Scientists:why,what,how ?

Alexander Berezin berezin at MCMAIL.CIS.MCMASTER.CA
Wed Sep 27 12:07:51 EST 1995


Re: request from Gilbert J. Gall for the information
on "what and why scientists do" (see hus questions at
the end of this file).

It is rather pity that your son is assigned to study
the careers of the non-university scientists only. It
will be amaizingly interesting to hear what UNIVERSITY
career scientists have to say on your questionnair, 
especially questions # 4, 5, 9 (and also 13). I guess 
many people with "highly distinguished" careers and 
many hunderds of thousands (often millions) spend on 
their research empires will be utterly embarrassed if 
pressed really hard on questions # 4 and 5 : very few 
have anything convincing to say.

...  well, just published 200 -300 papers ... who needs
them and why ?  - Oh, let's talk some other time ...   

(cf: dialogue at Tea Party in Lewis Carroll's "Alice 
in Wondrerland")

Attached is a short "proposal" (or rather a plea) which
we have circulated earlier and published in a local
Canadian bulletin a few months ago. Needless to say, it
did NOT receive enthusiastic support from (university)
research community and/or funding bureaucracy.

Guess why.   -   Alex Berezin  

--------------------------------------------------  

RESEARCHERS SHOULD INFORM PUBLIC

(published in CAUT bulletin, June 1995)

Recent attacks by some politicians on so-called 
"useless" research in universities could likely be
avoided should we, researchers, care to increase
public awareness of what we are actually doing.

Among research projects which were recently ridiculed
in the press by the Reform Party MP Randy White was
a study on "Lie theory". It did not occur to the MP that
it was not a study of lies, but on a mathematical Lie
group theory. However, let's not shift all the blame to
the ill-informed members of the public. Why should we
expect public respect of our scholarly pursuits if we
ourselves show a disrespect for the public by failing
to explain the essence of our work in layman terms ?

We propose the following remedy. All university
professors active in research should prepare an
executive summary of their work written in layman terms
(as the great physicist Ernst Rutherford once said "any 
good theory should be explainable to a barperson"). 

Naturally, such summaries should be updated as necessary.
The work required for their preparation is obviously 
minimal in comparison with the social benefit steming from
such summaries. It should be the mandate of NSERC - and
other major funding agencies - to keep an updated
(perhaps electronic) database of these summaries and have
it readily available to MPs and other interested members
of the Canadian public. After all, the public is paying 
the major portion of our research bill.

We believe that this measure could prevent, or at least
greatly reduce, uninformed comments and unjustified
conclusions that may be difficult or impossible to rectify
after the initial publicity. We are confident that the 
Canadian academic community will cooperate with this idea
and that this will contribute to the public's undestanding 
of the diversity of roles played by the university in our
society.  

Naeem Jan 
      Professor of Physics,
      St.Francis Xavier University,
      Antigonish, Nova Scotia

Alexander A. Berezin
      Professor of Engineering Physics,
      McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario  

---------------------------------------------------


On Wed, 27 Sep 1995 Gilbert.J.Gall at net.bio.net wrote:

> 
> Help a beginning High School biology student.  My son, Ryan, has a class
> assignment that requires him to interview a non-university based research
> scientist in the biological sciences.
> 
> He would greatly appreciate any and all of you out there who fit this category
> who would be willing to give modestly expansive answers to the following
> questions.  Thanks so much for any help.
> 
> 
> **************************************************
> 
> Before I begin I'd like to ask you to please give the longest answers possible.
> 
> 1.  What is your name?
> 
> 
> 2.  Why did you decide to get into science?
> 
> 
> 3.  What about your job is most satisfying, and what is most frustrating?
> 
> 
> 4.  What have you learned or discovered?
> 
> 
> 5.  What is the importance of your work?
> 
> 
> 6.  What are some problems associated with your current work?
> 
> 
> 7.  What education was necessary for the job?
> 
> 
> 8.  Who funds your work?
> 
> 
> 9.  In your current work, how close do you think you are to the absolute truth?
> 
> 
> 
> 10. Is your work the most important thing in your life right now?  Why?
> 
> 
> 
> 11. If you just won a million dollars in the lottery, would you spend it on
> yourself or your work?
> Why?
> 
> 
> 
> 12. In your current work, what are some of the variables and how are they being
> controlled?
> 
> 
> 
> 13. If you were a millionaire and not a scientist would you fund the work you
> are doing now?
> Why?
> 
> 
> 
> 14. Do you still have a hypothesis or have you formed a theory? What is it?
> 
> 
> 
> 15. What do you think the popular image of a scientist is and why do you think
> this is so?
> 
> 
> 
> 
> 16. What kinds of tools do you use for measurement and how accurate are they?
> 
> 



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