What is a proper measure for a good scientist?

Alexander Berezin berezin at MCMAIL.CIS.MCMASTER.CA
Sun Feb 9 20:18:26 EST 1997

On 9 Feb 1997, Noam Shormon wrote:

> I have currently graduated from a Biotechnology degree at a University in
> Australia. I have a military background as an officer and some lab
> experience as well (about 2 months with extremely good references).
> Unfortunately I could not memorize "The Cell" by Alberts et al (or any
> other text book) and therefore my GPA is just below 3.0 (although at the
> Uni I studied even that is hard to achieve). While I am searching for a
> job, or appling for further studies, the only measure for accepting me are
> my previuos marks. 
> IS THAT FAIR???!!!

Dear Noam,

Life is generally rather unfair, but if one takes all the 
relative scales, the modern science (the way it is set now) 
is very close the top of the list. Corporate stuctures, 
grantsmanship feods, exploitation of the talents of the
young people (like postdocs and grad. students), theft of 
ideas and misappropriation of credit of the subordinates, 
the gestappian practice of the secretive ('anonymous') 
peer review - those are the landmarks of the modern science 
enterprise. Fortunately, the literature on this is 
extensive and accumulating fast (read letters in journals 
like Chemical and Engineering News and many others). 

If you have problem with memorizing, try not to worry too 
much. Michael Faraday had the same problem (had to repeat
experiments many times as he forgot critical details), but
according to his biographers what he did is well enough for 
at least 4 Nobel Prizes. In good science (not McScience,
and now this is most of it) what is importants are 
conceptual links. 

Try to find some alternatiove occupation outside the 
formal science training (it is far too crowded anyway), 
but if your interest to science will persist, maintain it 
as an amateur and find the area you like and can contribute 
to. This way your chances of making a worthy contribution
are far greater than by pursuing a formal science career.
This is a self-serving myth of the greedy establishemnt
that the only worthy science is expensive science.

If, nonetheless, you decide for the formal career in science,
your chances of true discoveries are quite slim, most likely 
you will contribute to the informational noise and redundancy, 
and your creativity, if you reveal any, will most likely
be oppressed, as for the science establishment the creativity 
is about as welcome as the Crucifix at the vampire party.

Best wishes 
Alex Berezin
(Professor, 30 years in science)

> Thank you.

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