Tuesday, January 31, 2012

I am Science

What does a scientist look like? That was, in part, the topic of the previous post on the life of James Crow -- that scientists rarely fit the standard depictions in TV or movies. Today's writing prompt in class was "When I hear 'scientist' I think..."

And then serendipity struck, because I returned from class to an e-mail from a colleague about "I Am Science," The original post, which emphasizes that there is no one path to science, has spawned Twitter responses, a Vimeo mash-up, and a Tumblr page. Go here for the story of a high school biology teacher who had had a very different plan...or here for the story of someone who failed their qualifying exams but still earned a Ph.D. ...or here for a woman who made a detour from vet school. One of my professors in graduate school mentioned that his path to becoming a professor at MIT involved dropping out of Amherst College. So many different stories, so many different models. Importantly, they belie both the "Hollywood" stereotypes of scientists and the view sometimes found in academia of just a single path to follow within science.

James Crow: Scientist, mentor, musician

When the general public thinks of scientists, a few stereotypes often emerge:
• The crazy-haired, lab-coat wearing, sometimes egomaniacal and evil, lone genius;
• The socially awkward lone genius who can't be coaxed away from an experiment and who operates on a level that transcends mere non-scientific mortals.

The common thread seems to be that the scientist is someone who works alone, apart from a community, and with no other interests besides science. The life of James Crow, a population geneticist who passed away early this year, shortly before his 96th birthday, and the outpouring of pieces lauding that life demonstrate that great scientists do not really work alone, but rather build rich and diverse communities, and often have strong connections beyond just the laboratory bench or the field site.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Welcome to The Factual Enquirer

Hello, and thank you for joining us at The Factual Enquirer. This blog is the class project of Biology 490 - Biology Writing for a Broad Audience at Allegheny College. The class is an enthusiastic group of 10 students who will be contributing regularly to the conversation about science and science writing. Our class discussions have already touched on questions like:
• Who is this broad audience, anyway?
• How do we choose topics and stories to write about?
• How do we navigate an appropriate balance in writing about science process and science content?
• What are the roles of consensus and authority in science, and how does that affect our consideration of what constitutes a reliable source?

We even tiptoed into the "scientists vs. journalists" debates. We hadn't looked at the article that prompted the latest upwelling of strong feelings, nor the responses here, here, and here. Nevertheless, our analysis converged on that of Ed Yong at Not Exactly Rocket Science: