I’m coming to the end of my research trip. I start heading home tomorrow and will finally get there on Sunday evening. Why I thought I would write this quick post, is that I had an email asking if I would highlight a post on the Nature Conservancy blog about the Spirit of Mawson Expedition. That’s it done. Given that enough has probably been said here about the expedition and that I’ll be travelling for the next couple of days, I would ask that if you have any comments about the actual expedition, that you make them there, rather than here.
However, since I’m actually away on a research trip myself, I thought I might add something here. Some of the criticism I’ve heard has been along the lines of : “why did they (the scientists) have to actually go there. Couldn’t someone else have gone. It all seems simple enough.” Well, I’m probably verging on being more senior than junior, and yet what I’ve been doing on my research trip has been pretty straightforward and simple. Someone more junior could easily have come instead of me and done an equally good (possibly better) job. So, why am I here?
There are a number of reasons. Firstly, I’m a scientist. This is what I do. My career path isn’t into management. It’s to keep doing science. Also, there isn’t always someone else. It takes quite a lot of time and effort to collect all the data for a major project, and you can’t just rely on the most junior people to do all the basic work. Another reason is that I’m part of a collaboration. I don’t want to get my name on papers without doing something. Actually taking my turn at collecting the data is part of contributing to the work of the collaboration. Sure, some may be happy simply managing more junior researchers, but that’s certainly not my preference. Additionally, as I think others have pointed out, it’s a crucial part of understanding the data. Even though I’ve been involved in this project from the beginning, sitting in a room and having someone explain how things work is no substitute to actually going and collecting some data yourself. You get to understand the calibrations and how the data is processed in a way that isn’t possible by simply reading manuals or talking to people. It’s also fun. Doing science is interesting and that’s why we choose this career. We also get to go to interesting places but, believe me, it’s not all fun and games and the novelty quickly wears off.
Anyway, I don’t really want this to turn into another lengthy discussion on the merits (or lack thereof) of the Spirit of Mawson Expedition. If you do want to express specific views about the expedition, you can comment at the blog I highlighted at the start of this post. It may well turn out that the expedition will be worthy of criticism. However, it’s certainly my opinion that criticising the scientists for wanting to go into the field to make their measurements and collect their data illustrates a lack of understanding both of how science works and what drives scientists to do what they do.