Scientists and Other People

I am not a great fan of SCIENCE (the journal;) I am a practitioner of Science. Or so I tell myself.

The former is primarily because SCIENCE (the journal) is one of the last bastions of Victorian propriety. It (arguably with NATURE) are the premiere journals of science. It is also dedicated to respectability and stodginess. SCIENCE is not where one will publish the next great thing in Physics. (The last great things were Relativity and Quantum Mechanics.) 

But occasionally they slip up and publish something strange. Such is an article [Link] entitled “When you’re the scientist in the family.” The author is apparently a biologist and he seems to have never gotten the idea that biologists do different things than physicists or chemists or geologists. 

The article is either about horror or humor, and I can’t tell which it is. I suspect both.

To give a sample, here are his major headings:

  • Playing fast and loose with the definition of a work day. 
  • Flippantly saying “do something in the lab for, like, 10 minutes” when you clearly mean “do something in the lab for an indeterminate length of time.” 
  • Easily remembering scientific facts and figures, alongside a frustrating inability to remember useful information at home.
  • Making fun things not fun. 
  • Going to graduate school. I am so, so sorry.

You’ll have to access his article (outside paywall) to see his filler. But I can respond a bit in my usual snarky muddling fashion.

I never played fast and loose with the work day. At least once I got out of graduate schule and got married. Spouses are precious and any sacrifice is never too big.

My employer always played fast and loose with the work day. FD SCP and I worked at the same place; she enumerating legumes; I doing rabbinical physics. What’s rabbinical physics? Think Einstein at the Patent Office. The physics that matters is not done at work. So during the work week I did what was needed for the employment and the rest of the time – as I was able – I did real stuff. And occasionally they actually overlapped.

Nor have I done stuff in lab since I married. That phase of my life ended with a master’s degree and the realization that I was a maximum klutz. They talk about mad scientists destroying the world. Never about klutz scientists doing so. They should. That’s the real threat. But the temporal aspect is accurate. Science knows no schedule, which is one of the reasons I became a manager so I could counteract the accountants and Sloan graduates and project managers who had been programmed that all work stayed on schedule and budget. Simply put, anything not made in a factory isn’t and sometimes more than that.

The problem with remembering home information is that it is cast as important (patently false) and it isn’t engaging. My trick was to write it down in a small (pocket) notebook and lose the notebook. Eventually I grew out of the latter. Part of the problem is also that if you’re a theoretician the lab is between your ears and inside a (bigger) notebook. So thinking crowds out the home information.

As to fun, there is no more bigger fun than figuring some twist of reality out. That’s one of the primary differences between bogs and nerds: what is fun. So in my mind this complaint is a contradiction since the two funs are immiscible.

Finally, graduate schule is a necessary evil. Yes, it’s a horrible environment that ought to be banned under the Geneva Convention.  Slavery and Abuse almost unending. But it’s the best way yet to learn how to science. And yes, it does change you mind and temperament. But if it didn’t we’d all still be shaving our heads in circles and talking to imaginary friends. As adults. 

Sometimes I think the problem is not the science nerds but all the other folks. But all it takes is one thought of FD SCP to dismiss that idea. It’s just that some folks are Bosons and some are Fermions and that’s ok until you try to mix them.