Are there any scientists left to produce any more and do we even care?
This week I have mostly been thinking about the art of being productive. You know, making stuff, doing activities that change something we can see, feel, smell or hear.
I have been thinking about this because last week while driving back from the city I heard that there were to be heavy job losses in the CSIRO. The CSIRO is Australia’s super science pod, the place where scientists go to do AWESOME stuff like invent Wifi (thank you), Gene Shears (genetic material that acts like scissors, cutting rogue DNA away and thus stopping various diseases in their tracks), Solar Hot Water (another invention I’m personally grateful for), Polymer banknotes (awesome for those of us that like swimming with our wallets), Exelgram (counterfit detector) and even anti-flu medication. But they don’t just invent stuff, these scientists and many more like them working out of private practice (that’s a tough gig!), Universities, NGO’s and Corporations are busy spending every working hour finding out stuff about stuff.
I fear that concept may be lost on some of us some of the time………..
The internet (which I love dearly) is a great place to go for information. Type in any particular question and you will get an answer or thousand (at least but it does depend on the question!) This instant gratification can lead us into thinking that we are extremely well read and versed in all things from how to spot a brain tumour at fifty paces to how to change a lightbulb, re-build the engine of your classic car, create the perfect apple pie or to train your dog to unload the dishwasher. I love the internet but I also love doing things – experimenting. That is because I am a scientist at heart (an artist in the hands and an anarchist in the head department. You can see that this relationship is going to end badly). And that’s why I am saddened when I hear the deadly sound of hands-on science dying.
One of my biggest personal concerns with the work that I do is that very few of my clients have a budget to cover the science stuff – the testing, be that stability, preservative efficacy or efficacy (do the products actually work). That isn’t to say that nobody-does-any-testing-at-all-and-that’s-terrible.com more that we are all relying on second-hand data that we are leaving un-validated. That makes me a little sad.
It makes me sad not least because I am often left feeling like the value in actually doing this and other scientific testing is lost on a market that feels ‘full to bursting’ with information, data, graphs, statistics. That it really isn’t necessary or valuable to test your own stuff at your cost when the data is already there. That ‘GOOGLE can answer that for me’ or that it really doesn’t matter anyway.
It also makes me sad because I personally would jump at the chance to do more testing of concepts, ideas and formulations. To see if these unique and interesting ingredient combinations actually work and if they do, to discover HOW so that we might make things even better! This is what I dream about.
Finally it makes me sad because without this investment in primary data or ‘content’ as you web types might like to call it – the data where someone actually got up, went somewhere, did something, produced results that were based on some ‘thing’ then all we are doing is re-cycling information in a gazillion different ways. That data then comes back at us, clogging our in box and brains, making us feel important, well read and knowledgable, validating our sense of importance. When in reality it is doing nothing at all.
So, I’d like to raise my glass to all the do-ers of stuff out there, to the people who do put their money where their thoughts are, who seek, who learn, who grow and who create. I accept that it isn’t possible for all of us all of the time but as long as we value and advocate for the process of productive science it will still happen.
Now pass me my test tube, I’m going in!