In my environmental science class one of my students brought in an article about some new research being done on fireflies by a graduate student at the University of Kansas. After discussing the article the student asked what good any of this research was. So I went into a standard answer about the importance of fireflies and how we need to understand their biology etc. etc. None of what I said was wrong, just incomplete.
It was incomplete because I really suspect most scientists don't think about the application end of their research, so much as the intrinsic interest they have in the critters or processes they study. In short, science is play. Think about it. There are well defined rules and strategies(e,g, the scientific method). There are puzzles to solve and sometimes "opponents" to beat(e.g. other scientists). Some laboratories have multitudes of scientists working on different facets of a problem. But the game is also solitary, played by individuals in fields in the Kansas evening, or as I sometimes do, on blackboards or computer screens, or riding in the car.
Sometimes the game is intensely cerebral like chess, only better; other times the game is physical, sometimes very much so and sometimes the game is quite boring like when you're collecting repetitive data and you go tozzzzzzzzzzzz.
Now some people will get all huffy and say that science is not a mere game. Well what's so mere about a game? After all, we spend a good portion of our gross domestic product on games. Think of all the money spent on the Superbowl for instance. One advertisment costs what: $100,000? Who typically gets paid more at many colleges, the science professors or the football coach?
I'm not going to get all judgemental about this. Play is important. But I wonder what we as scientists can do to make our play more public without compromising the science. This is one area where the internet may be able to help, by allowing scientists to easily set up sites for their areas, so people can visit. Some one recently told me that if you want to maximize the number of hits your site gets.....use the word "free". Apparently "sex" works too. OK this is for all search engines to find:
Oh, and if you're some poor soul who's found this page by searching for "free" or "sex" then I hope you'll visit the rest of my site right here mail me
Main Menu, Essay Menu
© Paul Decelles 7/6/96, 9/5/99......and don't be embarrased, I like "free" and "sex" just as much as the next person.