Laypeople, stop whatever you’re doing or saying. You need to hear this. We science people are tired of you absconding with our phrases, our buzzwords, and our beliefs. Stop saying that “logically” this and that. Forget about thinking you “know” some complicated process because you read a prose text on it. Get with the fucking program and leave the science to the scientists!
Many, many laypeople seem to think highly of science, to the point of telling everyone they love it, reading books on it, engaging real scientists on topics, and watching programs narrated by the ilk of Neil DeGrasse Tyson or that Michio Kako or whoever the fuck people seem to think knows what’s going on. Science is not a thing you can simply be a fan of in and of itself, nor should you be. Science is a term for the collective fields of study where people, the “scientists”, spend their time studying the world and universe over and over and over until it breaks. You may think I’m joking about the breaking part, but that’s the unbiased ultra-tenet of any scientific field of study. You have to break it, or at least try.
Being a fan of science is like saying you’re a fan of dogs. You can wear sweaters, read books, watch dog shows, but at some point you guys go fucking OVERBOARD. You start dressing dogs up, taking them to shows, etc., and then, in the final coup de grace to any sense you have left, you start to believe you understand dogs. Meanwhile, the dog doesn’t care whatsofuckingever. It would much rather lick its ass than deal with your insanity. In this metaphor, you are obviously you, but the idea of dogs is science and the dogs themselves are scientists, and we’re tired of all these distractions and would like to get back to licking our asses, thank you very much.
That’s right, we don’t give a shit about you, laypeople. You don’t have an impact on the vast bulk of our funding (voting by and large doesn’t change much, unless everyone votes for someone sensible, and that really is a crapshoot. Sorry guys, I’m not holding my breath on that one). You don’t control the direction of our research. You only get in the way and muck things up. I don’t go get in the way of the mechanic when she fixes my car, and I don’t get in the way of my pedicurist when he does my toenails. I don’t go to the power company and tell them they’re doing things inefficiently. They probably are, but they’re the EXPERTS and they do it EVERY DAY and I don’t. See what I’m getting at? You’re in the way.
Politicians, administrators, you ALSO need to chill the fuck out and back up out of our shit. While laypeople seem to be stalking us, you’re the cops who won’t let us file that all-important restraining order. We’d like more money so some scientists (AHEM, POP-SCIENCE DESK PHYSICISTS) don’t feel the need to get the non-science community all riled up for some side cash. We’d like less restrictions; we can’t do shit unless it’s APPLIED, meaning there is far fucking less actual natural order studying going on as opposed to inventing these days than there ever was. And we’d like you to stop assuming that science has a morality one way or another. Science doesn’t have morals. Science doesn’t have a soul. Science doesn’t give a shit.
Stop fucking with this “I love science” bullshit, which is all it is. Bullshit.
Instead, love the scientists. You may have a favorite mechanic. You may have a favorite pedicurist. You don’t need to know all about what they do to appreciate the work they do on your car or your toenails (I really appreciate pedicurists, because my toenails are fucked up when I hand them over, and immaculate when I get them back). If you appreciate all that science has done, like invent nylon or the come up with the idea that radiation is ok if its low but bad if it’s high, then please don’t go over and stick your junk in it. A simple thanks will suffice. Also more money. We need money. We neeeeeeeeeeed cassssssshhhhhh.
You’re probably an idiot though, so I feel the need to say that running into a lab and shaking a scientist’s hand is not what I meant. Do not do that!
Also do not talk to a scientist about some topic you read about. Oftentimes, when you do, your ineptitude on the subject bleeds through. This is whipped out of young scientists when going through school (F–), but we can’t whip people on the street (that would be fun, though, I’d like to have a national holiday where it’s allowed. Call it, “National Scientist Superiority Day”. All laypeople shut the fuck up about science. Corporal punishment if you speak. Damn that’s tasty). And don’t retort with “you simply wanted to know more”, because when we try to tell you more, you just shut off mentally. We can see in your eyes. Excuse us if we get discouraged over entertaining your whims after the first 10 times of your eyes glazing over and awful attempts to sound knowledgeable. We’ve been spending years on our subjects, and you spent maybe an hour getting it mostly wrong. When you attack us at a party (it’s always some social fucking event too), it’s annoying, it’s disconcerting, and it’s disrespectful. Just stop.
Stop listening to pop-science. It’s been editorialized, and you shouldn’t believe everything said. After going through nearly 10 years of undergrad and grad school, watching a pop-science show or reading a pop-science book makes me physically sick. It’s so far from the actual truth but designed to be so persuasive, it’s like looking at a book for Scientology, and realizing everyone around me has been drinking the red kool-aid. Sorry guys, Hale-Bopp ain’t coming to save you. Pop-science creators are out to make MONEY, nothing more, nothing less. Don’t believe me? Look up the writers of most pop-science books and documentaries. Look at their published peer-reviewed papers. You will often be dismayed at the lack of publications, or if there isn’t a lack, by how much material of pop-science they’ve produced in comparison to real science. A good example of the latter is Richard P. Feynman. He wrote two books on quantum electodynamics (or QED for short); one for laypeople, and one for physicists. Guess which one I’m reading? Guess which one I started reading, and put down, disgusted, but has sold far more copies and made far more money? I like R. P. Feynman; he was a great physicist and wonderful writer, but I’m not too naive to think he wasn’t susceptible to C.R.E.A.M. It’s not rocket science to see through this ruse (rocket science is actually boring and not at all difficult, which is why no one but neckbeards and people who fail out of mechanical engineering go into it anymore). You supporting pop-science only encourages scientist to dumb down what they do and sell it in little packets to make more money. What you’re reading is rarely accurate, and never intricate enough to fully explain something. Just stop.
And please please please stop thinking you are on the cusp of what’s happening in the scientific world, and that it means the next big thing. When stuff finally trickles down into common understanding, it’s often been around 10 years since we started doing it in science. We have to work on it until it’s been beaten to death and can be sure of what’s even happening, and if, on the day of sending in the paper, an experiment gives us a true failure, then we have to tear it up and start over. When we do get to send in a paper, it takes 6 months to a year for the peer-review and revisions to occur, IF it isn’t rejected. We have to go to conferences and publicize it. Other people may take our work into their lab and replicate it. Our paper gets cited in their paper. Someone takes notice that this happened, and voila! You finally get to hear about it in some pop-science update, but it’s been mangled and simplified into something unrecognizable. Sifting through a million articles can be time-consuming and make your head spin if you are a layperson, so I get why you just wouldn’t subscribe to the journals themselves. But if you hear about something in the news or on the internet, please take a few minutes to READ the paper it’s from if you give a damn about it. If you can’t find the citation, then it’s not real. Reading the paper if it exists will tell you what the applications and results really mean. A few years ago, everyone was all in a geeky froth because some IDIOT told the public they were putting a “tractor” beam on a Mars rover. It wasn’t a “tractor” beam. It was an optical vortex trap, capable of only pulling minute dialectic dust particles in. It was meant to be a contact-free way to collect dust on Mars, which just so happens to be made of dielectric materials (example of a dialectric: glass. Plain ol’ glass. So exciting.). This is technology from the 1970s. But because someone used the words “tractor beam” (I am still pissed about this) people got the notion that it could just SUCK things in. And people were wrong.
Scientists, you don’t get off easy, either. It’s partially our fault this shit is such a huge problem. Yeah, we don’t get paid enough, and it’s fucking unfair. We have to go to school longer than many many other people who make far more than we do. Everyday we have to take data, and then stare at it and prod it and and take a hammer to it, just so we can extract some new meaning from it for the sole purpose of increasing our general knowledge, which in turn increases our general quality of life. No one else can do that job except for us (yes, laypeople, you are ill-qualified to do research. It takes both skill and experience. Enjoy your whatever you do and be sated on the fact that someone needs to do your job and it’s not going to be us, so you might as well fucking do it and shut up about it). And it’s not just our paychecks, our research is underfunded in such a way that we have to hustle and undercut everyone around us. Science is not really an exchange, never has been. Everyone thinks we are only recently stuck into this position, but it’s been going on for a looooong time. If it doesn’t blow something up, or make someone lots of money, it’s just not gonna happen; God forbid your rival finds out what you’re doing.
These are things we can’t control. We were pushed into this. But we do it because it’s something we’re good at, someone is willing to pay for it (although less than what we deserve), and we actually like it. We shouldn’t be taking out our frustrations on laypeople by openly exerting our superiority in science on them. We’re scientists! It’s fucking obvious! We don’t need to rub it in their faces! We don’t need to go around and fill up their little minds with the notion that they can understand what we do in five minutes for the sake of getting back the money you believe you’ve earned. We’ve created a system of adulation to even the imbalance our realm has suffered. We feel that we should be revered because of all we do, so we let people worship up. We feel we’re owed money for what we’ve done for society and humanity, so we charge the masses for imperfect knowledge. Some of us have even quit the science game and gone into the business of bullshit, all in the name of evening the keel. We even told them what we were doing, we told them we want more money and fame, and the people still drank the kool-aid. People can’t change the original problems that made us feel this was all necessary, because the ones who can change them aren’t remotely interested in doing so. I don’t have a solution, but we should stop this fucking pettiness.
You, scientist and layperson alike, are probably wondering why you should even both changing. The system works; scientists get paid, and feel respected, and laypeople get to feel like they’re involved and actually know something about the world. But when you blindly follow something like science, it will always lead you over a cliff, and onto some sharp pointy rocks. Scientists shouldn’t lead you, and laypeople shouldn’t follow.
What I said about science not having a morality or a soul is exactly right. We inject ethics into science because scientists have morals and souls, but ultimately, if something needs to be known, there’s nothing to stop it. For instance, a lot of science in the US is funded by either the Department of Defense (DoD) or an independent contractor… who is funded by the Department of Defense. It really does need to blow someone up for funding to occur. A lot of scientists have some problems with this, but very few of us directly put our feet down and say “No”. We’re people, we don’t have binary morality, it’s all an analog gray scale. And DoD funding is the dream team of grants; you get unbridled money to do whatever it takes to get that thing figured out. The government really wants to know! Sometimes, it doesn’t take a lot of money, or hard work. We sometimes already know the answer, or what direction it’s in, so someone goes and works on it, while the rest of the group takes the rest of the funding, and does what they really want to do. It’s common to fund a lab like this, using money for applied research to fund the pure kind. You make a trade on your ethics or morals for the chance to do some good. And it’s not always about blowing people up. It could improve the loss of civilian life. It could improve a soldier’s chances of surviving. Sometimes the application is, in itself, positive. And it’s often transferrable to world around us. So we all swallow our pride and take the money. Otherwise, nothing will happen, we will learn nothing, and life will continue as bland as it ever was. And if the public blindly follows us, they’re in the car with us but with no idea of where they’re going.
This now presents a HUGE problem, because while a lot of labs will use that money to research something else, whether that is good or bad or simply neutral is not determined by the funding. I’m not here to bash that. It’s what we do, and we know this. The limits we are willing to go were things we decided a long time ago. The problem exists when we drag the laypeople in on it. They’re holding the smoking gun with us. You may be all for some research for what it will show, only to find out that it involves something as gruesome as torturing and killing baby pigs. By bringing the laypeople in on something, and then seeing the reciprocity of their affection for what you do, you validate your own work. That can change the scope of things, and the limits of which you’re willing to go to discover something. It’s a bias that wasn’t there before, and bias of any kind is bad in science, whether one way or another. We shouldn’t have to resort to torturing and killing baby pigs, but if the public clamors for the results, you’re gonna do it.
We also need to stop encouraging the worship of science because we are, by extension, encouraging people to leave other fields for us. There is a “brain drain” on other areas of work from all of the young people entering science instead of becoming business people, or lawyers, or artists, or even things like chefs and firemen. Our society works based on people knowing what they’re doing and doing it well in ALL areas of life. If we encourage all intelligent people to join science because they can, but not because they want to, we get a bunch of people who realize half-way through that this isn’t want they want to do, but stick with it because they don’t want to waste time. We take that person away from something equally worthwhile, like being an elementary school teacher or social worker. Admittedly, I think, after all the work I have done and education I have had to go through, that I should be paid more than a school teacher who does 4 years of school. But I think they also should be paid extremely well for DIRECTLY influencing our next generation. Science really hasn’t had to work hard to attract would-be school teachers, but we should, as scientists, be encouraging people who are intelligent and also like teaching to become one, and discourage them away from science.
There is also the unintended (I lie, it’s totally on purpose) effect of discouraging would-be scientists because they aren’t “smart” enough. There are many cases to the opposite of the one above where someone realizes late in life that they aren’t fulfilled, and then go back to school to become scientists. These cases are often dramatically positive stories, and some of the best I’ve worked with fall into this category, but why weren’t they in science to begin with? You need to be both intelligent and hardworking to make it in many of the fields, but you don’t necessarily need a higher portion of the former. It’s not “90% perspiration” either, like that fuck Edison would have you believe. You need whatever gets the job done, and sometimes having 5 Einsteins or 5 Edisons shouting platitudes at each other isn’t exactly efficient. You need someone to turn the wrench, and willing to keep turning the wrench, until something new happens. You also need someone to realize that something new happened.
Ultimately a lab works best with only one or two truly brilliant and intelligent people around; the rest is just work. If you’re halfway-intelligent, but willing to work your ass off, there’s a good chance you’ll get to the same conclusion as the genius who did barely anything. Besides, the genius and workhorse are better off partnered. The genius will always respect the workhorse, too. They don’t want to do the work, especially if it’s intricate or tedious, so sharing the credit is worth it. And the workhorse isn’t cut out of the “a-ha!” moment, either. They get to be there, and help crack the code. Sometimes it is the workhorse who cracks the code, and sometimes it is the genius who steps in and does the hard work. But because of this superiority-based, “worship me” complex we’ve developed, we’ve turned away our workhorses, our possible partnerships, our future insights.
Of course, there is a limit to intelligence needed. You can’t be a total idiot and expect hard work to make up the difference. Unfortunately, people believe that is the case. Idiots don’t know they’re idiots. There is a growing number of college dropouts directly related to students entering college in an impossible scientific field for their aptitude level, and then getting absolutely crushed. The question has been posed if it’s science education, but it’s really science adulation. The sinning parishioner wants to be the pastor, for all of the respect he gets, but not due to interest or ability. Don’t worry about feeling the need to fill the “empty” ranks of science. We have plenty of fucking scientists. What we need are GOOD scientists.
Laypeople, I beg of you, stop this shit. If you really are truly interested, as a hobby, in a field of science, take the damn time to give due diligence to it before spouting off about it. Read the fucking peer-reviewed paper. Read a textbook, instead of some flashy garbage. Ask to tour a lab; scientists, myself included, secretly LOVE to show off our shit, even if we feel put-upon when it happens. If you do all of that, and then find it’s not what you thought it was, then take it as a lesson that this is not your thing. Stop the unmitigated cult-ish worship of science. It’s fucking creepy.
Scientists, let’s stop this bullshit. We’re important, this is not the issue. But we’re bigger than this awful shit we’ve been doing. Non-scientists don’t deserve to be mentally enslaved and ensconced by what we do to respect it. Yeah, we need dat cash and respect doe, but hoodwinking the public isn’t how we should be doing it. Maybe if we got out and voted, or lobbied on Washington, or did something more constructive than turn the American people into our guard dogs, we’d be in a better place. It’s not all of us who engage in this senseless behavior, and not all of us are truly innocent of it. But all of us have to deal with the results, big and small.