Science and art are not opposed.Samuel Morse (painter, sculptor, photographer, inventor of the telegraph)
Despite always dreaming of becoming a scientist, it took many years for me to work up the courage and confidence to make an honest attempt in the field as an adult. I believed that I just “didn’t have it” when it came to science, I excelled in arts and humanities and they are so often presented as opposing skills. What I have come to learn is that science and art are not so different; the artist presents a truth and seeks the data and justification to uphold it while the scientist presents data and seeks the truth through interpretation. Both journeys are never quite done for the artist always has more work to present while the scientist always has more questions to pursue. Thus the main work of both fields consists of a research, presentation, critique cycle.
I am lucky enough to experience the pure joy of abstract esoteric knowledge generation and exploration. My current field of research stands at an intersection of genetics, discrete maths, and computer science, in the field of bioinformatics, specifically in algorithms for phylogenetics. What I wish is for this research to lead to meaningful and impactful progress in the science of nature and biology. In the big picture, my goals in my scientific work are to serve my community, and the earth my host. The most pressing issue in my lifetime is the climate catastrophe, and I hope my work can serve those working to mitigate it, though I am regretfully far removed from the direct ecological and social impact of my work.
Science is the way forward, but I would be remiss to not mention some of my critiques of the field. I will not address commonly thought of issues like reproducibility and patriarchy/racism. I am not in a position to make any meaningful contribution therein, thus I would rather be an active “listener” in that space. Instead, I will spend a short time to point out a few issues with public trust, credibility and the cycle of science.
Public trust in science is eroded. Institutions of higher education are seen by the general public to operate “on high”, seeming to provide unasked for regulations while misappropriating public funds towards investigating either (and somehow contradictory) obvious truths or self-serving misinformation. Obviously, to those of us in science, the benefit is clear. The collaboration, rigours, and review provide a firm basis for measured progress on which we can be relatively confident of honesty and integrity. The disconnect is one of communication; science suffers from a branding problem. The fallacy of objectivity is clear to the scientist, however science research is so often presented AS objective, in a passive and disconnected voice. Then, science communication often relies on science journalists, and it is in the chain of information passing that confidence and context can be misconstrued and misrepresented. I won’t pretend to have any solutions, and prefer to point out that there must be a middle way.
Finally, I will make a few short comments about service, and the cycle of science. The findings of science research often invite some action. We find some substance to be carcinogenic, so we wish to ban the substance from consumer and/or commercial products. But what happens when we discover some substance to be carcinogenic or otherwise harmful, and we receive pressure to “continue research” or to “verify claims”, when perhaps this is actually the easier and more harmful route, when replacing or removing the substance in question is the real and obvious path towards less harm. Of course, these latter solutions, rather than the former, often require a bold stance on the part of government and industry, something we cannot count on. Perhaps it is the duty of scientists to not be so tempted by a circular, nonproductive funding cycle. Perhaps it is the duty of scientists to stand up for positive societal and industrial change, even when it appears to stand in the face of “our job” of mindlessly accepting whatever crumbs of funding will keep pushing the narrative along that the “science isn’t done“. Credibility can be won through disclosure of stakeholders and I want my stakeholders to be the community I serve. Obviously, I speak in hypothetical and idealistic terms and for clear cut cases, and I again point out that there always a middle way. However, here on my personal website, I can dream of working in an industry that is brave in the face of government and industry inaction.