Clarity

Jun 26 2014 Published by under Conduct of Science, Mentoring, Tribe of Science

This sentence gave me cold chills.

Younger scientists need protection from the ambitions of their elders.

22 responses so far

  • I'm confused why that dude thinks that the big science versus small science dialectic has anything to do with youngsters and elders. Some of the most ambitious big science hucksters I know are pretty junior, and some of the least ambitious small-town grocers I know are geezers.

    Regardless, I don't see why it should give you cold chills.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Because you are in the "ambitions" camp of course.

  • meshugena313 says:

    That piece hits the nail on the head for me - I think that labeling tubes in the cold room and spinning shit in the centrifuge and playing with radioactivity made me a scientist. Forget about big vs little science - hell, I love using all the big science data that's publicly available but we do small-town grocer shit directly in my lab.

    I think Tomasson's point was that we should give opportunities to real youngsters to get excited about science so that they become scientists. That's not mutually exclusive with ambitious big science.

  • rxnm says:

    I think it's pretty easy to identify PIs who see the servicing of their ambitions as a privilege others should want. What I don't get is the difference between postdocs drawn to that vs postdocs who run the other way.

    I agree this is not always an old/young thing.

  • DJMH says:

    Link broken?

  • Comradde PhysioProffe says:

    In big science projects, there's still people "labeling tubes in the cold room". I really don't get what the sniveling is about.

  • rxnm says:

    Someone got to Tomasson... post is gone.

  • AnonLady says:

    I think it's pretty easy to identify PIs who see the servicing of their ambitions as a privilege others should want.

    As a young scientist, unfortunately, I had to work for one before I learned how to spot the type. I thought their research *was* really interesting, but they were hell to work for.

  • His post isn't gone. The link is just borked and doesn't show up on the blog's front page...

  • I'm somewhat tired of the "small science"/"big science" debate because so much of the "small science" nostalgia is simply that -- nostalgia. Science is all about getting bigger and bigger datasets. Sure, in the 1980s you could get papers in "Nature" for cloning and sequencing a single gene. Now it's often hard to publish an entire genome unless you have something really interesting to say about it. That's just progress.

  • rxnm says:

    A genome is definitely small science. Bringing back a rock from the moon is big science. It has nothing to with dataset size.

  • The classic "big science" project in biology was the Human Genome Project. That *was* the equivalent of getting a moon rock and required the collaboration of thousands. Yes, *now* genome sequencing is small science, but that's my point. It will be the same thing with this big brain map initiative. In twenty years it will become so routine that grad students will be expected to make their own brain maps as part of their project.

  • rxnm says:

    It does not follow that all big projects are worth doing.

    I chose getting moon rocks for a reason.

  • kevin. says:

    Mars, bitches!!!!!!

  • drugmonkey says:

    Science is all about getting bigger and bigger datasets.

    Wrong. Arrogantly and ignorantly so.

  • Dr. Noncoding Arenay says:

    Wait, aren't they planning to mine the moon based on moon rock science? It was so worth doing!...!...! :^/

  • AcademicLurker says:

    The Human Genome Project was indeed both Big Science and very valuable, both because of the actual sequences and because of the techniques developed along the way. But as rxnm points out, it doesn't follow the every big science project will be similarly valuable.

    In my own corner of science, I would point to the Protein Structure Initiative as an attempt to mimic the HGP which yielded minimal genuine value relative to the resources consumed.

  • dsks says:

    "In my own corner of science, I would point to the Protein Structure Initiative as an attempt to mimic the HGP which yielded minimal genuine value relative to the resources consumed."

    Fearsome propaganda engine aside, it's not at all clear the HGP was that good value for money either. The problem with this sort of Big Science is that there is never a parallel control to compare what would have happened without the boondoggle with what happened with it. And because the boondoggle rarely reverses the science, then the inevitable temporal progress made can be ascribed to said boondoggle ("Ah! Success! We should do this again and again and, hey, why even bother with investigator-initiated projects when we can get $140 back for every dollar of every boondoggle we fund! Weeeee for magical money trees! All ahead flank speed on the Brain Initiative!!" &c, &c, and so forth.

  • Either we are just naturally smarter than our colleagues from past decades or we just have more data. Those are the only two possibilities given our greater success at answering scientific questions. Our data, rather than any interpretation of it, is more important than our transitory interpretation of it. Which is why is it is of utmost importance for fields which haven't bothered to create standard data formats to get on it asap.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    "Greater success"? How so?

  • Hopefully you agree that newer papers are closer to the truth than older ones. Otherwise it is hard to justify doing new science.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    That doesn't make the success "greater".

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