Sunday, December 9, 2007

Science is social

For reasons that will remain unexplained, I've been watching a Japanese show about a physicist who solves crimes using his amazing physicist abilities. The physicist sometimes fulfills the scientist stereotype, and sometimes subverts it. For example, in one episode, another protagonist tells him that he is more interested in numbers than people. Later, the physicist explains that scientists have a dull life (what!?) and seldom meet people, but are not anti-social.

I appreciate the effort to humanize scientists, but the characterization is still false, at least in my experience. I've found that scientists in fact meet lots of people. We basically deal with information and knowledge, so we must perpetually be in contact with other people. I only do a small amount of research, but I still need to meet once a week. The rest of the week, I make-do with lots of e-mails.

Secondly, scientists do not spend most of their time in a dim lab repeating the same experiment over and over. Relatively little time is spent in lab--much more time is spent analyzing the results of experiments than actually performing them. In fact, scientists get to travel a lot. They often go to science conferences, which are all over the world. My professor goes to several of these a year. He also travels to see nearly every solar eclipse, and travels to set up or check on magnetometers, which are placed all over the world. Indeed, traveling is so important to science that it is a force for peace between nations. Go science!