02 April 2011

Peter Lawrence Reflects on the Nature of Scientific Research

Several posts on this blog have discussed the deskilling of doctors (see here or here). This week my attention was drawn to an extremely interesting interview (pdf) with Peter A. Lawrence in Lab Times. It captures a similar process in the life sciences. On young scientists, Lawrence comments:
I described what happens to young scientists when they get their postdocs, which are usually limited to two years. In that two-year period, they are expected to start what is often a new line of research, and to have produced and got published a paper in a major journal, by say, at the latest, 18 months, so that they can apply for another grant. Who can do that?
On the research more generally, he observes:
But the intellectual heart of research is sick because its main purpose is discovery. Illuminating our understanding of nature, that’s what it’s about. It’s not about producing a paper that nobody wants to read or understand. If we lose sight of that, then we won’t find out things so easily. We may stumble across things occasionally, as we’ve always done. But many young people just don’t see what science is for. Most of them are trying to get a paper. We have to be ambitious. We have to find something that is worth telling other people about.

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