Might want to check the batteries in your warning bell

Some snippets on the STAP author, from an admiring piece before problems started coming to light:

“There were many days when I wanted to give up on my research and cried all night long,”

He described Obokata as competitive and persistent, saying the graduate student learned the cell cultivation technique from scratch and worked on experiments around the clock.

She said she spends more than 12 hours a day throughout the week at her laboratory,

I think about my research all day long, including when I am taking a bath and when I am on a date with my boyfriend,

There is a powerful, pop-culture image of the single-minded, obsessed, tireless scientist, whose personal sacrifices are rewarded by the discovery of Truth. It’s a lie. The best (and more importantly, happiest) scientists I know are people who are interested in many things, who approach all aspects of their lives with engagement, purpose and openness. I know people like the description here. They are, in my experience, sick. They are unhappy. They think in ruts. They are stubborn. They are unpleasant to work with. They are selfish. They are often single-minded to the point of being negligent. They are terrified of not living up to expectations.

We need to stop presenting and encouraging these traits as admirable or desirable in young scientists.

And what about the field of stem cells? As someone who works in a field that seems to be experience a rising tide of bullshit and tech-driven hype, this worries me:

The field was described as “a mess” by one senior researcher with 20 years experience, and as having a “very unhealthy, competitive attitude, nourished by top tier journals”, by another.

What is clear is that the senior scientists who praised, encouraged, and stood to benefit from Obokata’s obsessive and self-destructive nature will suffer few if any career consequences.

The trajectory of Haruko Obokata was meteoric.

Indeed.

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4 Comments on “Might want to check the batteries in your warning bell”

  1. Dave says:

    It’s a lie. The best (and more importantly, happiest) scientists I know are people who are interested in many things, who approach all aspects of their lives with engagement, purpose and openness.

    I agree, but I personally think it is a very difficult lesson to learn and in many ways it’s about just being able to let go. Many never get there, and many don’t even want to try. Can’t really blame post-docs who take this attitude in the current job/career environment, however.

  2. […] condescension to young scientists. (Also, it looks like K3rn and Chuck Vacanti look for the same qualities in their trainees.) I’ve found the word funny in most contexts for years thanks to the other […]

  3. Damn Skippy says:

    It is likely because she is Japanese. I am an American working in Japan. More important than the work itself is always the maintenance of the illusion that your life is nothing but your work. We go through this same BS everyday in the office. People slack off until 5 PM, and then all of the sudden start working until late in the evening, putting on a show, scheduling meetings at 7 PM, sending emails late into the night, and calling any coworkers at home who managed to leave before 6 PM to ask inane questions. Then, there is the scheduling of the Saturday morning pep/organizational meetings and weekly “weekend emergencies.” If you do not play this game, you are socially ostracized. It is just how it is.


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