Showing off

I’m going to steal another page out of Young Female Scientist‘s book and say a little about the social aspect of the sciences.

Science, like any other creation of [wo]man, is a social event. You cannot do science in a vacuum, at least not anymore. Maybe when Homo erectus was just getting his feet under him, he could choose to start from first premises and invent everything he needed himself, but now it is impossible. Almost every method we use has mankind’s footprint on it in one way or another. This is okay–I, for one, am glad we have mass spectrometers and thermometers, to say the least. It’s not a crime to use something that someone else has created to make science easier. That is what science is: Gaining knowledge in order to make life better. Specific opinions of both what is “better” and what causes life to be better notwithstanding, let’s for the sake of argument say that

more knowledge = better

without getting down to the thorny problems of automatic weapons and nuclear warheads.

Science is social in another way, of course. We, as scientists cannot go through life without interacting with other scientists, or even sometimes with (gasp!) the public. We haven’t always been as connected as we are today–just look at Newton and Leibniz and the invention of calculus–but we have always sort of mothed for good or ill toward the same flame, if only for the opportunity to speak with people who could understand what we were saying. You would think that this would be a good thing: More people working together = science goes faster. Except for that other nefarious beast which has inundated every sector of our society:

Politics.

Yes, our good old friend. How many roads must a man walk down before he runs into another man who tries to smoothly extort something from him? I am a bit rough with politics, if you hadn’t noticed. It can be fun sometimes, if you are on the inside, but I haven’t yet found a use for manipulating people to do something that I by rights should be doing myself. I especially don’t need the people around me trying to make me do things by lying to me. When did science become just as political as, well, politics?

I’m a graduate student at the University of North Dakota, if you didn’t already know this. Which rather explicitly narrows down who in particular I may be talking about here, but for the moment let’s assume I am at Everycollege, USA, where everything is political and nothing gets done. Let me take a moment and explain that I, at this very moment, am playing politics. Or am I? There is a grey area between my desire to be brutally honest to serious questions asked of me, and my desire to continue to go to school here. Since no one has asked me a direct question, I can afford to be vague, which is a plus of my type of morality. In any case, I am not being specific because a) I don’t know any specifics and b) I don’t know the people in question very well. But I digress.

Politics, as in any heirarchical setting, is rampant here. Why is this? We’re all scientists. We’re supposed to be objective. I suppose we should subscribe to objectivism or, that failing to be accepted, TANSTAAFL. Something for something. Now what, you ask, is the difference between this and our current political system? Simply, that everything in politics is promises. Now, there seems to be an implicit promise between my advisor and myself that I do exactly what he asks of me, and in the end I will get a little bit of the credit. Where did this come from? When did I sign on for this? I barely know this man (of course, I did agree to work with him), and all of a sudden I am beholden. [This is an interesting line I put in here.  I can’t remember what I was specifically referencing about my advisor, but my guess is that I was 22 with a chip on my shoulder. 2014-05-03]

I’m not above paying my dues, but let’s say I write a paper on something that I end up studying here, within the next year or so. Let’s also say I don’t tell him about it, and he has no input on the subject. What is the deal? Am I to be ostracized, for example, for not including someone who had no part in putting this paper together? This remains purely hypothetical, but for some reason my experience tells me that this would be a problem–but why? [Again, I seem to be extrapolating because I felt like I didn’t get credit for something.  The irony being that I always say I’m being as honest as possible–maybe I wasn’t? 2014-03-05]

I am very much in favor of advancing science, of releasing data, of giving people as much information as is known about a certain subject. I don’t want to keep things hidden, store them away for 50 years just because I am a jealous bastard. No, I want science to proceed. There is another thing at issue here, which is my own self-preservation. Somehow (and this is a magical process I do not fully understand), published work turns into money [I still don’t get how this works. 2014-03-05], which can be exchanged for goods and services, to quote Homer Simpson. I am not an anarchist, and I need to survive too. Science is how I choose to do this. So when it’s time for recognition to be handed out, I plan on being there at the front of the line if the recognition is for work that I have done.
Add politics into that? Whore myself out for recognition? I sincerely hope I never do this. If I can hold myself above it all for as long as possible and let my work speak for itself, I will be happy. So, people I will meet someday, be forwarned: I’ll not try to gladhand you, and I’ll not engage in your power struggles. I’ll not show myself off for no reason–ask me a question, and I will answer to the best of my ability. Other than that, I’m a quiet person, and that is how I would like to remain. If you want to judge me, judge me on the work I have done, not the departmental gossip.

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