8 Myths About Scientists
I stumbled across this in Thick Books and Thin Films by Adam Ruben. Pretty good.
Myth #1: Scientists frequently make “breakthroughs.”
Truth: Scientific discovery is agonizingly slow. The only time I’ve ever run naked through the streets yelling “Eureka!” is when I forgot to refill my prescription.
Myth #2: Scientists work in isolation.
Truth: Scientists are even prouder of setting up collaborations than they are of actual results. Most scientific talks end with a slide listing all collaborators like little badges of honor—and the less similar the collaborator’s field, the prouder the scientist. “Well, you know, I might have discovered a cure for tuberculosis,” a scientist will say, “but what I’m really excited about is this new collaboration with an Icelandic poet!”
Myth #3: Scientists possess useful skills.
Truth: Scientists possess useful laboratory skills. But you should never allow a physicist to wire your house.
Myth #4: Scientists follow the scientific method as it was taught in high school: Observation, Question, Research, Hypothesis, Experiment, Conclusion.
Truth: In reality, the way scientists work is more like: Fiddle Around, Find Something Weird, Retest It, It Doesn’t Happen a Second Time, Get Distracted Trying to Make It Happen Again, Go to Chipotle, Recall the Original Purpose of Your Research, Start Over, Apply for Funding for a Better Instrument, Publish Some Interim Fluff, Learn That Someone Has Scooped You, Take Your Lab in a New Direction, Apply for Funding for the New Direction, Collaborate With an Icelandic Poet, Eat Chipotle With an Icelandic Poet, Co-Write Scientifically Accurate Ode to Walrus, Get Interested in Something Unrelated, Apply for Funding for Something Unrelated, Notice That 20 Years Have Passed.
Myth #5: Experiments always yield data that teach or reveal something.
Truth: Let’s say you’re doing an experiment with five mice. These particular mice will turn either yellow or blue. So you walk into the lab expecting to see five yellow mice, which will point to one explanation, or five blue mice, which will point to the other. Instead you would see one yellow mouse, one green mouse, one striped mouse, one plaid mouse (dead), and one mouse that has somehow sewn himself a little blue jacket, though he doesn’t wear it all the time.
Myth #6: A personal tragedy can turn a scientist evil.
Truth: Very few scientists are legitimately evil, though the number rises if you ask graduate students to characterize their advisers. Besides, it’s hard to be truly evil when you don’t have any practical skills.
Myth #7: A scientist can be proficient in all branches of science.
Truth: Exactly what discipline did the professor from Gilligan’s Island specialize in? Chemistry? Mechanical engineering? Coconut-based transistor radio construction? Any time a problem needed solving or a device needed building, the professor knew exactly how to do it. That guy could make anything. Except a boat.
People who don’t understand science assume that scientists can master any subfield. That’s why we’re often asked for our opinions about scientific news items, and we can only reply, “Uh … sorry … I know I’m a molecular phylogeneticist, and this story was about molecular phylogenetics, but, well, I’m a different kind of molecular phylogeneticist.”
Myth #8: Scientists are not sexy beasts.
Truth: Scientists are indeed sexy beasts. Not only do our lab coats make us look dapper and charming, those same coats look even better strewn unceremoniously over a standing lamp while we make passionate love to you.