Doing Science

Is ordering shitte from Sigma “doing science”? Is mixing salts and buffers into Ringer’s solution “doing science”? Is pouring Ringer’s in a dish “doing science”? Is putting an animal in the dish of Ringer’s and cutting the motherfucker open “doing science”? Is sitting in your office and thinking up shitte “doing science”? Is writing a fucken manuscript “doing science”? Is writing a fucken grant “doing science”? Is inputting data into a motherfucken Excel spreadsheet “doing science”? Is taking normal rat chow away from your rats and replacing it with high-fat chow “doing science”? Is writing a Matlab script to analyze data “doing science”? Is using Matlab to make a figure illustrating your data “doing science”?

Is showing a technician how to perform a ligation “doing science”? Is doing a ligation “doing science”? Is puling an electrode “doing science”? Is firepolishing the electrode “doing science”? Is chlorideing your electrode wire “doing science”? Is patching onto a cell “doing science”? Is failing to get a decent seal “doing science”? Is talking to your colleagues at a conference “doing science”? Is talking to your Chair “doing science”? Is talking to your Dean “doing science”? Is giving a seminar at UCSF “doing science”? Is giving a seminar at your local high-school “doing science”? Is talking to your Program Officer about your grant aims “doing science”? Is talking to your lab members about your grant aims “doing science”? Is talking to your mother about your grant aims “doing science”?

The fact of the matter is that what clueless self-absorbed dumshittes (see the comments) consider to be “doing science” are the aspects of science that they like doing and are good at. Everything else they consider “not doing science”. It is juvenile and pathetic, and a sign of real immaturity and inability to understand the larger context in which things occur. Science is a complex human enterprise with a vast number of interlocking elements, some technical, some social, some economic, and some rhetorical. It is not a task that someone either is or isn’t performing.


  1. Nonsense on Stilts says

    Yes. Yes, it is. All of it.

    Except talking to your Chair and your Dean. That isn’t science. That’s more like having rock salt and broken glass packed firmly into your rectum.

  2. binjabreel says

    As far as my experience with science goes, things failing in exciting and unexpected ways is pretty much doing science.

  3. Pramod says

    Science is a complex human enterprise with a vast number of interlocking elements, some technical, some social, some economic, and some rhetorical.

    This is an arbitrary definition that you’ve made up and your post only makes sense if this definition is accepted as true.

    I think some of the things that you’ve listed are essential to the task of advancing human knowledge and communicating these advances. Some of the other things that you’ve listed are essential for performing these tasks under the system that we work in. Conflating the two leads to a loss of information.

  4. DrugMonkey says

    Including the Land of Care-a-lot and MagicalRainbowUnicornFarteville with the set of possible systems that could host science also leads to a loss of information, Pramod

  5. Pramod says


    The point I’m trying to make is that some things are specific to ‘doing science’ under the setup that you and CPP appear to be working under. CPP’s post seems to imply (and I acknowledge I may be misunderstanding this) that the tasks of a tenured/tenure-track faculty members at US universities can be defined as ‘doing science’. Not all scientists are faculty members at US research universities.

    It’s also not clear to me that the US model of science is the most optimal (in whatever sense you want to define optimal) one. It’s definitely a very successful system but this post seems to imply (again I may be jumping to conclusions here) that it is The One True System.

    I think there are two different points to be made here. One is that if you happen to be (or want to be) a faculty member at a US university you’ve just gotta suck it up and deal with the system as it currently is instead of whining about it. I guess this is what you and CPP are trying to say and I’m fully with you on this point.

    However, I think it’s important to keep in mind that some of these happen to be the way they are because of the system that you’re working under. Sure, we need mechanisms to give scientists money to spend on their work. We need to make sure they’re accountable for this money in some way or another. Finally, society may expect scientists to fulfill other obligations in return for giving them this money. Basically, we make deals with society in return for being given the opportunity to do science. CPP’s post seems to imply that everything we do as part of this deal should considered as “doing science” which misses the point that these deals are negotiable, while certain other aspects of “doing science” are not.

  6. Adam says

    I agree that we have to be grown ups and do all the stuff we have to do in order for science to get done.

    It’s undeniable though, that as one becomes a senior scientist, the responsibilities one accumulates make it harder and harder to find time and energy to do the “hands-on” part of the science. We can argue about what that part is and it is probably field-dependent but it exists – and by my definition it does *not* include talking to anyone or writing anything. One can just choose to give that part up and be a PI, and I have no problem with that in principle and maybe it works for many, but I personally feel that I lose something important if I quit the hands-on part altogether.

    I’m not in a lab science, but in a field that’s largely computational, and I have a theoretical component to what I do. So that should make it easier for me to keep the hands-on part going compared to laboratory types perhaps, but I think it also makes it more important that I do it, and on the other hand I still have to write lots of proposals and manage people and all the rest of it.

    This is not just a science issue, but one with our economy as a whole. If you are good at something, the promotion path is to become a manager of other people doing that thing. That’s fine – we want the people managing to understand from experience what it is that’s being managed – but I do think there is value in keeping oneself close to the hard core of the enterprise at least with some small part of one’s being. And that is not easy.

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