human bodies via several different routes: (1) ingestion of agricultural crop products containing glyphosate due to treatment with Roundup®, (2) drinking of water having small or large glyphosate contents, (3) breathing of atmospheric glyphosate microparticulates due to its widespread dispersal during agricultural applications, (4) ingestion of farm aninals which ate corn or other plant material treated with Roundup®, and, (5) ingestion of bovine milk, chicken eggs, and other animal products. 

Basically, everyone living on this planet now has glyphosate within their body.  Monsanto originally performed short-term research studies showing that glyphosate has very low toxic effects upon humans.  However, long-term research data for chronic exposures are missing.  Very high levels of glyphosate inside human food sources mostly are being ignored by regulatory agencies, many farmers, and most scientists.  The primary question for health researchers and clinical doctors is, “Does glyphosate have any toxic and pathological effects in humans?”.  This is a very straightforward research question and should be readily answered by scientific investigations. 

What does scientific research on glyphosate find about its safety? 

An extensive examination of published biochemical investigations recently showed that glyphosate could have quite a few undesired consequences upon humans and mammals, aquatic organisms, and bacteria [1].  The changes in metabolism caused by glyphosate affect cytochrome P450, enzymes, sulfate balance, amino-acid dynamics, and the human gut microbiome; these changes are alleged to be involved in such pathological states as Alzheimer’s disease, autism, breast cancer, developmental anomalies, irritable bowel syndrome, obesity, and vitamin-D deficiency [1].  People already have been exposed to Roundup®  for many years, but its causation of disease states remains uncertain; plausable associations alone are not sufficient to establish causality.  Worrisome new research findings showing involvement of glyphosate in human pathology are disputed by Monsanto and some other scientists. 

A good published, but retracted, experimental study by Séralini et al [2] investigated chronic toxicity in rats exposed to glyphosate in various forms and dosages.  This professional research report aroused an amazing degree of controversy [3,4], resulting in empty disputes, personal attacks, and improper activities by the publishing journal [4].  Regretably, that dispute includes documented examples where scientists associated with Monsanto have restricted publication of research manuscripts showing that glyphosate can be quite harmful to the health of humans and animals; this has caused accusations that some science journals are not honest, use double standards for review of manuscripts, and have become subordinate to commerce [4].  

The United States Food and Drug Administration.

If Roundup® might be dangerous, why is it not being researched and regulated more?  The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is charged with monitoring and regulating public safety of all the many chemicals, foods, and materials used in our country ( http://www.fda.gov/Food/ ).  Toxicologists working at the FDA investigated glyphosate toxicity and established that anything below a certain level is not harmful to humans.  Toxicologists in other countries conducted similar evaluations to establish a safe level, but some of their approved values are smaller than that validated by the FDA.  Certain countries even ban use of glyphosate and genetically-modified crops resistant to glyphosate.  Nevertheless, millions of pounds of glyphosate now are used annually on farms around the globe [1]. 

Almost all Americans are totally reliant on the FDA to keep them safe from poisons and dangerous foods.  What does the FDA say about the glyphosate controversy?  The answer is “not much”, since their scientists apparently are not conducting all the needed measurements.  Why have these not been conducted?   Or, why were the needed assays indeed conducted, but the results are not released?  Is Monsanto influencing risk assessment by the FDA?  

Could human diseases be caused by glyphosate? 

Several different disease states now are postulated to be caused directly or indirectly by glyphosate [e.g., 1].  Where the incidence of these pathological states has risen in time, data for the amount and distribution of glyphosate in people runs a closely parallel course.  The health implications of the glyphosate controversy are very extensive; it has even been proposed that the problem associated with gluten in bread actually is a problem with its glyphosate content [1].  Clearly, much more research is badly needed; despite the increasing association of glyphosate with pathology, definitive causality of human diseases by this chemical has not yet been proven.  

Many glyphosate-containing weed-killers now are being marketed to farmers.  These contain different additives (e.g., adjuvants, detergents, surfactants) that enhance the toxic effects of glyphosate upon plants.   This enhancement is due to augmented absorption by agricultural plants, thereby giving humans eating them an increased dosage [5].  The amount of glyphosate in foods also is increased by the fact that many farmers now are adding additional Roundup® to their crops to deal with the new presence of glyphosate-resistant weeds.  Global governmental regulations of approved glyphosate levels have conveniently been raised by large amounts to handle this new situation [1].  Thus, despite the increasing evidence suggesting that glyphosate could have some bad effects upon human health, people eat more and more Roundup® each and every year [5]. 

Concluding discussion. 

The controversy about the alleged human toxicity of glyphosate and Roundup® already is more than a decade old.  Despite the suggested pathology, the amount of glyphosate eaten by humnans and accumulating inside them constantly increases [5].  It is alarming that the potential public health disaster of chronic glyphosate toxicity is not being researched much more vigorously by scientists. 

This ongoing controversy not only has scientists arguing with other scientists, but also has scientists disputing with a very large well-established commercial company.  The scientific issues regarding glyphosate toxicity are rather straightforward, but the needed research studies are not being conducted; it is suspected that these investigations are being hindered by Monsanto’s total focus on business profits.   

While this controversy drags on, what should people do?  Foods now are grown by some farmers without using exposure to Roundup® and are becoming more readily available in grocery stores.  As one researcher involved with the glyphosate controversy has advised, “Go organic!” [6]. 

 

[1]  Samsel, A., and Seneff, S., 2013.  Review.  Glyphosate’s suppression of cytochrome P450 enzymes and amino acid biosynthesis by the gut microbiome: Pathways to modern diseases.  Entropy  15:1416-1463. 

[2]  Séralini, G. E., Clair, E., Mesnage, R., Gress, S., Defarge, N., Melatesta, M., Hennequin, D., and de Vendômois, J. S., 2012.  Retracted.  Long term toxicity if a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize.  Food and Chemical Toxicology  50:4221-4231.

[3]  Séralini, G. E., Mesnage, R., Defarge, N., Gress, S., Hennequin, D., Clair, E., Malatesta, M., and de Vendômois, J. S., 2013.  Answers to critics: why there is a long term toxicity due to NK603 Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize and to a Roundup herbicide.  Food and Chemical Toxicology  53:476-483.

[4]  Robinson, C., and Latham, J., 2013.  The Goodman affair: Monsanto targets the heart of science.  Independent Science News, May 20, 2013.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.independentsciencenews.org/science-medical/the-goodman-affair-monsanto-targets-the-heart-of-science/ ).

[5]  Bohn, T., and Cuhra, M. 2014.  How “extreme levels” of Roundup in food became the industry norm.  Independent Science News, March 24, 2014.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.independentsciencenews.org/news/how-extreme-levels-of-roundup-in-food-became-the-industry-norm/ .

[6]  Seneff, S., 2014.  Slide #48 from presentation on glyphosate hosted by the MIT and Wellesley Alumni Associations, April 28, 2014.  Available on the internet at:  http://people.csail.mit.edu/seneff/California_glyphosate.pdf .

 

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WHAT HAPPENS WHEN SCIENTISTS DISAGREE? PART II: WHY IS THERE SUCH A LONG CONTROVERSY ABOUT GLOBAL WARMING AND CLIMATE CHANGE?

 

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

The much disputed controversy about global warming features scientists, politicians, business leaders, and ordinary people arguing for or against it.  Questions about global warming have shifted into a general debate about climate change.  Clearly, this ongoing dispute is not yet even close to being resolved.  This essay examines how and why this prolonged controversy is so very difficult to resolve despite the input of many professional scientists; the previous article in this series provided a general background for controversies involving scientists (see Part I at:  http://dr-monsrs.net/2015/04/18/what-happens-when-scientists-disagree-part-i-background-to-controversies-involving-scientists/ ).

What is global warming?

In a nutshell, global warming is a worldwide increase in ambient temperature.  This environmental parameter has been measured directly for recent periods or estimated indirectly from analysis of antarctic ice cores for hundreds and thousands of previous years.  Global temperature has increased since the industrial revolution began (ca. 1870) and has risen more rapidly since 1970.  It is known that elevating the amount of certain gases in the atmosphere (e.g., water, carbon dioxide, and methane) causes increased retention of heat; this is known as the “greenhouse effect”.  It is postulated that the global temperature is rising largely due to increased levels of carbon dioxide coming from burning of the fossil fuels, coal and oil.  Since further warming will cause melting of glaciers, increased ocean heights, changes in weather patterns, and other disruptive effects, the use of coal and oil must be decreased globally to stop any further rises in temperture.  Climate change includes global warming, as well as global cooling and other large environmental changes in the modern world. 

For those wanting more information about global warming and climate change there are very many materials available on the internet.  I recommend several informative presentations for general readers: (1) “Causes of climate change” at: http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/science/causes.html ), (2) “How are humans responsible for  global warming?” at:  http://www.edf.org/climate/human-activity-is-causing-global-warming ), and (3) “5 scientific reasons that global warming isn’t happening” at: http://townhall.com/columnists/johnhawkins/2014/02/18/5-scientific-reasons-that-global-warming-isnt-happening-n1796423/page/full ).  An especially good gathering of arguments both for and against the official standard concept of global warming is available ( “Is human activity primarily responsible for global climate change?” at:  http://climatechange.procon.org ), and will help readers to come to their own judgment.  

The standard very official concept about global warming. 

The standardized viewpoint about global warming accepts that the temperature worldwide is indeed rising.  The primary cause of this temperature increase is human activities; people cause global warming by burning coal and oil to produce increased amounts of greenhouse gases, and also by paving and urbanization, generating carbon black microparticulates, deforestation, etc.  Much emphasis in the standard concept of global warming is given to the production increased carbon dioxide.  If no intervention is taken, this concept predicts more  warming that will cause very alarming changes in ocean levels, weather patterns, and life as we know it. 

What are the main issues in the global warming and climate change controversy? 

Global warming and climate change involve several different assumptions, all of which are being questioned.  (1) Is there really an increase in global temperature?  (2) What are the main causes of this rise in global temperature?  (3) Is there actually a recent large increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide?  (4) What causes the increased carbon dioxide?   For all these queries, the chief question that must be asked is, “What is the evidence?” 

Starting at the very beginning, one must first ask what is the evidence that there really is any global warming? (i.e., are measured global temperatures actually increased in recent times.  A positive answer leads to several other related questions.  (1) How much warmer is this average figure?  (2) How was surface temperature of the entire planet measured or estimated?  (3)  Are all countries and regions warmer, or are some simultaneously cooler?  (4) Have similar variations in global temperature ever been observed previously?  These questions involve science, and should be answered and debated by expert scientists (e.g., climatologists, meteorologists, oceanographers, atmospheric physicists, etc.). 

Anyone seeking answers to questions about global warming must inquire what is the primary cause of such climate change?  A big controversy involves the hypothesis that human activities cause this environmental change.  There are several other possible causes, including natural weather cycles, large shifts in solar energy discharges, changes in Earth’s orientation and distance from the Sun, large increases in the global number of humans and animals producing atmospheric carbon dioxide through their normal respiration, etc.  Good science demands that alternative explanations must be examined. 

The controversy about climate change engages all the foregoing plus corresponding questions about global cooling.  From our knowledge about forming and melting glaciers in the ice ages, we know that there have been very prominent changes in temperature during the distant past.  The causes of these well-known changes still are not clear.  Today, some portions of the globe have very increased temperatures and severe droughts.  Shorter term increases or decreases in temperatures occur in response to natural changes in the environment, including activity of the Sun, humidity levels, patterns of ocean currents, rain cycles, seasonal effects, etc. 

What have scientists said and done in this ongoing controversy? 

In additional to gathering and analyzing data, scientists debate what conclusions are valid and ask lots of questions.  In 1988, the United Nations convened a panel of expert climatologists to assess global warming and advise about what new policies are needed.  That group, the United Nations International Panel on Climate Change (UNIPCC) constructed the official standard concept of global warming described above.  An independent non-governmental panel of expert climatologists has been established more recently; this group, the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC), has issued reports with conclusions about global warming that are very different from those of the UNIPCC.  Many other scientists have been involved from the beginning, and continue to dispute almost everything.  A survey of the literature by climate scientists (1991-2011) revealed that around 97% endorsed the consensus position that humans cause global warming (see J. Cook et al. 2013 Environmental Research Letters 8:024024 at: http://iopscience.iop.org/1748-9326/8/2/024024 ).  However, that figure directly contradicts the assertion that 31,000 other scientists, including many not working in climatology, do not see any conclusive evidence that the standard concept is valid ( http://ossfoundation.us/projects/environment/global-warming/myths/31000-scientists-say-no-convincing-evidence ).  Clearly, in 2015 many scientists disagree about the official standard concept of global warming and climate change! 

What is the present status of this ongoing dispute? 

Almost everything in the controversial official version of global warming now is being questioned and debated vigorously.  Expert scientists are arguing against other expert scientists.  Many science organizations accept and support the official concept about global warming as being due to human activities producing increased levels of carbon dioxide.  All government agencies monolithically endorse the official viewpoint and promote activating strong intervention by the government.  Groups of environmentalists also support the official viewpoint. 

On the other hand, some former supporters of the standard position now strongly deny the validity of global warming.  These dissenters even include some members of the original expert panel (UNIPCC) that constructed the standard concept for global warming!  Many individual scientists and science groups now are contrasting predictions made from the official viewpoint with recent measurements showing cooler temperatures and enlarging sizes of polar icecaps; thus, the recent data support global cooling, rather than global warming!  Predictions from the official coincept do not match the reality. 

Debates about this controversy involve politics, finances, emotions, and egos, as well as science.  Questions and dissenting views by scientists are increasing despite documented efforts to suppress dissent against the standard concept  [e.g., 1-5].  It is most disconcerting that this and other unethical behavior has been uncovered for some of the scientists strongly involved in this controversy [e.g., 1-5]; that distracts attention from the actual scientific issues being debated, and reduces trust by the public in all scientists. 

Why is global warming and climate change so hard to establish or deny conclusively? 

Several distinct reasons can be identified why expert scientists have not been able to resolve this ongoing controversy.  First, the standard official concept of global warming increasingly seems to be invalid.  It’s predictions about rising temperatures, melting of polar icecaps, and alarming changes in weather patterns do not match reality.  It cannot explain large environmental changes that currently are observed.  Solid evidence for a recent rise in temperatures is questionable or missing.  One commentator recently has even dared to ask, “Is global warming a hoax?” [5].  Second, the complexity of this controversy is enormous.  In addition to science, it involves finances, politics, industries, and governments.  Arguments involve much more than scientific facts and figures; egos, emotions, careers, repression of questions, and, predictions of alarming disasters are prominent.  Third, the use of “global” in the questions being addressed is questionable because there are very many quite different regions and different human activities involved; many so-called global datapoints actually are averages or extrapolations.  How exactly can the temperature in Nepal be meaningfully averaged with that of Greenland, New York City, Tunis, and Tahiti?  Similarly, how can the different human activities within these 5 parts of our planet be averaged in a meaningful way?  Fourth, this long dispute has been made more difficult for science to resolve by the uncovering of data manipulations and repressions of dissent [e.g., 1-5].    

Concluding discussion. 

From the materials given above and all the pro/con data now available, I must conclude that this controversy is a quagmire, and that it is unlikely to be resolved.  Both sides in this long dispute have developed very hard positions, and both are supported by some scientists, some research findings, and some group organizations; those conditions can only lead to a stalemate.  Additionally, politics and commercial interests now have strong involvement in this dispute, and often overwhelm the input of science.  Scientific research can produce new facts, figures, concepts, and ideas, but it cannot readily deal with a quagmire that is a jumble of emotionally and financially charged positions. 

The fact that new laws and regulations already are being proposed in advance of any consensus agreement by scientists and the public suggests that some unannounced agenda is at work here.  The primary purpose of trying to reduce carbon emissions and establish a global carbon tax appears to be installing greater regulation of industries, economies, and nations; reduction of carbon dioxide levels is only a phoney excuse for establishing increased governmental controls over everything and everyone.  

 

[1]  Jasper, W. F., 2012.  “Climate science” in shambles: Real scientists battle UN agenda.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.thenewamerican.com/tech/environment/item/11998-%E2%80%9Cclimate-science%E2%80%9D-in-shambles-real-scientists-battle-un-agenda .

[2]  Newman, A., 2013.  Top scientists slam and ridicule UN IPCC report.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.thenewamerican.com/tech/environment/item/16643-top-scientists-slam-and-ridicule-un-ipcc-climate-report .

[3]  Newman, A., 2014.  U.S. agencies accused of fudging data to show global warming.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.thenewamerican.com/tech/environment/item/17500-u-s-agencies-accused-of-fudging-data-to-show-global-warming ).

[4]  Booker, C., the Telegraph, 2015.  The fiddling with temperature data is the biggest science scandal ever.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/earth/environment/globalwarming/11395516/The-fiddling-with-temperature-data-is-the-biggest-science-scandal-ever.html .

[5]  Hiserodt, E. & Terrell, R., 2015.  Is global warming a hoax?  Available on the internet at:  http://www.thenewamerican.com/tech/environment/item/19840-is-global-warming-a-hoax .

 

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WHAT HAPPENS WHEN SCIENTISTS DISAGREE? PART I: BACKGROUND TO CONTROVERSIES INVOLVING SCIENTISTS.

 

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

 

Controversy is good generally because it encourages discussion, questioning, debates, and testing of ideas.  For science, controversy is completely essential as part of the search to find what is true.  Both in the classical times and in modern years, some controversies between scientists take a very long time to be resolved.  Disputes involving science today mostly feature scientists disagreeing with: (1) other scientists, (2) local administrators, (3) government officials and granting agencies, (4) regulatory bodies, and, (5) commercial companies.  Disputes in conditions 2-5 often follow different rules than in class 1, and commonly aim for other goals than just finding the truth.

Controversies involving scientists are important for everyone because they often are the basis for making new laws and regulations.  This series of articles examines different types of controversies involving professional scientists.  Part I provides essential backround for the entire series.  Later, we will take a look at certain specific disputes and some courageous scientists. 

Controversies between individual scientists. 

After research results are collected and analyzed, doctoral scientists in universities or industries typically interpret their data and then reach conclusions about what these show and mean.  Forming interpretations and reaching conclusions often lead to disputes between scientists; that is completely normal and good.  For controversies between scientists, the most essential question in all of science is at the forefront: “What is the evdence?”.  When forced to discuss the opposing arguments, each side claims to have more expertise, and both point to features supporting their position or weakening the opponent’s position.  In most cases, the opposing scientists will then conduct further research studies to try to find more definitive support for their positions. Soon, other researchers can begin participating in that debate about the truth. 

This kind of controversy can be settled when the total evidence for one side becomes overwhelming, the number of other scientists agreeing with one position rises to a level sufficient to silence the opposition, or, the stalemated controversy withers and disappears after becoming seen to have little practical importance for science or society.  Although this type of common dispute can become nasty and personal, most level-headed professional research scientists will abide by whatever conclusions are supported by reliable experimental results. 

Controversies between scientists and local officials. 

Controversies between scientists and local officials are quite different from those involving only other scientists.  When scientists are confronted by local officials claiming that some rule or restriction is being violated, they typically try to make some changes aimed at either satisfying their accuser, or at least bringing their violation beneath the level of immediate concern.  Some examples of typical responses by scientists are: (1) “I’m so very sorry … I forgot about that” (e.g., turn in some periodic inventory of a toxic chemical), (2) “I asked my technician to do that, but she was out with a bad cold last week” (e.g., bring some regulated waste from the lab over to a shipping dock), or, (3) “I’m going to a meeting next week, so I’ll have that ready for you in about 2-3 weeks” (e.g., clean up some mess in the lab).  All such responses by a scientist cannot win against official authorities, but they do gain more time for the busy scientist to take corrective action.

Controversies between scientists and government. 

Just like ordinary people, scientists can disagree with some policies, priorities, or pronouncements of government officials.  The yearly crop of new governmental regulations for conducting research experiments often is disputed and resented by many scientists.  Any controversy with the government is inherently risky for scientists, because they can come to influence the hoped for continuation of their research grant support.  Particularly galling for scientists are any type of negative judgments by the agencies handling competitions for research grants.  Scientists receiving only partial funding for a successful grant application usually become depressed and angry that they now cannot conduct the full range of their planned research experiments.  However, any scientist serving on a panel reviewing research grant applications soon comes to realize that evaluations of proposals and judgments of funding priority are decisions which are inherently complex, difficult, and filled with divergent viewpoints.  Since authority always can override opposition, there is little point in trying to win by open dispute; it is nuch better to win by channeling efforts into composing a better stronger proposal. 

Controversies involving scientists and commercial businesses. 

When disputes about some commercial product arise (e.g., activities, capabilities, performance, precision, sturdiness, etc.), the manufacturer often releases facts and figures obtained from research by their own in-house scientists and engineers.  The opposing side also will have some scientists providing data that support its position.  Both sides here will claim to have more authority and better data.  This type of controversy is not part of the usual disputes between research scientists as described earlier, becuase investigators working for a commercial company almost always are not just seeking the truth, but have a bias in favor of their employer; they simply cannot stop trying to support their employer’s position no matter what research results they find and which data are brought forth by their opponents.  This type of lengthy controversy between scientists and industry easily can become stalemated.  

For a good example of this kind of controversy, we can think back several decades to times when smoking of tobacco was very popular and manufacturers of tobacco products brought forth research results that seemed to deny the validity of new scientific data showing that smoking of tobacco causes cancer and other major health problems [1-3].  This dispute lasted many years before more and more research results showing carcinogenisis accumulated; finally, laws were passed and information programs started in order to decrease smoking.  Today, smoking still is not completely banned, but many fewer people now smoke; this decrease has resulted in considerably reducing the incidence of smoking-induced cancers and other pathologies [1-3].  This controversy exemplifies that science and research can take much time to have social impacts. 

Controversies involving scientists and society. 

We must examine 2 different kinds of controversies between science and society.  The first is when a non-scientist in the public starts sincerely questioning why in the world would any scientist undertake some very esoteric research study, and why is it being funded by money from taxpayers?  Even when the value for science is fully explained, there remains little chance that the questioners will change their mind; this type of dispute strongly involves psychology, rather than just science and reason. 

The second is where members of the public, acting either from reason or emotions, hold some viewpoint very dearly.  They regard scientists bringing forth research results which disprove their opinion as being outright enemies or demons rather than objective seekers of the truth.  This kind of dispute involves a quite different set of rules (i.e., the number of scientists on each side, rather than their research results, can determine victory).  Although both sides theoretically could come to agreement, this rarely happens no matter how much new evidence is gathered by each side; the easiest solution for such controversies is for some authority or politician to take action. 

A very good recent example of this second type of dispute between scientists and society is the concept of global warming [e.g., 4-7].  Quite a few scientists have entered this ongoing debate and many have brought forth research results denying that global temperatures even have increased, let alone that such was caused by human activities.  Both sides of the global warming controversy are strongly committed and neither will give up; this lengthy dispute now is continuing on its merry way as a shifted question about climate change. Teachers should take special note that both sides of this controversy are being supported by doctoral scientists and their research results [7].  This ongoing dispute has much public importance because various new federal regulations are being sought even though no conclusions have been agreed upon by scientists, politicians, or the public.   

Concluding remarks. 

Science and scientists are involved in many different types of controversies.  When these are based upon the results of research experiments, the disputes usually are valuable for science.  When these are based upon emotions, politics, or ignorance, these disputes usually are not able to be resolved and often are a waste of scientists’ precious time. 

In forthcoming articles we will take a closer look at specific examples of controversies involving science, and at some scientists who are trying to win a dispute. 

 

[1]  National Cancer Institute, 2011.  Harms of smoking and health benefits of quitting.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/causes-prevention/risk/tobacco/cessation-fact-sheet

[2]  American Cancer Society, 2014.  Tobacco-related cancers fact sheet.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancercauses/tobaccocancer/tobacco-related-cancer-fact-sheet .

[3]  National Heart. Lung, and Blood Institute, National Institutes of Health, 2015.  How does smoking affect the heart and blood vessels?  Available on the internet at:  https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/smo .

[4]  National Resources Defense Council, 2015.  Global warming.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.nrdc.org/globalwarming/ .

[5]  John Cook, Skeptical Science, 2015.  The 97% consensus on global warming.  Available on the internet at:  https://skepticalscience.com/global-warming-scientific-consensus-basic.htm .

[6]  OSS (Open Source Systems, Science, and Solutions) Foundation, 2015.  31,000 scientists say “no convincing ebidence”.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.ossfoundation.us/projects/environment/global-warming/myths/31000-scientists-say-no-convincing-evidence .

[7]  Climate Change Debate Pros and Cons, 2015.  Is human activity primarily responsible for global climate change?  Available on the internet at:  http://climatechange.procon.org .

 

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SHOULD RESEARCH SCIENTISTS BE UNIONIZED?

 

Should Research Scientists be Unionized?    (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Should Research Scientists be Unionized?    (http://dr-monsrs.net)

Unions traditionally are for workers in factories, offices, or the trades (i.e., trade unions), but more recently also are active in many other situations where employees feel they need protection from their employer.  Most scientists working in universities or industrial research and development (R&D) centers presently are not unionized.  However, some university science teachers, workers in science-related jobs, and hospital staff do become unionized.  In recent times, many employers have set up grievance mechanisms in order to try to preclude the need to establish unions as a protection against perceieved or actual workplace abuses.  This essay takes a closer look at the present claims for research scientists to become unionized.

Background. 

Many scientists working as professional researchers in universities now have major job problems with (1) time management, (2) obtaining sufficient money from governmental grants to support their research, and, (3) demands for dishonesty (see: “Introduction to Cheating and Corruption in Science” ).  These very general problems now cause much job dissatisfaction for university scientists (see:  “Why are University Scientists Increasingly Upset with their Job?  Part I” ).  All 3 large practical problems are due to misguided policies and practices with:  (1) modern universities, (2) the current research grant system, and (3) the commercialization of science (see: “What is the Very Biggest Problem for Science Today?” ). 

For faculty scientists at universities and medical schools, the research time problem bothers everyone greatly, but probably is not yet severe enough to support union-based strikes or job actions.  Different levels of the research money problem are faced by everyone doing laboratory research within universities; although dissatisfaction with this situation is very widespread, official complaints are strongly prevented simply because all grantees want to continue receiving research grant support throughout their careers (i.e., do not bite the hand that feeds you!).  The corruption problem in modern science is ignored by many scientists because they are too busy worrying about their time and money problems, and do not wish to become  involved with investigations and charges that do not directly involve them personally.  Hence, the very largest job problems for scientists in universities do not readily encourage unionization and union-based protests. 

For scientists in industrial laboratories, job problems are less frequent and seem less severe than in academia.  Their problems with time often are solved or at least minimized by gaining administrative approval to hire more support staff.  Any problems with research money frequently are dealt with internally when admninistrators shift job priorities and budgets.  Problems with corruption are less prominent in industrial labs, unless professional researchers are asked to change research results or interpretations of data in order to facilitate business aspects of their employer.  Industries are more on the side of their employees than are universities, and clearly need to promote the performance of their science employees as an important part of their drive for business success; thus, there presently is only a limited need for industrial scientists to seek recourse by unionization. 

Some special situations in science could lead to unionization. 

Certain job situations for today’s professional scientists increasingly recall the historical tradition where groups of ordinary (non-science) workers formed unions to protect themselves from abusive employers.  I will briefly discuss here 3 solid examples of modern instances where efforts with unionization now are either progressing or being considered. 

Postdoctoral Research Fellows typically spend several years doing full-time research before they are able to become good candidates for employment in universities, industrial  R&D centers, or science-related positions (see:  “All About Postdocs, Part I.  What are Postdocs and What Do they Do?” ).  When the number of available new science job positions declines, as in recent years, some Postdocs stay in these positions for at least a decade; although they are pleased to be paid to do research work, they are not truly independent, have minimal job security and limited retirement benefits, and, do not have a career or status appropriate to all their long training and professional research publications.  Postdocs easily can become captive workers.  Hence, these  temporary employees increasingly feel that “The Science System” is abusive and is taking advantage of them.  In response to complaints from Postdocs at many sifferent locations, universities try to make improvements by establishing some administrative post to handle all matters concerning Postdocs.  Little ever changes, so the complaints continue; any good changes are countered by the ready availability of many new foreign Ph.D.s eagerly seeking to come here as Postdoctoral Fellows (see:  “Why Does the United States now have so Very Many Foreign Graduate Students in Science?  Part I ” ).  Recently, some local or regional groups of Postdocs are critically discussing their predicament, and are seeking to develop changes in their present job status; whether this spreading discord will result in unionization of Postdocs remains to be seen. 

University faculty are becoming unionized at some educational institutions, both here in the United States and in some foreign countries.  Several unions and related organizations now deal with educational activities and business matters, but these associations also include numerous non-science faculty.  University faculty usually are reluctant to join a union, but sooner or later come to see that there indeed is strength in numbers.  Faculty unions sometimes elicit good adjustments and improvements in such factors as salary levels, employment benefits, and, issuance of documentation about what is expected from faculty employees.  Union-derived positive changes generally affect all the faculty, rather than only members of the union.  The harsher and more one-sided modern universities become, the more will unionization of their faculty be encouraged. 

Tenure for science faculty is a specific job problem that can be found both at universities and some industrial R&D centers.  Promotion to tenured rank uses somewhat different criteria at each school, and each individual candidate is at least slightly questionable.  Although nationally a subatantial number of scientists is involved with tenure each year, this issue at any one institution concerns only some few individuals; such fragmentation means that unionization of scientists as a means to improve this problem is very difficult.  If anyone compares the situation for tenure decisions at universities having faculty unions versus those that do not have unionized faculty, then it is obvious that the rules and regulations for achieving tenured rank are much more openly stated and carefully followed by the former institutions.  Due to mistakes and abuses with the tenure decision, this complex issue is actively discussed and of ongoing interest to the professional faculty unions. Junior faculty scientists constitute a hidden national class of good potential candidates for modern unionization.  

Are there any alternatives to unions for scientists? 

In my opinion, unions presently only play a minor role for professional scientific researchers.  Since science workers in universities do have serious job problems, one must ask whether there are any other mechanisms available to advance the general job status of faculty scientists.  The answer to this question is “yes”!  Most professional scientists are members of at least one science society.  These national associations sponsor annual meetings (see: “All About ScienceMeetings” ), publish professional journals, organize educational endeavors, and promote the advancement of their discipline.  These organizations often have thousands of dues-paying members, and thus have notable similarities to large unions.  Some of the current issues for professional scientists described above seem very suitable to be addressed by the national science societies. 

Concluding discussion. 

At present, unions are not numerous amongst all the many professional research scientists.  Some of the major job-related issues faced by research scientists at universities are well-suited to be ameliorated by unionization; however, the scientists actively confronting these issues at any one institution are not numerous, and so do not constitute the large number of workers traditionally engaged by unions.  When confronted with seemingly hopeless, unfair, and downright stupid job conditions, scientists are not  being unprofessional when they turn to unions so as to resolve the several difficult job problems in their profession.  Science societies have many features that are strongly analogous to unions, and should be encouraged to start helping their member scientists to better deal with major job-related issues.  

 

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HOW CAN I TAKE THE FIRST STEP TO LEARN ABOUT SCIENCE?

 

Science marches on, even though very many people are unaware!!   (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Science marches on, even though many people are unaware!!   (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

Let’s say that you are 34 years old and a perfectly good adult who draws a complete blank when wondering what science and research are all about.  Even though you passed all the required science courses in school, you view scientific research as something of no concern to you, and scientists as weird creatures from another planet.

Right now, you are.fascinated hy the idea that asteroids might be harvested for their contents by some sort of rocket ship.  Many different questions pop into your mind, including: what are asteroids, how big are they, what do they weigh, what are they made of, do they contain gold and silver, are they radioactive, where are they found, do they have orbits, how fast do they move, do they ever crash into our Earth, are they dangerous to humans, etc.?  You have read Dr.M’s basic introduction to science and research (see “Fundamentals for Beginners: What is Science?  What is Research?  What are Scientists?” ), but you just do not see how this fits into asteroids.

These are all good questions, and scientific research already has discovered the answers to most of them!  You want to find answers to your questions, but do not know where to look.  This short dispatch is just for you!  I will describe below a simple general sequence of first steps for you to find out about science studies on asteroids, or about any other subject of your personal interest.  All that is required is that you have curiosity, access to the internet, and a little time; if you do not have your own computer, you can use one at the nearest public library.

A general sequence to find out about science for some subject of interest

(1)  First, identify only one subject, topic, question, or controversy that has your personal interest (e.g., asteroids, global warming, gravity, nanostructures, some disease that had killed your brother when he was 29 years old, etc., etc.).  This serves to focus your initial search onto a single subject. 

(2)    Second, search on the internet for your subject on one of the Wiki’s (i.e., direct your browser to Wikipedia, Metapedia, or any other large encyclopedia-type site); then enter the name of your subject in their search box and press return.  This will display some sites covering general information for your designated subject (e.g., basic definitions, occurrence, origin, activities and effects, relationships, etc.), along with a few pictures and diagrams).  Pick only 2 or 3 of these listed sites for your reading and study.  This step furnishes you with an overview of the nature of your selected subject, and usually will be a good introduction.

(3)    Third, identify which branches of science investigate your subject (e.g., asteroids fit into both astronomy and minerology; global warming fits into meteorology, oceanography, and physics; gravity fits into physics; nanostructures fits into chemistry and materials science; human diseases fit into medicine and pathology; etc.).  Now, search either on a Wiki or on the internet for only one or 2 additional articles dealing in a general way with scientific studies of your subject (i.e., search for “astronomy +asteroids” or “minerology +asteroids”; for global warming, search for “meteorology +global-warming” or “oceanography +global-warming”; etc.).  Try to find something showing and explaining what scientists have investigated about your subject and how they did their work.  Now you have broken through your barrier!  This third step lets you begin to learn as much as you wish to know about how scientists have worked to answer your questions through their research studies.

Go one step further for additional understanding

Although you now should have a good background, you still are missing knowledge about  the individual scientists researching your subject of interest.  Your understanding will be increased if you know a little about these persons.  Good places to start looking are in: (1) the extensive videos and science-related materials on the website for the Nobel Prize ( http://www.nobelprize.org ), (2) the diverse topics  covered by Popular Science magazine ( http://www.popsci.com ), and (3) the “News” sections of the weekly journals, Sciencehttp://sciencemag.org )  and Naturehttp://www.nature.com/news/index.html ).   At any of these websites, you can enter your subject into the site-search box and a list of available materials will be displayed; some of these will include coverage about the activities of specific scientists.  With luck, you will spot something that is quite new and interesting. Once you find a few names, you can look on the internet to see if those scientists have a website of their own; many modern university scientists do this, and include public information about all their research activities and projects.

A required postscript about Wiki’s

In my opinion, Wiki websites are a very useful starting point when utilized as outlined above.  They certainly are quick and easy, but they do not always present a complete account, are known sometimes to give only approved or politically correct information, and occasionally deliver a biased or truncated coverage. Hence, you must be aware that you can be given info that is incomplete or less than totally true.  If you ever need to quote something from a Wiki report, then it is necessary that you find and check the original source(s) listed and cite only those.  Once, I found a most unexpected statement in a Wiki presented as a fact about a public figure I know, so I checked their referenced source and found that it said nothing at all about this peculiar statement; thus, the citation was either a mistake or a false reference, and this statement probably is not true.

 

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OTHER JOBS FOR SCIENTISTS, PART III: UNCONVENTIONAL APPROACHES TO FIND OR CREATE EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITIES

 

Many Jobs now are Available for Doctoral Scientists  (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Many Jobs now are Available for Doctoral Scientists   (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

The first 2 parts of this series have explained that job seekers holding a PhD in science have a large range of different employers and job positions to consider (see recent articles in the Scientists category on “Other Jobs for Scientists, Part I: Working in Science Outside of Traditional Situations” and “Other Jobs for Scientists, Part II: Research Jobs in Industry or Government Labs”).  Some provide opportunities for continuing to work in laboratory research, while others involve science and research only indirectly (i.e., science-related jobs).  Yet other possibilities do not involve science or research at all.  Many in this last group can be seen as being very unconventional jobs for scientists.  The nature of such unusual employment, and advice about how to find or create it, is presented and discussed in Part III below.

Finding science-related jobs for science PhD’s

Traditionally, a career in scientific research or any other business can be considered as being analogous to climbing a ladder.  This viewpoint necessarily means that if you are not able to step onto the first rung of the ladder (i.e., find some type of first job), then there is zero chance that you will ever be able to climb up that particular ladder.  However, once you have acquired some job and accomplished something (i.e., have moved up to rung number 2 or 3 by doing well and learning more during 1-2 years), it also becomes realistically possible to jump onto a different ladder (i.e., to switch to a different and better job).  Yes, experience makes a big difference!  Each job seeker must find their own path to a good job.

For some young scientists, it can be difficult to find a traditional research job either at universities, industrial research and development centers, or government research facilities.  In such cases, it is necessary to become more flexible about theoretical possibilities and realistic practicalities.  A key major question you must face is how much you as a scientist are determined to work only on research activities.  If you will consider working with science at non-traditional venues, or working on science-related jobs that do not directly involve lab research, then very many additional possibilities for employment will arise.  I already have introduced many examples of different science-related employment positions in Part I.

Becoming unconventional in your job search

The more doors that remain open, the greater choice of jobs you will have.  Restricting where and what you are looking at necessarily closes some doors.  What if nothing works in your search for employment and all seems hopeless?  Then, it is time to learn to think very much more creatively!  Even if you are only seeking a conventional kind of job, using unconventional approaches might give you an advantage or open some more doors.

Many new science PhD’s and Postdocs must escape from the straightjacket of traditional academic research, and learn to consider other possibilities outside universities and even outside science.  If these are unconventional, so what?  I once actually encountered a professional driver for a limousine company with a PhD; he likes to talk with scholarly overtones to me and all his many different clients about philosophy and politics, and seemed quite happy doing that!  I doubt that he ever planned to be a fulltime professional driver; it is possible that he first tried this job only as some temporary work, and then unexpectedly came to realize that this unconventional position suited his individual situation very nicely.

I consider Edwin H. Land as a spectacularly creative scientist and admirable human (see my earlier article in the Scientists category on “Curiosity, Creativity, Inventiveness, and Individualism in Science”).  Land did not seek a job, but instead he created one for himself!  Actually, he created several jobs for himself (i.e., scientist, educator, engineer, industrialist, and visionary)!  Even in his early college days, he was so determined to do experimental research that he got permission to work at night on his own research in a professor’s empty laboratory; he went on to continue to do research on several subjects during his later years running the Polaroid Corporation.   Probably, none of us has the same magic that emanated from Prof. Land, but you can try to copy his creative spirit when seeking to find a suitable job for yourself.  Can you do that?  Try it and see!

There are many different ways to create your own job.  If you can form some small business operation, you can hire yourself!  If you can convince a company that they need some new service, and if you can provide exactly such, then you might have created your own job!  If you can invent something new and useful to others, you can either manufacture and market it, or sell the idea or patent!  If you can innovate some new software that others will want to utilize, then you can license it for use or establish a new computer company!  If you do not have enough money to be able to start something like this, you can borrow funds from family or friends, or you can work temporarily at some ordinary job until you have saved enough capital; another approach is to try to win support via crowd-funding [e.g., 1-3].  Be imaginative in what you try to do!

Miscellaneous advice for job seekers from Dr.M

New scientists should never forget that you do indeed already have some valuable skills and experience in science and research, or you would not have succeeded in earning your doctoral degree.  Hence, you can have confidence in your own abilities to overcome the problems with finding a suitable job!  Besides your own self, you already have many external resources to help your search; never hesitate to consult with your former thesis advisor, postdoctoral mentor(s), favorite teachers, fellow research workers, and good friends about the current status of your job search.

Be vigorous in your job hunt, and always show self-confidence, initiative, determination, and a high energy level.  Check out everything, not just the most likely prospects.  As one colleague helpfully explained to me long ago, the time to worry about salary level and which desk you will have is only after you have received a job offer, not before.  Be willing to move if that is required for a job that you know would be good for you.   Be flexible.  Always be 100% honest during interviews, and emphasize how you are well-suited for the particular job opening you are applying for.

If you are looking in unconventional areas or trying to create a new job for yourself, then never limit your imagination.  Try to see more than everyone else does.  One of my own university science teachers retired at age 65 and then took several art courses to learn how to paint.  Within just a few years, her canvasses were selling and she was the featured artist at several shows and galleries in other states.  None of us students ever guessed that she also had a hidden talent as an artist.  She said unconventionally that for her, science and art have many similarities.

Concluding remarks

The main message in Part III is that job seekers with a science PhD should be imaginative and creative, and should not hesitate to consider nontraditional employment possibilities. 

Your main message for this entire series (Parts I-III) is that a PhD in science qualifies you for very many different types of employment, including positions that do not involve laboratory research or working in traditional job sites. 

Dr.M wishes all doctoral scientists much good fortune with their search for a suitable and satisfying job!

 

[1]  Kickstarter, 2014.  Kickstarter – Start a project.  Available on the internet at:  https://www.kickstarter.com/learn?ref=nav .

[2]  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 .

[3]  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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HOW DO RESEARCH SCIENTISTS BECOME VERY FAMOUS?

 

How to Win a Supreme Prize in Science!    (http://dr-monsrs.net)
What does it take to Win a Big Prize in Science?     (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

            Not all good research scientists advance to become famous, and almost all famous researchers do not achieve the highest honor of winning a Nobel Prize [1] or a Kavli Prize [2].  These facts make it seem rather mysterious how a scientist does achieve enough renown to be awarded one of those supreme honors.  What is it that makes a research scientist become famous? 

            Working scientists traditionally become acclaimed by their peers (i.e., other scientists in their field of study) primarily on the basis of one or more distinctive characteristics: (1) their experimental  findings achieve a breakthrough in research progress, thereby causing a dramatic shift of direction for many subsequent studies, (2) they resolve a long-standing research controversy, (3) they develop a new theory or concept that comes to have an expanding influence on the work of other researchers, or, (4) they invent and develop a new piece of research instrumentation or a new process for analysis of specimens.  These individuals, unlike the great bulk of ordinary research scientists, seem to have much good luck and are not so perturbed by the usual practical research problems with time and money; in one word, very famous scientists usually appear to be “blessed”.  These generalizations seem true for all the different branches of science, and are valid for scientists in numerous different countries. 

The Biggest Prizes in Science

            Only a very small handful of scientists are awarded the highest honors in science, a Nobel Prize [1] or a Kavli Prize [2].  There are many other famous scientists besides those few winners!  Some scientists are so ambitious that they undertake some of their experimental studies specifically to acquire a big prize; however, winning one of these awards is well-known to partly depend on circumstances beyond their control, such as being in the right place at the right time, succeeding with their research project to produce a widely hoped for result (e.g., creating a cure for some disease), or, working in a large field of study where many other researchers are active.  In addition, it is widely suspected that earning one of these top science prizes also depends upon certain unofficial qualifications, such as who you know, who dislikes you, and what area of science you are working with.  There can be no doubt that the awardees are fully deserving and are great scientists. 

            Readers can gain a much larger understanding about what it takes to win one of these elite honors by viewing some of the many fascinating video interviews with winners on the internet websites for the Nobel Prize (http://www.nobelprize.org/mediaplayer/ ).  These excellent videos examine the life and work of very famous scientists, both in modern times and from the last century.  Other videos present explanations of why their research work was judged to be so very important; corresponding written material is available for the Kavli Prize (http://www.kavliprize.no/seksjon/vis.html?tid=61429 ).  I have personally seen many of these and very highly recommend them to all non-scientists, as well as to younger scientists. 

The Path to Fame and Fortune in Science

            The path to fame and fortune in scientific research often is a progression of steps leading from local to national and then to international renown.  These steps reflect the formation of an enlarging network of other research scientists who are aware of the ambitious scientist, and have respect and admiration for what he or she is doing in the laboratory; eventually, the network expands so that even teachers, students, and various officials all become quite aware of this scientist.  Another mark of progressing towards fame and fortune involves receipt of more and more invitations to speak, to write, and to participate in science events at diverse locations around the world.  This advancement can be recognized by appointments to serve on committees of national organizations and editorial boards for science journals; in addition, progress also is shown by invitations to author review articles, and by receipt of public recognition within descriptive news reports in important general science journals such as Science and Nature.   Professional reputation usually moves in parallel to achievement of these hallmarks. 

            Common signs of success and fame in research scientists are achievement of some breakthrough experiment or invention, enlargement of lab personnel and research budget due to success with the research grant system, and widely acknowledged mastery in one’s field of science.  These hallmarks increase the reputation of research scientists.  For many good scientists, a very wonderful major honor is simply getting their research grants renewed, so they then are no longer required to work only on projects lasting for 3-5 years.  Nobel Laureates often, but not always, have success in dealing with the research grant system.  In addition to all the glory of winning one of the largest science prizes, there also can be some undesired consequences, such as too much attention, too many new demands for time, and, difficulty in maintaining the awardee’s extremely elevated status. 

            With regard to fortune, certain universities are notorious for paying their junior faculty only a very meager salary, but that changes dramatically when they advance in rank.  Professional scientists in academia and industry become financially comfortable, but do not usually consider themselves to really be rich.  Some university scientists do become very wealthy by starting one or more new small businesses centered on their expertise, creativity, and inventions; industrial scientists can receive bonuses for key contributions in enabling some new or improved product to be produced and marketed.  By the time of retirement, scientists usually have good savings and are entitled to full retirement benefits. 

Comments for Non-Scientists about Reputations and Awards

            Non-scientist readers should try to understand that a renowned and very appreciated faculty scientist at a college or small university might be very highly honored locally, and deservedly so, but could have little national renown and no international reputation.  Some other famous scientist working at a prestigious very large university might be more appreciated nationally and internationally, than locally.  My message here is that the amount of “success and renown” is relative; researchers do not have to become a Nobel Laureate or a Kavli Prize awardee in order to be recognized as being a famous and excellent scientist.   

            Some readers will wonder about whether a young scientist could direct all their professional efforts towards winning a big science prize, and succeed in this ambition?  That is possible in theory, but is very, very unlikely in practice.  Even if a researcher earned a doctorate at Harvard, was a Postdoc at Berkeley and Basel, achieved tenure at Columbia University (New York), and was good with both politics and people, there is no guarantee that this scientist will receive one of these very large honors.  There simply are too many unknowns and too many personalities involved to make receipt of a Nobel Prize or Kavli Prize anything other than very uncertain and doubtful.  In fact, some really outstanding research scientists do not receive the supreme award that they so clearly deserve [3].  I believe that it is good for scientists to be ambitious and to strive to win a big prize, but the simple fact is that very few excellent and famous researchers achieve this highest honor.  

 Concluding Remarks

            Many research scientists in academia and industry work very hard to achieve excellence and to be appreciated by their peers, students, and employer, and by the public.  There is no single path to becoming labeled as a famous scientist, and the route always contains many hurdles and frustrations.  When all is said and done, it always is internally satisfying if a mature scientist regards themself as being successful, even if they also have some human defects or run into insurmountable problems.  Self-satisfaction and peer recognition indeed are very big rewards for doing an excellent job in science and research. 

 

[1]  The Nobel Prize, 2014.  876 Nobel Laureates since 1901.   Available on the internet at:
http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/index.html  .

[2]  The Kavli Prize, 2014.  The Kavli Prize – Science prizes for the future.   Available on the internet at:
http://www.kavliprize.no/artikkel/vis.html?tid=27868 .

[3]  E. Westly, 2008.   No Nobel for you: Top 10 Nobel snubs.   Available on the internet at:
http://www.scientificamerican.com/slideshow.cfm?id=10-nobel-snubs .

 

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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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WHY IS “GRANTSPERSONSHIP” A FALSE IDOL FOR RESEARCH SCIENTISTS, AND WHY IS IT BAD FOR SCIENCE?

 

Grantsperonship in 2014!  (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Grantspersonship in 2014!   (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

            With research grants now being so all-important for university science faculty conducting experimental research, skills and good tactics with acquiring these awards have become especially valued.  For getting research grant awards, there can be no question that some doctoral scientists are very much more successful than many others.  The reasons why and how some are more successful are hard to pin down, but it is commonly said that they have more or better understanding about exactly how the research grant system works.  Grantspersonship, formerly referred to as grantsmanship or grantswomanship, is the use of applied psychology, business skills, cleverness, manipulations, sophistry, unconventional approaches, and whatever-it-takes to win a research grant award.  Tactics for acquiring research grant awards are not explicitly taught during the graduate school education of most professional scientists; instead, they are learned and incorporated by the emulation of those having more successful results in dealing with the current research grant system. 

            I have already introduced the hyper-competition by university scientists for research grants (see earlier article in the Scientists category on “Why Would Any Scientist Ever Cheat?”).  In the present condition, grants are everything, everyone is competing with everyone else, and failure to get a new grant or a renewal easily can be the kiss-of-death for university scientists.  Far too many modern faculty scientists have had personal experience with having their research grant applications being turned down or receiving evaluation scores such that they only will receive awards for partial funding.  Many grant-supported university scientists now are trying hard to get a second research grant, in order to (1) obtain additional laboratory space, (2) undertake an additional research project, (3) receive some security in case their first research project does not receive a renewal award, and (4) increase their status and salary.  Of course, these efforts also greatly increase the hyper-competition.  The time and emotional effort needed for this infernal hyper-competition is enormous and detracts from the ability of any scientist to personally conduct research experiments in their lab (see my earlier article in the Scientists category on “What’s the New Main Job of Faculty Scientists Today?”).  Accordingly, very many university faculty scientists indeed would love to obtain more success by increasing their level of grantspersonship. 

            Using grantspersonship to become more successful seems justified to many scientists at modern universities, since obtaining research grant awards is so very important for their career.  Increasing one’s grantspersonship indeed can produce more funding success, but also readily results in several bad effects.  At its worst, some scientists engage in corrupt and unethical practices (see my recent article in the Big Problems category on “Why is it so Very Hard to Eliminate Fraud and Corruption in Scientists?”).  Even if remaining completely honest, researchers using grantspersonship become sidetracked from their aims in being a scientist. 

             Applications for research grants should be judged on the basis of objective evaluations for merit (i.e., having the best approach to answer an important research question and/or more effectively investigate a needed topic), capabilities of the scientist (i.e., adequate background and previous experience, a record of producing important  publications, availability of the necessary facilities and required policies, etc.), compatibility with program objectives of the granting agency, good performance with previous awards, etc.  The use of grantspersonship subverts these traditional criteria, and substitutes inappropriate, irrelevant, and subjective considerations into the evaluation of applications for funding (e.g., association with a given institution, ethnicity, personal friendships, personal interactions with agency officials, professional relationships, professional status, publications in a certain journal, etc.).  All of this subversion of objective evaluations is bad for science. 

 What makes Grantspersonship Wrong?  How does Grantspersonship have Negative Effects on Science? 

            Although grantspersonship appears to be universally accepted today, few have ever examined what are its effects upon scientific research.  The concept of grantspersonship commonly is seen as the application of business skills to science; it deals with obtaining money, and has only an indirect connection to the production of good research.  There is no obvious reason to think that either most very acclaimed great research scientists could simultaneously also be outstandingly adept businesspersons, or, that the presidents of giant multinational corporations could also win a Nobel Prize for their lab research studies.  Business is fundamentally different from scientific research!  The business world previously has given more emphasis than does science to commercialism, contracts, monetary rewards, personal deals, semi-legal actions and outright deception, trading of favors, etc.; these characteristics are not traditionally prominent in the world of science.  Both business and science are useful and needed by society, but they are not the same and they are not interchangeable! 

            Most university scientists see grantspersonship as a means to the end of getting a research grant award.  Anything that will improve the chance for success is viewed as being good and acceptable.  If that really is true, then it logically follows that a new breed of non-scientist grant writers will arise and have many customers; in fact, there already are some of these new commercial offerings already.  Such “editorial grant advisors” officially will be paid to improve or rework any application so as to be more fundable; some also will be able to write an entire research grant application using only minimal input from the scientist submitting the application.  Editorial grant advisors undoubtedly will have a commercial contract with their numerous customers, and might even guarantee at least a certain priority ranking.  Of course, it will be highly unlikely that expert reviewers for the granting agencies can recognize this dual authorship when that is not stated on the application form; some applicants will maintain that they alone are the true author since they must supervise and approve of anything composed by the advisors.  Many scientists, including myself, will consider such dual authorship to be unethical; on the other hand, the concept of grantspersonship will fully accept this subterfuge. 

            What makes grantspersonship wrong?  Grantspersonship is wrong because it has bad effects on science, and on the objective evaluation of research grant applications.  In particular, the concept of grantspersonship: (1) implies that research capabilities mainly relate to construction of a grant application; (2) means that good business skills are somehow equivalent to scientific expertise, even though there is no obvious evidence for that view; this falsity is evidenced by the fact that some pre-eminent Nobel Laureate scientists have had enormous difficulties with business aspects in the modern research grant system (see my earlier article in the Scientists category on “What’s the New Main Job of Faculty Scientists Today?”); (3) confuses and subverts the objective evaluation of grant applications, because it is unknown what comes from the applicant and what comes from some extraneous co-author;  (4) sidetracks the essential goal of science (i.e., to find or critically study the truth) and substitutes that with the target of getting research grant funds; in other words, the real goal becomes to get the money, rather than to uncover new knowledge; and, (5) counters integrity of scientific research by making the goal be obtaining a grant award, rather than discovering important new knowledge through experimental investigations. 

Concluding Remarks

            From all the foregoing, I conclude that grantspersonship is a false idol for modern scientists doing research, andhas bad effects upon science.  The true aim of scientific research is not the acquisition of money! 

            The only way I can see to remove this anti-science mess is (1) to get the granting agencies to adopt much more rigorous standards for objectivity in reviewing research grant applications, and (2) to get the universities to either stop or greatly diminish the hyper-competition for research grant awards, since that underlies the current flourishing of grantspersonship.  Regretfully, both of these needed changes seem very unlikely to be instituted. 

            Whenever I get depressed at realizing that there now is an overwhelming desire for more grantspersonship amongst university scientists, I always begin laughing because I start wondering which will be the very first university to hire some modern Jesse James (i.e., an outlaw and notorious USA bank robber from the second half of the 1800’s) as the newest member of their science faculty, since he would bring much more money into the university than any grant-supported scientist could do!

 

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WASTAGE OF RESEARCH GRANT MONEY IN MODERN UNIVERSITY SCIENCE

 

Wastage of Research Grant Money Should be a No-No !!     (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Wastage of Research Grant Money Should be a No-No !!      (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

            Money is required to conduct modern scientific research, and plays a very large role in determining exactly what gets done by scientists (see my earlier article in the Basic Introductions  category on “Introduction to Money in Modern Scientific Research”).  To construct one new 3-4G synchrotron research facility costs billions of dollars, while a newly-appointed Assistant Professor might need only $150,000 for his or her first research project.  Research grant funds routinely are spent by professional scientists for many different kinds of direct costs and for all indirect costs (see my recent article in the Money&Grants category on “Research Grants: What is Going on with the Indirect Costs of Doing Research?”.  Without money, no experimental scientific research can be conducted in modern universities. 

            All granting agencies carefully review the budgets proposed by applicants for a research grant, and seek to remove any unnecessary or excessive items.  They also have oversight and accounting controls in place to verify which expenses have been paid validly by the awarded grant funds.  Science faculty receiving research grants additionally have university accounting rules and regulations for all expenditures of their grant awards.  Faculty grantees do have the option to request rebudgeting of their awarded funds, so as to deal with unexpected contingencies and operational changes in their research plan; large changes must be approved by the granting agency, while smaller changes are reviewed and either approved or disapproved by the university financial office.  

            Despite all these regulatory mechanisms, some wastage of research grant funds still commonly occurs.  Wastage here is defined as any expenditures that are not required for the direct conduct of the experiments and activities within an approved research project.  This means that anything not bonafide (e.g., far outside the scope of the research project) or not necessary (e.g., purchase of an excessive number of laptop personal computers, travel to attend a dozen science meetings where no presentation is given, etc.) is a misuse of the awarded funds.  Any such expenditure constitutes wastage of the research grant funds. 

 

Different Types of Wastage of Research Grant Funds

 

            For individual grantees at universities, there are at least 5 different major kinds of wastage of research grant awards: (1) unneeded and duplicated ordinary purchases, (2) purchases and expenditures that are made just to use up some unspent awarded funds before a grant period ends, (3) payments for too many measurements and assays to be conducted at external commercial labs, rather than in the home laboratory of the grantee, (4) misuse of research grant awards due to policies of universities, and (5) misuse of research grant awards due to policies of the granting agencies.  Examples for each of these 5 are given below. 

 

            Some duplicated purchases are needed, but others are not so and must be categorized as being excessive.  Most biomedical research labs need to have extra micropipetters as backups for when those in use need to be taken out of service for repair or recalibration; however, there is no need to have several dozen extras.  This type of wastage constitutes an error by the individual scientist (i.e., Principal Investigator, Faculty-Co-Investigator, Collaborator, Lab Manager, etc.). 

 

            It is well-known amongst grant-holders that all awarded funds must be spent before the grant period ends.  Direct banking of any unspent research grant funds beyond the grant duration is not permitted, and there is no encouragement to ever try to save money; it is commonly rumored that unusual individuals who try to return some unspent grant funds to the funding agency have all future proposed budgets significantly reduced in size.  For this reason, it is commonplace for faculty researchers who have somehow underspent their award to buy additional research supplies during the last year of a grant just to use up any remaining funds.  These purchases really represent wastage of the awarded grant funds.   

 

            Small laboratory groups always are tempted to save precious time by purchasing research work from external commercial service labs, thereby permitting their research staff to work on other activities.  Typically, this involves payment to conduct data collection and analysis; the alternative is to train a graduate student or a research technician to conduct the needed operations in the home lab.  It always seems easier to buy something rather than do it in-house, but when a Principal Investigator lets this approach exceed a certain level, it is wasteful of the awarded grant funds. 

 

            Wastage for unnecessary purchases due to university policies can arise from an absence of regulation, as well as from over-regulation.  At some universities, old research equipment, ranging from ovens and chromatographs to microscopes and large centrifuges, is not reassigned and recycled for further use, but is simply dumped onto the refuse docks and picked up by garbage collectors, scrap metal dealers, or passersby.  The absence of official mechanisms for re-use of expensive research equipment that becomes unused, but still works quite well, causes wastage of funds for new purchases (e.g., why pass along a 5-10 year old research instrument belonging to the late Professor Katsam, when new faculty member Smith can use his first research grant award to buy a new one?). 

 

            Another example of university policy-based wastage of grant funds is produced by some of the official rules for laboratory safety.  At many institutions, the purchase and use of very expensive explosion-proof refrigerators in laboratories is required; faculty grantees can need several of these and typically try to buy only the much less expensive ordinary household refrigerators, but are not always allowed to do that.  To whatever extent the special refrigerators are not actually required, this policy causes  unnecessary purchases and represents wastage. 

 

            Newly appointed university science faculty members furnish their laboratory by purchasing brand new research equipment.  It is not unusual that if there are 3 new Assistant Professors in one science department, that all 3 will mostly buy some of the same items.  It is quite unusual that a university will see that much of this duplication is unneeded and wasteful, since these necessities can be provided by establishment of a common service room where each basic item is available for all to use (e.g., a pH meter, a vacuum oven, an ultracold freezer, light microscope, etc.). 

 

            A different type of wastage of research grant funds involves misguided policies of the granting agencies.  These agencies all make extensive efforts to avoid any duplicate funding or overlapping of grant awards, but almost everyone knows of cases where this has happened anyway; there are so many research grants and so many scientists that it is extremely difficult to prevent this type of error and wastage.  As one illustration of the complex nature of this problem, consider the routine formation of a small research group with several other faculty colleagues.  The group project involves conducting 30 different experiments, with each of the 5 group members supervising 6 parts of the entire study; in actuality, some of the 5 work on 2-20 of these experiments, and some technicians work under several different supervisors.  One large research grant is acquired for the group project, and this provides an equal salary contribution for all 5 faculty co-investigators.  Some of these 5 scientists are successful enough to also have merited their own individual research grant(s), supporting projects that are described as being “related, but different” from that in the large grant awarded to the research group.  In this example, it often is extremely difficult to determine exactly who does what, what time and effort are spent by each person on each activity, and, which grant should pay for what.  In this complex situation there is a definite likelihood that some of the research expenses are being supported by more than one grant; any duplicated research support is redundant and unnecessary, and therefore is wastage. 

 

            A second example where policies of a granting agency create waste in their awards involves the fact that research grants often include a salary contribution for the Principal Investigator (e.g., 10-50%).  If doctoral scientists are soft-money appointees, they must get their entire salary (i.e., 100%) from research grants; this is perfectly usual and honest.   On the other hand, if a university scientist has a hard-money appointment (i.e., their full salary is guaranteed by some source, such as a state government), then any salary contribution by their research grant is unnecessary, makes no sense to me, and should be considered as being wastage.  In that situation, the funding agency in effect returns some of the guaranteed salary to the source or to the university; for universities, this transfer or refund can result in all sorts of manipulations involving provision of salary bonuses, raises, and semi-unrestricted private accounts. 

 

How Much Research Grant Money is Wasted? 

 

            The wastage problems described above initially might seem to be only minor in size and importance, and could even be thought to be somewhat unavoidable.  Many readers then will wonder exactly how much money is being wasted?  Since there are no official figures to cite, let us make estimates by considering the following simple and minimal theoretical examples.  If the amount of research grant money wasted by any one faculty scientist is given as $500/year, then to obtain the national figure this must be multiplied by the many thousands of scientists doing grant-supported research studies.  If the amount of grant funds wasted by any one university science department is given as only $5,000/year, then to get the national total this must be multiplied by the number of science departments at each university.  In addition, we can look at the minimal $15,000 spent by each new faculty appointee setting up their new laboratory; this figure must be multiplied first by all the many new science faculty appointees each year, and then by the number of years being considered.  From  these simple estimates, it is obvious that many millions of research grant dollars could be wasted each and every year.  The total amount of research grant dollars wasted must be described as being “substantial”!

 

Why does Wastage of Research Grant Funds Matter? 

 

            Any misuse and wastage of research grant awards necessarily represents taxpayer money that was misspent.  Due to the limited amount of dollars available for supporting scientific research via grants, too many faculty scientists with worthy projects now can receive only partial funding or no funding at all.  If the substantial amount of dollars in research grants now being wasted would be added to the pool of available funds, then (1) more scientists could get funded fully, and (2) more scientists could be able to have their approved projects funded.  This change will result in more research and better research being done, thereby benefitting all of us. 

 

            To stop this wastage or at least greatly decrease the amount of wastage of research grant funds, changes must be activated in 3 quite separate locations: (1) funded faculty scientists on hard-money salaries, (2) the universities, and (3) the granting agencies.  Like any other attempts to change the status quo, the several parties benefitting from the current substantial wastage of research grant funds will oppose any changes.  Nevertheless, I do not doubt that increased efforts both by scientists and by the public will be able to make these needed changes into a reality. 

 

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WHAT IS THE FUN OF BEING A SCIENTIST?

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

 

              Since most adults know so little about science and research, I thought it would be good to briefly present how scientists have fun with their job activities.

            Most research scientists, including me, have not won a Nobel Prize, are not heading a research institute, have never acquired research grants for many millions of dollars at one time, and publish a moderate number of good reports in professional science journals each year (i.e., rather than the minimum of 4-6 publications demanded yearly from “star scientists”).  Most professional researchers, whether working in academia or industry, generally enjoy their work despite the presence of several frustrating job situations that perplex their research activities (see my earlier post on “Why is the Daily Life of Modern University Scientists so very Hectic” in the Scientists category).

             What exactly do research scientists have fun doing?   I will briefly list below only  selected examples of common types of fun with being a faculty scientist in a modern university.  Certainly there are some other types of fun, and corresponding examples are found for research scientists in industrial settings.
                         (1) Working on experimental research in one’s own research laboratory, as contrasted to working in some other scientist’s lab, is big ego fun.
                        ( 2) Making discoveries via conducting experiments is fun, because that is the classical goal of almost all research work.  Being the very first to discover something (e.g., a new star or planet, a new species, a new enzymatic modulator, a new polymeric nanomaterial, etc.) is a complete thrill for any scientist; all the sweat and tears along the way then are made to seem quite unimportant.
                        (3) A science breakthrough differs from a simple discovery by forming a new concept, setting off further studies in a new direction, overturning some established viewpoint, unexpectedly inventing a new and better assay system, etc.; breakthroughs are great fun for creative scientists, especially when they are a surprise (i.e., not everything in scientific research can be planned or predicted).
                        (4) Working closely with students, postdocs, research technicians, and collaborators is fun because a well-organized lab group is almost like having a second family.
                        (5) Seeing a former graduate student or postdoctoral fellow you have trained go on to become a very successful independent investigator always is professional fun, because some credit still must be given to their older mentor even if many years have passed.
                        (6) Being put in charge of a research group or a research facility, or, being elected to a leadership position in a science society, is fun because it is public recognition that a scientist has expertise, problem-solving skills, reliability, and good judgment.
                        (7) Publishing a long and detailed research report in a science journal is much fun, and often seems to young scientists to be quite analogous to all the work in giving birth to a baby.  Being invited to write a review article or to contribute a chapter for a new edited book reflects a growing reputation amongst peer scientists, and always is fun even though it involves enormous additional effort.
                        (8) Going to an annual science society meeting or an international science congress is a very common enjoyment for faculty scientists; it is exciting to present a platform talk or a poster display, and, to hear seminars given by very famous scientists and later to converse with them; these enjoyments are often surpassed by the personal fun of chatting with old friends and colleagues from graduate school or early positions.
                       
(9) Doing a good job with teaching in basic or advanced courses certainly can be challenging, but often is fun for members of the science faculty.

             One big ongoing piece of satisfying fun for scientists is to personally conduct experiments successfully.  This necessitates very much coordination of hands, eyes, and brain, and involves technical skills, practical experience, and mental alertness; one must deal with design of experiments, on the spot evaluation of data as it is being produced, and, careful and complete analysis of all the research results.

            Many research instruments are fascinating and enormous fun to operate.  Using some fancy, expensive, and complex instrument with success actually is a type of fun analogous to playing with a toy made for adults!   Some research instruments, such as modern radio-telescopes and various multidimensional spectroscopes, require the operator to be very well-versed in computation, both for control and operation of the instrument, and for analysis of the data output.  Skillful mastery with using these research instruments is not something every scientist is able to achieve easily.

            Science really is people.  The chief scientist (Principal Investigator) must spend much time and patient effort to enable all the different graduate students, Postdocs, technical assistants, and visitors to learn how to be part of a research team; after doing this successfully, the research work is purely fun.  Lab parties are commonplace, and can be originated on the occasion of a new grant, someone’s birthday, a big new publication, an official holiday, etc.; all costs usually are paid by the chief scientist, but there also can be some private parties to which the boss is not invited.

            Most research scientists are happy just to achieve renown and peer recognition from other scientists working in their branch of modern science.  It is not necessary to win a Nobel Prize [1] or a Kavli Prize [2] to become either a research leader or a very famous scientist.   Only a few researchers win one of these very prestigious honors each year.   It is widely recognized by professional scientists that the selection committee for Nobel Prizes in the sciences sometimes overlooks some very accomplished researchers who are truly outstanding [3].  Winning such a big honor can have both good and bad effects; it is not unusual that scientists winning one of these great awards suddenly find that it becomes more and more difficult to do further great research work because so very much attention, innumerable invitations, and enormous regard always are being directed onto them.

            Many of the different types of fun during a science career do not simply happen, but necessitate that the scientist has considerable dedication, patience, energy, determination, and flexibility.  Typically, fun occurs in conjunction with lots of hard work.  Being good at solving problems and having good luck always is a big help for research scientists working in both industries and universities.  Scientists can increase their fun and job satisfaction by finding a work environment that suits their individual characteristics, interests, and abilities.  Being a successful research scientist is not always easy, but one indeed can have considerable fun along the way!

[1]  The Nobel Prize, 2014.  876 Nobel Laureates since 1901.   Available on the internet at:
http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/index.html  .

[2]  The Kavli Prize, 2014.  The Kavli Prize – Science prizes for the future.   Available on the internet at:
http://www.kavliprize.no/artikkel/vis.html?tid=27868 .

[3]  E. Westly, 2008.   No Nobel for you: Top 10 Nobel snubs.   Available on the internet at:
http://www.scientificamerican.com/slideshow.cfm?id=10-nobel-snubs .

 

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WHICH GRADUATE SCHOOL SHOULD YOU ATTEND TO BECOME A SCIENTIST?

 

What Should I Investigate in Graduate School for my Ph.D.?  (http://dr-monsrs.net)
What Should I Research in Graduate School for my Ph.D.?           (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

            Your decision of which graduate school to attend in preparation for a career in scientific research will be of vital importance for the rest of your life.  Typically, you will work there for 3-8 years to construct a thesis, defend it successfully, and thereby earn a Ph.D.  Your thesis advisor will guide your endeavors, and functions as an academic parent; you will learn many practical skills, as well as what to do and what not to do in the mentor’s lab.  Your graduate school, doctoral thesis, and research activities will establish your professional identity as a particular kind of scientist (e.g., atomic physicist, cell biologist, solar astronomer, solid state chemist, theoretical physicist, virologist, etc.).

 

            Selection of which graduate school will be best for you is made difficult because so many variables are involved.  There are 4 main features that must be evaluated by you in order to  make this choice wisely: (1) presence of outstanding well-funded faculty scientists with busy laboratories; (2) size, scope, and organization of the graduate training program, particularly for the area of your prospective interest; (3) experimental facilities and research instrumentation available, including special equipment required for scientific investigations in your major field of interest; and, (4) reputation and track record of the department, school, and past graduates now working in scientific research. 

 

            The task of picking a good graduate school is a generic problem in matching varied students with the different training programs and atmosphere at each educational institution.  Just as any young prospective scientist has individual characteristics, strengths, and weaknesses, it must be recognized that each graduate school also has a distinctive character with advantages and disadvantages.  You should learn to list all these latter factors on a sheet of paper as objectively as you can; if your list is complete, then there should be no surprises later.  I have previously discussed some situations that are frequently negative in graduate school programs leading to a Ph.D. in science (see earlier post on “Graduate School Education of Scientists: What is Wrong Today?” in the Education category), and hopefully this might be useful for your evaluations. 

 

            The more information you can gather the easier will be your final decision.  Where is this info found and how is it retrieved?  Not everything that is very important for your choice is either publicized or obvious, so you will have to force some items to come out into the light.  Talking with currently enrolled students at the graduate school can provide much valuable information about the working atmosphere there.  Talking with other students who are in any graduate training program also often is informative.  Faculty members at your undergraduate college should provide some useful impressions and opinions.  Similarly, discussions with science faculty at  the prospective graduate school always are quite instructive; before meeting them, be certain to look up their research publications in science journals during the past few years .  The more facts and opinions you obtain, the better! 

 

             Your final selection must be confirmed by a personal visit to the campus.  That can be arranged with any graduate school, and is absolutely essential!  Your day-long stay should include time for attending a class or two, visiting a teaching laboratory, meeting a few current graduate students and postdocs, observing the available housing and nearby neighborhood, having lunch in the school cafeteria or departmental lunchroom, talking to some faculty scientists who have graduate students working in their lab, visiting the library and computer facilities, etc.  Do not hesitate to ask current students to see their mentor’s laboratory, to explain exactly what they are working on, to show you where they reside, and, to tell you what they perceive as the best and most difficult features of being a graduate student at that location.  Some appropriate graduate program official should be asked about the placements of their recent doctoral graduates with both postdoctoral positions and first jobs; you want to be at a school where all your hard work and special training pays off by starting you on a good career course, whether in academia, industry, or elsewhere. 

 

            Practical considerations often guide or restrict your choice, and these sometimes outweigh all other considerations.  Practical factors include the availability of financial support programs, previous personal contacts with members of the faculty, proximity of the school to some desired employment site or living quarters, distance from your parents’ residence, past association of a family member with a particular school or department, professional reputation of research by certain professors at the school being evaluated, announcement of a new program in exactly the research specialty that has your personal interest, etc. 

 

            Graduate school is a good place to learn and explore, but it is not the best time to begin to wonder about what you will do later as an independent adult.  Choosing between different graduate schools is best done after you have firmly decided that:  (1) you definitely want to be a research scientist, and (2) certain parts of science or certain research questions hold a large personal fascination for you.  Although I do know that many applicants to graduate schools nowadays have little feeling for what they will work on for their thesis project and future research investigations, I must state that it is definitely my opinion that being less certain about either of the 2 decisions listed above makes your choice of a graduate school much chancier.

 

            No graduate school is perfect, but some certainly are better than others for you.  Make certain you decide upon the training program and opportunities that are best suited for you.  This need not be the school with the most prominent reputation, the most Nobel Prize winners on its faculty, or the largest financial resources.  Some graduate students need more guidance and individual support than others, so be sure to select a school with those opportunities.  Your final selection should be a decision that is very personal, well thought out, and, elicits enthusiasm and excitement in you; as always, it also must be compatible with the different practical realities.

 

            Good luck with making a satisfying choice!  If you later find that you have made a big and bad  mistake, you usually can switch your thesis advisor, move to a different department at the same university, or transfer to a different graduate school.  Should you wish to ask non-specific questions to Dr.M about this topic, please leave these as a comment to this posting; Dr.M reads every single approved comment submitted to this website, and will briefly answer your questions.

 

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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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INTRODUCTION TO MONEY IN MODERN SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH

Dollars for Research.signedIt’s all money !  Is the purpose of research really just to acquire money ??                                                        (http://dr-monsrs.net)

           

            Money for experimental research plays a very large role in modern science.  The key importance of money is due to: (1) research studies are very expensive, (2) without money, almost no experimental studies can be conducted, (3) not all good ideas are able to be funded by the granting agencies, and, (4) large portions of research grant awards are not being spent for actual research expenses. 

 

            Most research support in the USA comes either from federal grants to universities and small businesses, or from internal budgets for research and development in industrial companies.  The sum of all this dedicated support for experimental research studies is many billions of dollars each year; this huge figure clearly demonstrates the great importance of scientific research for the good of all people.   In Fiscal Year 2011, the grand total of all grants awarded for support of research by the US National Science Foundation (NSF) was $5,103,500,000 [1].  The total research and development outlays for all nondefense studies from any sources in this same period were over 65 billion dollars [2].  These billion dollar sums prove that modern research indeed is very expensive.  Special fundung programs, often requiring establishment of a multi-user facility, have been set-up for applications to purchase very large and particularly expensive special research instruments. 

 

            Research grant funds are spent by scientists for the purchase of supplies (e.g., chemicals, blank DVDs, specimen holders, test tubes), acquisition or usage of some special research equipment (e.g., regulated very high temperature ovens, chromatography columns and systems, personal computers), and, purchase of business travel (e.g., to collect specimens or data in the field, to attend annual science meetings).  They also are used to pay for telephone usage and copying costs, employment of laboratory personnel, support of graduate students working in the laboratory, provision of partial  salary for the grant-holder (i.e., Principal Investigator), adjunctive costs of performing experiments (e.g., utilization of an institutional or regional research facilities, the costs of monitoring radiation exposure, care and housing for research animals), etc.  Unless someone pays, all these activities would stop. 

 

            Although there are federal and institutional oversight controls to verify which expenses are bonafide and necessary, the inherent nature of the present research grant system means that  large amounts of money are not being spent for direct support of the actual research experiments (i.e.,  therefore, my view is that they are being wasted!).  Some of these wated funds are spent on redundant or unnecessary expenses.  Other wastage comes from the frequent absence of organized mechanisms for re-assignment and re-use of expensive research equipment that is no longer needed (i.e., why pass along a 5-10 year old working research instrument belonging to the late Professor Jones, when the new faculty member, Assistant Professor Smith, can buy the very latest model with his newly awarded research grant?).  It is well-known amongst grant-holders that all awarded funds must be spent; there is no official capability to bank any unspent research grant funds, nor is there any encouragement to ever try to save money and then return unspent portions of the awarded funds. 

 

            The very largest inappropriate expenditure of research grant funds in my view is for payments of indirect costs.  Direct costs for scientific research are those necessarily spent to conduct experiments (see the many examples given above).  Indirect costs are those needed for such purposes as cleaning, heating, cooling, painting, and maintenance of the lab room(s), safety inspections, administrative activities, disposal of garbage and chemical waste, provision and drainage of water, etc.).  All of these expenditures for indirect costs are very necessary for the research conducted by faculty scientists, and certainly must be paid; however, I do question exactly who should pay for them.  At universities, many faculty in mathematics and computer science, the non-science faculty, and scholars working in library science, music, and art all need the same type of services listed above; however, the indirect costs of these faculty mostly are paid by some institutional entity.  Only faculty scientists holding a research grant and using a laboratory are required to pay for their indirect costs; senior doctoral scientists working at teaching and writing books, but no longer doing any laboratory studies, are not asked to pay for their indirect costs.  This selective targeting seems very peculiar to me. 

 

            At some academic institutions research grant payments for indirect costs are even larger than those for the direct costs.  Hence, big portions of research grant awards are being diverted away from their nominal purpose.  I must conclude that the payment of indirect costs by grants awarded to support scientific research constitutes a large waste of research grant funds and is not necessary.  My conclusion is very unusual since both the granting agencies and the universities agree to this peculiar policy.  I suspect, but cannot prove, that many working scientists holding research grants agree with me; I do know from talking with numerous university faculty scientists that most believe that current indirect cost rates are unrealistic and must be way too high. 


            All of the research grant awards now being misdirected to pay for indirect costs would be much better spent if they were used to permit more awards for direct costs to be made that (1) provide full, rather than only partial, funding, (2) give funding to a larger number of worthy applicants than is presently possible, and (3) enable some funding programs to extend for at least 10 years, instead of the 1-5 year period of support that is typical at present.  I will discuss all these issues and ideas for their solutions much further in later posts.

 

[1]   American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), 2013.  Research funding at the National Science Foundation, FY 2011.  Available on the internet at:

http://www.aaas.org/sites/default/files/migrate/uploads/DiscNSF.png .

[2]   American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), 2013.  Trends in nondefense R&D (research and devlopment) by function (FY 2011).  Available on the internet at:

http://www.aaas.org/sites/default/files/migrate/uploads/FunctionNON.jpg .

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HOW DO WE KNOW WHAT IS TRUE ?

How do many persons decide what is true?
           How do people decide what is really true ?      (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

       Most of us believe that something is true because we are taught such at home, in school, or by some expert authority.  For science, the truth is judged mostly by evaluating the experimental evidence; the more evidence supporting an accepted viewpoint or theory, the greater is the certainty that it really is true.  Thus, scientists work to test and establish what we can regard as being true.  A truth that is bonafide will be consistent with other observations and experimental data, and enables valid predictions to be made; an apparent truth that really is false does not have these two cardinal characteristics. 

 

            History is full of examples where some very widely accepted truth, idea, or dogma was later proven to be false, either in whole or in part.  Testing hypotheses and re-examining accepted conclusions or established theories is a large part of the ongoing job of scientists.  Research scientists openly question all truths, theories, and dogmas.  Thomas Edison, the very famous inventor (see my recent post on “Inventors and Scientists”), is quoted as having often said, “I accept almost nothing dealing with electricity without thoroughly testing it first” [1].  Nevertheless, research scientists, just like all other people, must accept many provisional truths in order to be able to move forward with daily life both at home and in the laboratory; this general acceptance that yesterday continues into today and then on into tomorrow is a very strong practical necessity. 

 

There are plenty of controversies in both classical and modern science.  In biomedicine, there are long-debated opposing theories about what actually is the essential nature of cancer (i.e., neoplasia).  In chemistry, there are still-ongoing disputes about the detailed structure of water.  In physics, there are large disagreements about the existence, genesis, and properties of certain fundamental subatomic particles and forces.  These major controversies are both very important and very difficult targets for modern researchers.  There also are numerous smaller disputes and arguments being generated all the time.  Having all these controversies and disagreements in science is very good because they force research scientists to continue to explore, to think analytically about alternative explanations, to doubt and wonder “what if ?”, and, to be able to ask unconventional questions. 

 

For ordinary people (i.e., non-scientists), daily life usually goes on without encountering many changes in the accepted truths.  Nevertheless, it must be understood that what is regarded as being true today can change tomorrow as a result of new research results.  Scientists and other scholars (e.g., archeologists, economists, historians, museum directors, paleontologists, statisticians, etc.) as professional questioners of the truth, will advise us about some perceived need to modify our current beliefs as a result of new research findings.  To be certain, any new proposals, unexpected research results, and unconventional interpretations always remain doubted and debated until more extensive evidence can be piled up.  Changes in what we have long regarded as being true should not be feared, since these will increase our grasp of reality; it is ignorance and dogmas that should be feared.  The discovery of new truths by scientific research can create new concepts, new assumptions, and new insights, thereby causing progress in the extent of our knowledge and understanding.   

 

[1]   Beals, G., 1999.  The biography of Thomas Edison.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.thomasedison.com/biography.html .  

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INVENTORS & SCIENTISTS

            Inventors work to design and make some new device or substance, or, to discover some new process.  Ideally, these self-directed creators secure a patent and are able to get commercial production and usage started.  Basic scientists work to discover new truth, test a hypothesis, or disprove an accepted false truth.  They do this by conducting experiments, so as to investigate various research questions and to test specific proposals (e.g., about cause and effect).  Commercial products can follow basic discoveries only through further studies and much work by others in applied research and engineering.  Applied scientists and engineers seek to change the properties or improve the performance of some known model device or existing commercial product. 

 

            Certain inventors also are scientists, and some scientists also are inventors.  Both make discoveries, tend to be very creative, and can have major effects on their fellow humans.  In general, almost all modern scientists have earned a doctoral degree, but many inventors are ordinary people who have not acquired an advanced academic diploma.  Scientists generally work in a laboratory or out in the field, while inventors often work in their basement, attic, or garage.  Scientists often seek in-depth knowledge and can have wide professional interests, while inventors usually are highly focused on knowledge only in the small area involving their invention(s).  Today, scientists most often are employees receiving a paycheck (i.e., from companies or universities); inventors often toil on their own time while being paid for some regular job; inventors usually receive no money until their invention advances to attract cosponsors or to initiate commercial development and production. 

 

            By tradition, both inventors and scientists often have vigorous curiosity and a driving determination.  Both inventors and scientists can be highly individualistic people with flamboyant personalities; inventors especially often encounter remarkable adventures with their work activities.  Inventors of exceptional caliber always are controversial and do not come forth very often.  Probably the most famous inventor in history of the USA is Thomas A. Edison (1847 – 1931) [1-3]; he is frequently recognized for re-inventing or vastly improving the incandescent light bulb; discovering the phonograph (sound recorder and player); inventing the kinetograph (cinematographic recorder), kinetoscope (cinema viewer and projector), and a simple cylindrical voice recorder (for dictation); constructing an urban electrical generation and distribution system; and, inventing an improved electrical storage battery.  Edison received his first patent in 1868, for an electronic vote counter intended to be used in a state legislature; by his death at age 84, he had acquired the phenomenal total of 1,093 patents [1-3].  In addition to being both an inventor and a scientific researcher, Edison also was a vigorous industrialist; he founded a small  manufacturing company that now has grown into the industrial giant, General Electric.  Edison  had factory facilities built adjacent to his extensive research center and large private home/estate in West Orange, New Jersey; the laboratory and house are part of the Thomas Edison National Historic Park, and both can be very enjoyably visited in person [4].  It is remarkable to note that Edison was been home- and self-schooled.  Thomas Edison is remembered today as simultaneously being a life-long inventor, a scientist, an engineer, and an industrialist. 

 

            Another immensely creative inventor and visionary scientist was Nikola Tesla (1856 -1943) [5,6].   Born in what is now Croatia and educated in Europe, the young Tesla moved to New York where he worked directly with Thomas Edison.  Tesla’s brilliance in designing and improving electrical circuits and devices was evident with his invention of a small motor that could successfully utilize alternating current (AC), which he also invented; Edison and others had developed and forcefully promoted the use of direct current (DC) for electrical power generation and distribution in the USA, but AC later proved to be much better for practical use.  Tesla probably was the true inventor of radio, and, might have been the discover of x-rays [5,6].  He also designed and built circuits and special apparatus for radio and television transmissions, recorded one of the first x-ray images of a human hand, designed and invented fluorescent light bulbs as a new type of electric lamp, and, experimented with the progenitors of radar, diathermy machines, and automobile ignition coils [5,6].  Tesla utilized ozone to make water potable.  In 1960, the standard scientific unit of magnetic flux was designated as “the Tesla” in his honor.  Despite the extravagent Hollywood version of Nikola Tesla as the primordial “mad scientist”, he now is widely recognized and acclaimed as a visionary throughout the world; he now is seen as having been an amazingly creative and constructive inventor, as well as a determined researcher and explorer in electrical engineering [5,6]. 

 

[1]   Beals, G., 1999.  The biography of Thomas Edison.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.thomasedison.com/biography.html . 

[2]   Bedi, J., The Lemelson Center, Smithsonian National Museum of American History, 2013.  Edison’s story.  Available on the internet at:  http://invention.smithsonian.org/centerpieces/edison/000_story_02.asp . 

[3]   Bellis, M., 2013.  The inventions of Thomas Edison.  History of phonograph – lightbulb – motion pictures.  Available on the internet at:  http://inventors.about.com/library/inventors/bledison.htm . 

[4]   National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 2013.  Thomas Edision National Historical Park.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.nps.gov/edis/index.htm .

[5]   Serbia SOS, 2013.  Available on the internet by first finding Famous Serbs on the display at the following blog, and then clicking on “Nikola Tesla (1856-1943) – Scientist and Inventor, the Genius who Lit the World”, at: http://serbiasos.blogspot.com/p/serbs.html .

[6]   Twenty-First Century Books, 2013.  Interesting facts about Nikola Tesla – Table of contents.        Available on the internet at:  http://www.tfcbooks.com/teslafaq/toc.htm . 

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

           

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

 

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

 

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

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WHAT DO UNIVERSITY SCIENTISTS REALLY DO IN THEIR DAILY WORK ?

FINAL.Cartoon What is Research#2

HAT DO UNIVERSITY SCIENTISTS ACTUALLY DO IN THEIR DAILY WORK 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

1.   thinking, questioning, and planning;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

            references and citations for manuscripts; and, 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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