Tuesday, May 21, 2013

May Musings, 2 AM

It has been work mayhem over the last five months, but there is a sliver of light in the distance. Submit new papers, close lingering contracts, pursue new work, and charge ahead towards the new world order. It's been sad to lose friends and colleagues to greed during these uneasy times of sequestration, but there is constructive disillusion in the revelation of their character under perceived duress.

I find it a bit comical for scientists to justify dishonorable and unethical actions under the guise of "survival": what we do as professionals is far removed from the high risk and bloody imminent demise of survival situations. Avarice, laziness, even envy I can understand, but "survival" is either subterfuge or delusion. Either of those two yields a loss of credibility, which is the main, if not the only, asset we sell as scientists.

But beyond comical is to explain away objectionable actions with the cliche "it's not personal, it's just business", a line from The Godfather associated with irrefutable offerings, concrete shoes, and general thuggery. Scientists, pay heed: this jaded line in no way makes you more professional or businesslike, and should be avoided unless delivered in irony or jest.

I have observed through my travels that Art and Science are the fruits of stable, evolved societies, and best flourish once the foundations of law, economy, medicine, and engineering are firmly established. In other words, the Arts and Sciences are the fruits of abundance, of surplus. To be a research scientist is a privilege and a call to act according to the high principles of ethics and reason inherent to the scientific method. Being a scientist requires a high level of correctness, with the clarity and humility to recognize biases and errors, and promptly address them.

And, most importantly, science is a social endeavor where the review and acceptance of research by colleagues and peers is of the essence. Scientists form an honor society where it is presupposed that it's members adhere to the scientific ethos of transparency, reproducibility, and respect of intellectual provenance, with the aim of building a cumulative, incremental body of knowledge.

As a scientist, I believe it is my responsibility to be consistently rational, credible, honorable, ethical, and keenly aware of my debt to society. And I expect my colleagues to hold me accountable to these standards as the price of admission to our community. This is not survival, quite the opposite: this is aspiring to an ideal, reaching out to a high standard of cognitive integrity for the betterment of humanity.

Lofty, yes. Easy, no. Worth it? Totally.