In “Rebels Whose Bold Moves Set Science Aglow” (New York Times, May 21, 2012), Katherine Bouton, reviewing science writer Michael Brooks’ “Free Radicals” dishes the dirt on innovative scientists:
The “radicals” of his title are scientists with an unwavering belief in the truth of their ideas and no compunction about breaking the rules to prove it. They fight, they try to block colleagues’ progress, they commit fraud, they deceive and manipulate others.
Yes, but so do tenured non-entities. So do administrative careerists.
Scientists overlook inconvenient results, writes Mr. Brooks, a British science writer who holds a doctorate in quantum physics and writes a weekly column for The New Statesman. They ignore data that conflict with their ideas.
Something is missing from this picture. Going bad didn’t make the science stars good; it just didn’t stop them from winning.
Interestingly, Brooks tells us that the image of the scientist as someone responsible and safe was invented postwar, to counter the Hiroshima “mad scientist” persona. And, here’s the kicker, he’d like to change that. According to Bouton, he thinks that, to fight “the unprecedented threat from global climate change,” scientists should change their image, and “speak up” – because the scientists he writes about are winners, and history belongs to the winners.
Put another way: it’s okay to look and sound deranged if you are already a winner. Otherwise, recheck those calculations, pronto.
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