Sunday, November 30, 2008

An Ode to Boring Science

Photo from umjanedoan

I've never been that into dinosaurs and fossils. When I think of space, I think of coldness and emptiness, not "boldly going where no man has gone before". Neuroscience baffles me and as such I have little interest*. And yet, a large amount of the mass media coverage of science revolves around developments in these and select other fields. Not that they're unimportant, but I find it tiresome that the coverage of science is so one-sided.

I would like to see more emphasis on ordinary, bread-and-butter research out there. It seems that if the news isn't covering classic post-Sputnik science such as robots, rockets, and space, it's something contentious like stem cells, vaccines, or climate research. Big news to the media outlets out there: there's more to science than fighting over embryos and forecasting doom! And they often miss great stories, those stories may just unfortunately be a little harder to tell.

I want to celebrate "boring" research. The ordinary, non-press release research that constitutes the bulk of what one will find if they open up a non-Nature or -Science journal. Don't get me wrong, I'm not talking bad research; good-versus-bad is a different classification altogether than sensational-versus-boring research - there's lots of crap at the top and bottom. I want to talk about what you find when you flip open a textbook. What is published on a regular basis in the hundreds (thousands?) of respected journals out there. Just because it's ordinary science doesn't mean that it can't be fascinating once one gets into the details.

Boring research is interesting research that does not necessarily promise to change the world or advance our ultimate understanding or cure AIDS or discover the Caramilk secret. Boring research makes up the bulk of what is published, and while the loudest stories are cried out over the crowd, the progress of boring, everyday research moves forward. It is the blue chip stock in world of science, where the big trading happens in cloning, robotics, and gender studies.

I would like to see the story of boring research told. Research that perhaps is not ground-shattering** but still tells us important things about the world. Things that in time are more valuable than isolated studies that make major headlines. Things that are established to the point that even scientists ignore the interesting story behind them. I want to to celebrate the unsung heroes of research, and what it contributes to scientific progress.

Finally, it should be noted that this research isn't boring to me, nor should it be boring to you. If you think it is, I'd like to change your mind. Dig a little deeper and there is often a story to be told. By celebrating the tons of quality ordinary science out there, we see the true elegance and amazing subtleties of the world around us.

Here's to boring science!

Image from velorowdy

*Hypocracy acknowledged by this biochemist
**Keep in mind many Nobels have been awarded for work not appreciated when it was done

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