February 19th, 2009

lolcat: science

Cassini, & ways of doing science

Attention! Here is another chance to participate in SCIENCE, or at least, a science-related popularity contest.

The Cassini team would like you to vote on your favourite image of Saturn and its moons here. There are a dizzying array (okay, 15) to choose from. I found it difficult, but had to go with Saturn's Polar Aurora in the end because, hey, magnetospheric-ionospheric interaction. The skeet shoot of Enceladus' tiger stripes came a close second, though.


My flatmate (the one who doesn't have an LJ) loaned me Lee Smolin's The Trouble with Physics, which is all about the development of string theory and why it's still so contentious. Most of it interests me in a rather abstract way, but I ran across a paragraph today that I wish I'd read ten years ago.
As I reflect on the scientific careers of the people I have known these last thirty years, it seems to me more and more that these career decisions hinge on character. Some people will happily jump on the next big thing, give it all they've got, and in this way make important contributions to fast-moving fields. Others just don't have the temperament to do this. Some people need to think through everything very carefully, and this takes time, as they get easily confused. It's not hard to feel superior to such people, until you remember that Einstein was one of them. In my experience, the truly shocking new ideas and innovations tend to come from such people. Still others - and I belong to this third group - just have to go their own way, and will flee fields for no better reason than that it offends them that some people are joining in because it feels good to be on the winning side. So I no longer get bothered when I disagree with what other people are doing, because I see that temperament pretty much determines what kind of science they will do. Luckily for science, the contributions of the whole range of types are needed. Those who do good science, I've come to think, do so because they choose problems that are suited to them.

I think I might have suffered less from Impostor Syndrome if this had made clear to me when I started grad school.