Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Science Fights!

So it's been a month and a half since I last blogged.  Way too long.  Where will I get my writing practice?  And where will you get thought-provoking material to help you make it through the day?  Well, enough of that, we're back to blogging!

Today's topic is "Science Fights," or, as the scientific community prefers, scientific debate.  Scientific debate can take place anywhere at anytime between two scientists, but is most frequently observed after one scientist gives a talk, presenting his hypotheses and data.  Such was the case for the science fight I witnessed today. 

This science fight took place at a departmental seminar between two professors.  And to be fair, the "fight" was much more of a debate than a real fight.  One professor asked his question (in a way that was sufficiently amicable and respectful, though not overly so) and the speaker (another professor) replied with his answer (which was not condescending, but was not full of understanding and compassion).  The debate continued back and forth for a while, as each professor worked their way through the semantics of the other and tried to convince the other of their correctness.  At the end of the discussion, I don't think either side was convinced by the other, but their points had been made.

...and this is all fine.  It is standard fare for a scientific debate.  The reason I want to bring it up today is twofold.  First, I want to discuss the feeling of awkwardness that many of the grad students likely felt, and the second is to discuss what I find to be more and more interesting, the personalities that make up the scientific community.

First, the awkwardness.  Why did this "fight" feel so awkward?  If it hadn't I wouldn't have labeled it a fight.  Part of it was the combination of the difficulty each professor had communicating with each other at first (semantics, etc.) and I think the rest of it came from having two respected individuals (in their fields) arguing over something.  This may be akin to the first time a child sees his parents argue over something.  It's a little unsettling.  And that can't be helped.  But should it be unsettling now?  Should I (or any scientist at that point) have even felt awkward?

This leads into our second topic, the personalities of the scientific community.  I think scientists, especially in recent years, have made an attempt to create the appearance that all personalities are welcome in the scientific community (I'm not counting laziness, dishonesty, etc. as personalities here).  However, it seems that some personalities are either more dominant or successful than others.  This is where I'd like your input.  I would posit that people who are competitive, confrontational, and somewhat obsessive tend to be over-represented in the scientific community.  Or, if they are not, they seem to be more active/visible.  What do you think?  Am I right?  Do these people make better scientists?

Let me know what you think.  I know I said I would have a video blog post, and I will have one before May.  If you have suggestions for a topic, please comment and let me know!

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