I remember the horror well when I discovered that everything I was working on was wrong. I was a graduate student who had just started my second year, and my supervisor and I had developed a rheumatoid arthritis test that seemed to be a revelation. We wrote a paper for a reputed magazine, but just before we sent it off, we decided to experiment again to see if we were correct.
We did not do that. Everything I did last year was ruined and I had to start a whole new research topic. For a young scientist it was a hard but valuable lesson – you should always go further to test your ideas.
That was 35 years ago, and I wonder if anyone starting as a researcher today would be encouraged, just like me the extra mile. Does the relentless drive to publish and measure results mean that researchers are under pressure to cut corners and have less time and freedom to pursue their ideas? Examining the culture of research to find out if research has become so competitive that it is "only about what is achieved and not how it is achieved".
What helped me as a researcher was to read stories about those who came before me. For scientific research to be successful in the long run, I think researchers need a number of strong values, including an unwavering commitment to the truth and an urge to test every idea for its destruction.
Even if they seem to dislike the ideals Still, this is best conveyed through the stories and myths we tell ourselves.
The Power of Stories
In antiquity, people sat by the fire at night and tell stories. Stories about their creation, stories about great deeds and deeds and stories that rehearsed how people deal with each other and the world in which they live. One of the oldest still to be read is Homer's Ancient Greek Illiad.
History examines what it means to be a warrior and leader, how people should accept fate, gain fame, and recognize the consequences of pride and anger. The young people who heard these stories learned what was expected of them and strengthened the collective values and beliefs of society.
In the modern world myths and stories still play an important role ̵
These scientific myths are based on reality, although sometimes strict historical accuracy was sacrificed to better highlight a particular point. Similarly, Homer's stories were based on real events such as the Trojan Wars, but they evolved into storytelling. It is unlikely that the Trojan horse was actually a model of a large scale horse in which soldiers had hidden.
The Future of Science
It is important to recognize that our research has changed. This was recently shown to me when I re-read The Pursuit of Nature, the story of some of the great Cambridge physiologists of the mid-20th century. I was fortunate to be taught by one of the authors, Alan Hodgkin, who received the Nobel Prize for studying the transmission of electrical impulses by nerve cells. He started his nerve work in the second year of his studies and built his own equipment from cookie jars.
To be successful, you have to win big scholarships and set up a research team nowadays. Often, more than 20 authors will contribute to a research work. Hodgkin had only a few employees in his team and published more with one or two close colleagues.
This "industrialization" of science is right and necessary. It has accelerated the impact of research on society, enabling scientists to discover and develop new technologies. With cookie jars, you probably will not see anything anymore. In the midst of all these changes, we have not adapted the way in which we impart ethics and science and research to young researchers.
When I was a student and a doctoral student, my supervisor worked on the lab bench. We had coffee and tea every day. I learned from her and my colleagues what it means to be a scientist. Nowadays, the interaction between supervisors and junior researchers is usually more transactional in terms of experiments and data. There is less time left for teaching in research.
Of course there is a training in research. Graduate schools and doctoral training centers have raised the standards for the training of doctoral students. However, I doubt many people will develop their values and their moral compass from PowerPoint presentations.
In my own life, the popular myths of great scientists have nourished a culture that valued curiosity as good for itself. We need to develop these stories, curate them by selecting the appropriate ones and developing new ones that highlight useful points. As scientists committed to the truth, we should also make sure that they are accurate representations of reality, reflecting collective aspirations, rather than the supposed genius of a few white men.
All cultures need their myths and every laboratory needs its traditions.
This article was re-released by Andrew George, professor emeritus at Brunel University London under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.