Monday, April 23, 2007

What is a "scientist"?

The note below popped up today on a listserve I subscribe to. The author, Emily Monosson is writing a book on balancing family and science tentatively titled Motherhood: The Elephant in the Laboratory.

Hi all. A couple of weeks back, while talking about the women/science/motherhood book someone asked how would I define a scientist. It seemed like a good question - and I didn't have a really good answer. Some women with Ph.D.s who now teach high school science, write text books etc. wonder if they are still "scientists," I would say yes, others may not.

For the book I am working on, I'd like to discuss how the scientific community defines "a scientist," who would AAAS, NSF etc. consider a scientist? How would you define a scientist?

Additionally, what does it take to be considered a "successful" scientist? Or how would one define "success" in science?

What is a scientist? What a great question. It's one of those deceptively difficult things that you assume you know the answer to, until you actually try to put it into words. Kind of like, what is a planet?

For my part, I'm in the "once a scientist, always a scientist" camp. Being a scientist isn't about how much time you spend in the lab or how long your list of publications is. It's about how you think, how you approach a problem, the way that you see the world.

Being a "successful scientist" though, is another thing altogether. I would say that requires such things as well cited publications in peer reviewed journals, successful grant proposals, the respect of colleagues, successful graduate students, etc. Of course, you can be a scientist and be successful in other fields (like being an astronaut, or a senator, or both if you're really ambitious), but that's different from being a "successful scientist".

What do you think? Leave a note in the comments and I'll forward them to Emily.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

I don't work in building 44

I'm fine, don't worry, I don't work in building 44.

So by now, pretty much everyone has heard about the events at JSC on Friday. I didn't know any of the people involved. Building 44 is clear on the other side of JSC from my office. I was in the lab all afternoon with no windows or internet access, I barely knew what was happening until it was over.

Man, JSC has been in the press for all the wrong reasons lately.

Some thoughts:

Does tragedy beget tragedy. I have to wonder if the gunman was emboldened by the VA Tech shootings? Though apparently he bought the gun a month ago, maybe he had it planned since then?

He went out to lunch with his boss/victim yesterday. Had he already decided then what he was going to do? What do you think they talked about? Do you think he was looking for a reason in that conversation - a reason to do it, or to not do it?

I had to go into the office this afternoon and I have to say I found things shockingly normal. I biked right past building 44. There was nothing to suggest anything out of the ordinary had happened, except the three news vans set up in Rocket Park. Which, by the way, is nothing compared to the Lisa Nowak deal, there were dozens of news vans all over town for that. What does that say about our society?

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Don't you dare touch my Chocolate!

OMG, it's an emergency! They are out to destroy chocolate as we know it! And by "they" I mean the Grocery Manufacturers of America, with the support of the Chocolate Manufacturers of America and, who else, Hershey Co. Stupid Hershey. Go right now to Don't Mess With Our Chocolate and express your outrage.

"Chocolate is an indulgence that everyone can afford, and it provides comfort, pleasure and happiness. It truly is one of the worlds most unique and special foods.

However, if some members of the U.S. Chocolate Industry have their way, it will negatively change the quality of chocolate you love. Their plan is to change the basic formula of chocolate in order to use vegetable fat substitutes in place of cocoa butter, and to use milk substitutes in the place of nutritionally superior milk. These changes will have adverse effects on the eating, physical and nutritional quality of chocolate, and beg the question: What consumer benefit is associated with implementing these changes? The answer is none.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has a chocolate standard of identity requiring manufacturers to use approved ingredients in making chocolate, and it protects the consumer from any substitution of inferior ingredients. As a result, the Chocolate Industry must obtain approval from the Food and Drug Administration to make any changes.

The U.S. Chocolate Industry, through its Chocolate Manufacturers of America (CMA), and in collaboration with the Grocery Manufacturers Association, have petitioned the Food and Drug Association (FDA) to change the current requirements for chocolate."

Yuri's Night - Space nerds come out to play

Keith Cowing of NASAwatch has a great opinion piece up about his impressions of Yuri's Night at Ames last week. Yuri's Night, for those who are unfamiliar, began several years ago as a small series of ad hoc parties to celebrate the first flight of a human in space - Yuri Gagarin, on 12 April 1961. Over the past few years the event has quickly spread and has become a global phenomenon - with parties now sponsored all over the planet - including the Arctic and Antarctica. This party at Ames was probably the biggest to date, I've seen it described as a "rave with powerpoints" and compared to Burning Man, it must have been quite a shindig, which I had been there. There was a party here in Houston, but I missed that one too. I really like the idea of Yuri's Night, I hope that the phenomenon continues to spread and grow. It's a great opportunity to engage the public, and to remind NASA folks that space exploration is fun, not just work.