A salute to scientists

May 8, 2012 § Leave a comment

I was asked a few weeks ago to help categorize the Journal of Biological Chemistry’s Reflections articles by subject matter. Because I am usually busy writing JBC Classics and summaries for Papers of the Week  and editing upcoming JBC manuscript titles (along with my duties to ASBMB Today),  I haven’t paid much attention to Reflections. Frankly, I had to be nicely asked to do this extra project.

So I started to click, and any ill-humor I bore toward this project immediately vanished. For, in these Reflections, I found a treasure trove of memories and anecdotes.  Scientists are a passionate, occasionally eccentric, brilliant bunch. Their stories reminded me why I had gone to science in the first place.

The Reflections serve as a wonderful reminder that science is at its core a human endeavor. These are people with feelings, cares and quirks who plow on with their work, no matter what the obstacles are, to make those discoveries, hypotheses and measurements. These articles tell all kinds of tales of triumphs, humiliations, hardships, good luck and misfortune. Together, the Reflections pay tribute to this strange endeavor that we call science — the pursuit of knowledge of ourselves and the world we live in — and to the strange way it works. There is no linear trajectory but rather hops, skips and jumps all over the map. The stories are inspiring, for they speak to the ultimate success of being able to look back and acknowledge a milestone reached and a job well done.

I marveled at the humility and perseverance of many who wrote their stories. Several scientists, like Gerald Fink, paid tribute to their spouses and families. Maxine Singer paid homage to her thesis adviser, Leon Heppel. Women like Raquel Sussman described how they balanced their dual passions for science and their children without money or institutional support. Some revealed details you couldn’t have guessed (there was a time when Vanderbilt University’s John Exton helped ewes give birth). Yale University’s Peter Moore‘s Reflections is just plain funny — and he will be the one to remind you that not every scientist had it hard and some were lucky to be at the right place at the right time.

It’s well worth keeping track of Reflections as they appear, for you never know whose story you will hear next. For example, in the latest issue of JBC, Lubert Stryer contributes a Reflections article. You are of my generation if “Stryer” is a textbook. But in this piece, you hear from the man. Did you know, for example, he made some of the seminal discoveries that led to FRET microscopy or that he’s an avid photographer?

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