A man for our season

August 28th, 2011

Peter Lawrence and Michael Locke wrote an essay that made an enormous impression on me (“A Man for Our Season”, Nature, 1997). For a long time a copy hung on the wall of the lab. I was reminded of it last week when I read a recent interview with Lawrence (“The Heart of Research is Sick”, Lab Times, 2011).

When it’s hard to reach me because I’m busy with my own research work; when I have to decline to travel to give seminars; when postdocs in my lab publish their own independent work without my name on their papers; when our papers go to open-access journals that do a good job of delivering substantive content regardless of that journal’s supposed “impact”; when I spend time on the details of a constructive peer review; when I help HHMI recruit and mentor younger scientists — and indeed when I moved to Janelia Farm, to be part of the idealistic culture that we want to build here — it’s principles much like Peter Lawrence’s that I’m aspiring to.

Real lives and white lies in the funding of scientific research

PLoS Biology, 2009

Retiring retirement
Nature, 2008

The mismeasurement of science
Current Biology, 2007

Men, women, and ghosts in science
PLoS Biology, 2006

The politics of publication
Nature, 2003

Rank injustice
Nature, 2002

Science or alchemy?
Nature Reviews Genetics, 2001

A man for our season
Nature, 1997

2 responses

  1. The widely held notion that high-impact publications determine who gets academic jobs, grants and tenure is wrong. Stop using it as an excuse. pings back:

    [...] is [1], or how the tyranny of the impact factor is destroying science. Peter Lawrence (see also this list put together by Sean Eddy) has written extensively and eloquently on the [...]

  2. Andrew Klaassen comments:

    I realize I’m commenting on an old post, but the linked readings were thought-provoking. It all reminds me of the takeover of parts of the legal profession by “rainmakers”, people who can reliably pull in clients and money. Likewise, in science-as-an-enterprise, the more rain you can make for your research group from funding bodies, the more you’re rewarded with academic currency. You get to lead a large group, you get to put your name on all your underling’s papers, you get an exponentially better chance at continued funding.

    In both cases, admiration and rewards – rewards all out of proportion to contribution – flow to the best salesmen. They become the central figures, the professionals to be emulated. Not that science doesn’t need effective communicators and “sellers” of science, but for professions that aim for high ethical standards, making the salesman into the profession’s exemplar might be somewhat counterproductive.

    “Second prize is a set of steak knives…”

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