The Scientist as an adventurer

Published on: 2008-5-21

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The Scientist as an adventurer


Mention the word "scientist" and what comes to our mind is the stereotype of an eccentric, absent minded professor doing weird experiments in the lab or scribbling cryptic equations on the blackboard. Seldom do we think of the scientist as an adventurer battling the forces of nature and risking life and limbs to satisfy his curiosity and thirst for knowledge. The history of science tells us that men of science were, indeed, men of action. Let's look at a passage from Bill Bryson's book A short history of nearly everything describing an attempt to observe the transit of Venus (in 1761) in order to calculate the distance from the Earth to the Sun: It was history's first co-operative international scientific venture, and almost everywhere, it ran into problems. Many observers were waylaid by war, sickness or shipwreck. Others made their destinations but opened their crates to find equipment broken or warped by tropical heat. Once again, the French seemed fated to provide the most memorably unlucky participants. Jean Chappe spent months travelling to Siberia by coach, boat and sleigh, nursing his delicate instruments over every perilous bump, only to find the last vital stretch blocked by swollen rivers, the result of unusually heavy spring rains, which the locals were swift to blame on him after they saw him pointing strange equipments at the sky. Chappe managed to escape with his life, but with no useful measurements. That's history; we are now living in an age were scientists don't have to fear being murdered or tortured for discovering truth. And, most scientists do not face the kind of risks which men like Jean Chappe had to. But what fascinates me is the fact that a *lot* of science was done by men who had to suffer a lot in the course of their explorations - men who never became rich by doing Science. A little reflection will show us that there will be progress in Science even without there being *huge* monetary incentives - that the arguments put forward by the Patents and "Intellectual Property" advocates are shallow at best. They are merely instruments to create wealth for middlemen, the corporates who care neither for Science nor for Society.


Sun May 25 16:54:54 2008

>But what fascinates me is the fact that a *lot* of >science was done by men who had to suffer a lot in >the course of their explorations - men who never >became rich by doing Science. It's the same in music, as well. Look at Mozart, perhaps THE greatest composer in Western Classical Music. He didn't make any money from music and had to suffer a lot in his life. It goes the same for some Malayalam film music directors as well, like M S Baburaj. Look at the so called music directors of today! They have all the money and fame, but where has the music gone?! People should realize that there are some creative activities, where money is never really an incentive for pursuing them, which you do just for the pleasure of doing it.

Pramode C.E

Mon May 26 03:45:26 2008