October 19, 2012
to be posted on nobabies.net

Bruce Alberts
American Association for the Advancement of Science
1200 New York Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20005

Dear Dr. Alberts:
I found your article (The End of “Small Science?” SCIENCE vol. 337 no. 6102 September 28, 2012 page 1583) pleasant, even heart warming.  Some days science reminds me of a young woman I was most fond of who seemed to have the attitude, “What’s the point of being the prettiest and smartest if you’re going to be modest about it?” 

Hubris has dogged the steps of science for centuries since a time when the money being spent was very little and ideas very simple.  One still gets the message, “We are just on the verge of understanding everything about …”   Then something comes along like dark energy and the field becomes interesting again.  Many the visionary has pronounced the end of the world by non scientific agency.  I suppose the current flavors are the zombie apocalypse and the Mayan apocalypse.  But the world quite placidly continues to exist and nature still presents mysteries.

If hubris was indulged in in the past, how much more of a temptation it is now, with theories opaque to all but the initiates and fabulous sums being spent.  But as the known, or rather theorized, spreads over reality its edge must perforce become longer and the known unknowns more numerous.  Add to that the facts that theories get superseded as knowledge accumulates, that papers actually get retracted and that many of the retractions are because of dishonesty (Most Papers Retracted for Misconduct SCIENCE vol. 338 no. 6103 October 5, 2012 page 23) and there is an ever increasing plenty to be modest about.

Your editorial puts a more human face on matters.  Important things can be done and significant improvements in understanding made in small laboratories.  It reminds one that scientists are real people with real passions and real questions.

I have the fantasy of somebody establishing a modest prize for work coming from the smallest, most understaffed and under funded laboratory. 

Thank you for a constructive perspective.


M. Linton Herbert MD 

No, they didn’t publish it.

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