Scott Kern's Message

Oct 05 2010 Published by under #FWDAOTI, Careerism, Conduct of Science

You've read the stupid commentary "Where's the Passion?" by Scott E. Kern, M.D. (pictured; note wedding ring) telling scientists they have no right to a life or a 40 hr workweek so long as cancer remains uncured. "It is Sunday afternoon on a sunny, spring day. I’m walking the halls—all of them—in a modern $59 million building dedicated to cancer research. A half hour ago, I completed a stroll through another, identical building. You see, I’m doing a survey. And the two buildings are largely empty...off-site laypersons offer comments on my observations. 'Don’t the people with families have a right to a career in cancer research also?' I choose not to answer. How would I? Do the patients have a duty to provide this “right”, perhaps by entering suspended animation?"

You've joined the hilarious Twitter fun with #k3rn3d!

Now read the analysis that cuts to the chase, penned by theshortearedowl:

Kern's whole piece is a thinly disguised attack on women in science. He wants to return to the good ol' days when a man could just spend all his time in the lab, when he's not sitting around with other men talking about how very manly and scientific they are, and have the old ball and chain at home taking care of all the boring bits of life, like laundry and children and stuff, so he can do so.

Yeah. This.

This sums up all that is wrong with these jerks (Kern is not alone in this "kids these days should spend more time in the lab" nonsense). Their obsessive vocational approach to science was made possible in many cases by a spouse who picked up the pieces for them at home. In sadly too many more cases, Obsessive Vocational Scientist Man operated at the expense of children who had a Dad who was never around, couldn't make the weekend soccer game, was constantly out of town on business and had to hide out in his study when he did manage to stay at home for a few hours.

The younger generations have chosen a different path. Deal, old grumpy dude. Deal. Your personal failure to cure pancreatic cancer (and thereby justify the choices you made vis a vis your personal life) are not the fault of the trainees you would like so desperately to exploit even more than you do already.

So Vogelstein got a big rep in part from the p53 work you did in his lab? And you haven't had a soulless, zombie lab-slave make a similarly big discovery or breakthrough that would make your reputation in turn?

Call the waaaahmbulance.

44 responses so far

  • becca says:

    Kern knew he was going to be attacked on that front. Thus the pre-emptive vaguely dogwhistle like comment of "cancer affects all these people- women of reproductive age included!".
    I think we could chalk up total obliviousness to the women-in-science angle to a classic failure of recognizing privilege. But since he's not oblivious to it, he clearly feels utterly entitled to his existence being subsidized by under-recognized work of teh women, so long as he's using it to cure cancer.
    In other words, he feels totally entitled to participate in an exploitative culture, so long as HE benefits and can pursue HIS "passion"- and then, with a straight face, he manages to pretend it's all a matter of selfless dedication to patients on his part. *puke on shoes, puke on shoes, puke on shoes*

  • Maitri says:

    I love the comments after I tweeted K3rn's essay. For one: "and why does he have so much fucking time to stroll the halls bugging people trying to get work done? grab a lab coat, grandpa."

  • Dorothea says:

    m/

  • chemicalbilology says:

    Yes DM, Becca and Maitri!!!! Haha!! Right on to all of this.

  • Beaker says:

    The other factor that skews Kern's view is the funding situation. Although we've all endured insane 1 or 2- day grant deadline marathons, the better way to write grants is to put in a good 3-5 hrs per day of quality time for a couple of months on end. The rest of each day is only good for editing, administrative stuff, and lab management. Indeed, many people do their best grant writing on the weekends, working from home. No time to make it to the bench. If writing grants is taking up most of your time, then you are not positioned to do those 3-day 12 hr mega-experiments you did as a postdoc. I've got news for Kern: as I PI, I'm working just as hard as I did during my postooc years--I'm just not on site, pipetting. Frankly, I'd be much happier if I WAS pipetting more.

  • Jim Thomerson says:

    This is from the Monday Austin American Statesman newspaper. Univ. Texas has hired a new Assistant Professor, a 2002 PhD. According to the department chair, "We were looking for an immunologist who's a real star, and we got one." The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas awarded $2 million for start up costs. One presumes Kern would be appalled that she is married and has two young daughters.

  • eleusis says:

    Dr. Kern should read "Why Crunch Mode Doesn't Work":

    http://archives.igda.org/articles/erobinson_crunch.php

    "More than a century of studies show that long-term useful worker output is maximized near a five-day, 40-hour workweek. Productivity drops immediately upon starting overtime and continues to drop until, at approximately eight 60-hour weeks, the total work done is the same as what would have been done in eight 40-hour weeks."

    "Workers can maintain productivity more or less indefinitely at 40 hours per five-day workweek. When working longer hours, productivity begins to decline. Somewhere between four days and two months, the gains from additional hours of work are negated by the decline in hourly productivity."

    "The ability to do complex mental tasks degrades faster than physical performance does. Among knowledge workers, the productivity loss due to excessive hours may begin sooner and be greater than it is among soldiers, because our work is more affected by mental fatigue. "

    "A hundred years of industrial research has proven beyond question that exhausted workers create errors that blow schedules, destroy equipment, create cost overruns, erode product quality, and threaten the bottom line. They are a danger to their projects, their managers, their employers, each other, and themselves. "

  • eleusis says:

    I know this is capitalism, but there's nothing noble about working exhaustingly long hours. It is actually stupid, inefficient, and downright dangerous. Automobile accidents and on-the-job-errors (such as prescribing too high a dose of medicine) increase significantly for medical interns who work long shifts. We are not machines. Humans performed best under a balanced lifestyle: the "eight hours of work, eight hours of play, eight hours of rest" that was espoused even centuries ago.

  • Dear Scott Kern,

    Regarding Monday to Friday:
    I research when I want to, man. I'll show more passion when I feel more respected. Where's my guaranteed multimillion dollar contract that I can renegotiate for more at the slightest sign of over-performance? So you built a billion dollar stadi...errr. research facility --- it ain't putting any more food on my table, y'know? I'm told, in this society, that it is all about supply and demand, and all about what the market will bear. Well, if there was really a pressing need in the market, I'd be making a fuckton more money, not fighting for subsistence level funding. And it is not about the money, you know, it's a matter of respect. If you want more, you'd be paying me more. It's just a matter of what the market will bear. That, and respect.

    Regarding weekends (or Sunday afternoons on sunny spring days):
    You want me to research more, well then pay me more. yeah, we all love research but at the end of the day it's a business, man. I could work my ass off and then get cut...errrr... not have my grant renewed and then what?

    So the bottom line is this: If you aint payin...errr respecting me more, then what you're saying is that there isn't really a great demand for my skills in the marketplace. So either show me the respect or quit bitchin.

  • Zuska says:

    The most pathetic thing about K3rn's Whiney McWhinerson act is that he isn't even original. If he submitted that shit to the Mansplainer Foundation it would get summarily rejected for (1) not enough preliminary data, (2) craptastic data collection methods/protocols, and the death knell, (3) Not Original Work.

  • MitoScientist says:

    Am I alone in thinking that it is absurd that cancer patients are theoretically affording researchers rights? When did researchers, cancer or otherwise, begin to "owe" patients suffering from the disease being investigated, anything? This isn't to say that science isn't a calling, of course. I, like most who go into science I'm fairly certain, made the decision to train in biomedical science so that I could contribute to helping people. I have made a choice to put my time, effort, (supposed) intelligence, and creativity into progressing science, and hopefully medicine, in my small niche. Every moment I spend doing any science is a moment that might not have been spent on said disease by someone else. The fact I, or anybody else working on the science of a disease, are doing this, seems to me to imply patients should be grateful to some extent, if anything, that we have dedicated ourselves to helping them. All the patients I have met that suffer from my diseases of study have been enthusiastic and happy to meet our team members, not pissed that we weren't in the lab last Saturday. Am I totally off base, or does anyone else think this?

  • Eli Rabett says:

    One of my grad students had a system where he set out to complete one task per day and worked until that got done and then he went home to his family. Worked out ok and taught me how much time I waste doing things like commenting on blogs

  • Forget the researchers, why is ANYONE spending money on frivolous things like nice dinners, clothes and vacations while cancer is still not cured? Shouldn't they be donating every single penny and forgoing every single luxury until that glorious day?

    No? It's just the researchers who are supposed to sacrifice any kind of life and enjoyment?

    Too bad. Well, if there's not going to be a sudden massive influx of money, I'd better get back to writing grants instead of having anything as luxurious and unnecessary as a lunch break.

  • skeptifem says:

    Aww darn. I thought he was going towards a peter singer style "charity should be mandatory" kind of thing, by saying our economy should prioritize medical research and make more shifts (& workers to fill em). Having half the population kept away from researching doesn't make much sense, considering. Doesn't it put research at a disadvantage to keep the dudes only approach? If you exclude 1/2 of the candidates for arbitrary reasons (like gender) you will end up with more mediocre people being hired and with really stellar thinkers excluded. Does this thought never cross the minds of dudes like scott? It isn't that much of a leap.

  • skeptifem says:

    "Forget the researchers, why is ANYONE spending money on frivolous things like nice dinners, clothes and vacations while cancer is still not cured? Shouldn’t they be donating every single penny and forgoing every single luxury until that glorious day?"

    If I were to prioritize tradgedies the cancer cures of well off western people would be low on the list. There are completely preventable illnesses and starvation and torture and a global trade in human slavery (for sex or other purposes). People should not spend on luxuries and give money away as a basic part of human decency. Dollars spent on luxury items are the agents of life to other people.

    I don't care if a person is a researcher or not- everyone should give more. A lot more. I am guilty too, I won't defend frivolous spending as acceptable. It is morally wrong.

  • mateo luiz says:

    here's an idea..... the funding system is not optimized for "curing cancer." it's optimized for perpetuating careers.

  • P Smith says:

    I sent this to Kern. I'll let you know if I get a reply:

    ------------------------------------------------------------

    I read your diatribe on others' work ethics and I have to say it's the funniest thing I've read in a long time. If you were trying to write parody and humour, you couldn't have been more effective.

    "Do we have the army we need in this war? Where is the passion?"

    You should change your name from Kern to Kurtz. You read like Brando during his "arm chopping" speech in Apocalypse Now: "If I had ten divisions of those men, our troubles here would be over very quickly". And you sound just as demented.

    http://www.imdb.com/character/ch0002962/quotes

    Obsession is not passion, and obedience is not commitment. My fellow comp-sci students who spent 40 hours a week in class and labs did just as well as myself and those who spent evenings and weekends in the lab, but we the latter did it because we *enjoyed* it. I learnt more than the work-week types, but both were equally able after graduating.

    I hope you enjoyed making yourself a laughing stock of the internet.

    "Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret."
    - Ambrose Bierce

  • El Picador says:

    Soooo many people who clearly hate children with cancer. You should be ashamed of yourselves. Get back to the bench!

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  • jessa says:

    Wow. Just wow. I recently came across this article looking to see what my old mentor Scott Kern has been up to lately. Even though it looks like this is four years old and the link to his commentary is gone, I feel compelled to post a comment.

    I spent years training with Scott in his pancreatic cancer lab at Hopkins. He was an incredible mentor and a natural ability to see things from odd angles that the rest of us overlooked.

    But, more than any other feature of my time with Scott, one thing stood above all. He is a fantastic Dad. He was OUT of there at 5:30pm. Granted his day started at 4am (I remember that he always joked that he woke up at 4am, once the coffee from 3am kicked in). He was at the dinner table every night, he made it a priority.

    I have since left science in favor of being a stay at home mom. One thing I noticed while I was training is that the women mentors in the field were not home tucking in their babies. I distinctly remember standing on the dark sidewalk looking up at a bright lab window and seeing a woman faculty member in the lab. I thought "what are her little girls doing right now" I thought--I can't be like that.

    I can tell you for sure that at Scott's house, he was there reading Goodnight Moon. I know that for sure.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    I just saved the above from the filter. In fairness thought I should point it out.

  • bad wolf says:

    Why does everyone at Johns Hopkins spend so much time looking at the other labs through the windows? Is this some sort of key to success? Or do they just have big windows?

  • Common Sense says:

    I realize I'm a few years late on this, but as someone who knows Dr. Kern, I feel compelled to comment.

    He certainly dedicated to his work, but it is not due to a lack of family values. His father died from lung cancer, his wife had breast cancer, and his daughter has leukemia. Curing cancer could not be more personal for him.

    Furthermore, I have never met a person more dedicated to their family than Scott. He did leave work at strictly 5:30, everyday. Additionally, his wife is a brilliant cancer researcher, also at Hopkins. Frankly, the idea that he doesn't support women in cancer research is both blasphemous and unfair.

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  • Debra Kern Pennington says:

    Scott's physician sister here. Scott Kern made the breakfasts, saw his 3 girls off to school, cooked the dinners, read the bedtime stories, and was as good a dad and husband as you could ever find. Scott is passionate about his research, passionate about his family, and as much as his rival sister hates to admit it, he grew up to be an amazing guy.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Goodie for him. His op/Ed was still jackassery of the highest order. And very bad for science and all of the people who are in it.

  • Fuckyou says:

    When did the definition of 'passion' become 'working harder for unjustified low levels of compensation'? It takes a lot of goddamned nerve to pay academic PhDs what they earn today.

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