On expressing our joy as scientists

My inner curmudgeon is on vacation, but he’ll be back next week.

This week on Twitter, #IAmAScientistBecause has been trending*. I’ve been enjoying it tremendously, and I tweeted the sentiment above (the link is to this post). If you missed the whole thing and want to see some of the tweets, here’s a nice collection to start with.

I was enjoying #IAmAScientistBecause so much, in fact, that I was quite taken aback to see some people tweeting their uneasiness with the whole business. Of course, that was naïve on my part: you can’t post even a cute kitten to the internet without getting some kind of pushback! But the uneasy people (whom I respect very much) made two interesting points, and they got me thinking.

Some pointed out that all is not well in our scientific enterprise: just as a few examples, we’re not finished diversifying the community of scientists, there are issues around career paths and debate over whether we’re overproducing and underpaying grad students and postdocs. Too much celebration might risk trivializing these very real issues.

Others thought they detected some “smugness”, some feeling of superiority or some exclusion or devaluing of other people and their careers. That made me worry about my own tweet, because I think it could be read as exclusionary: if you don’t read the blog post I linked to, “knowing things nobody else knows” might sound that way. (In my defence, the “for a while” refers to the joy I then feel in passing my new knowledge on to others.)

So should we have refrained from #IAmAScientistBecause? No! This was a wonderful example of people celebrating the joy they feel in being scientists and doing science. We should feel that joy, and we should celebrate it, and we shouldn’t be afraid to celebrate it publicly. We should also celebrate our joy in sharing what we do with non-scientists; many people did tweet that, and I wish I had.

Celebrating our joy in science doesn’t mean we think everything is perfect. We can work to improve the enterprise while simultaneously exulting in the progress we’ve made. And it doesn’t mean we think other people’s careers aren’t worthy of respect, or that other people can’t love what they do too. I’d be happy to see #IAmAForensicAccountantBecause trending, or #IAmAMassageTherapistBecause, or even (gasp) #IAmAPoliticianBecause. My car mechanic, my family doctor, my son’s primary-school teacher, and my city’s police officers can (I hope) all find joy in their jobs, and my joy needn’t diminish theirs any more than theirs should diminish mine.

#IAmAScientistBecause of lots of things – but not least that I love being one. I don’t think it takes anything away from anyone else if I say so, and I think our scientific culture can only be strengthened if you say so too.

So although I respect the thoughtful objections that came through my Twitter feed, I come down firmly on the side of publicly celebrating our joy in science.


UPDATE: Here’s a post that very nicely expresses the opposing view – you should read it too.

© Stephen Heard (except the tweets) (sheard@unb.ca) April 9 2015

*Not, like, Taylor-Swift-trending, but hey.


5 thoughts on “On expressing our joy as scientists

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