Lately I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around just how fucked up science is.
Whenever I think I've seen the worst, something else happens and I think:
Holy crap, how is that even possible.
The depths of human folly, that's how.
But I think my problem stems from this idea I had that scientists would be somehow better people, more objective- even to the point of admitting their own biases- than most. That these people were my people.
But most of us are not objective. Not even trying to see our own biases, most of the time.
I'm having trouble finding my people among these people. Yes, blogger-types, I have enjoyed "meeting" many of you online, but I'm not sure how to meet you in real life. Or if we would even get along.
I'm having trouble connecting with my feelings about this because I think one of the things that helped me do science thus far has been learning how to step back, how to not take it personally if something doesn't work, or if I happen to have a wrong hypothesis for a while. I'm really glad whenever I recognize this, that I'm holding onto something too hard. I always feel like when I let go of something, I'm making progress.
So now I'm trying to separate my feelings about science - in principle, a good idea to study the world using evidence-based, hypothesis-driven, observational methods, right?
And my impressions of most successful scientists: deeply insecure human beings with low EQs, who are trying to make up for being socially stigmatized as children by being bullies on the scientist playground as adults.
To some extent, I've known for a long time that truth is relative.
But in another way, I don't think I fully appreciated just how fucked up the process is of deciding what is currently true. Just who gets to decide, and why it's them and not anybody else.
I think I thought that, no matter how insecure the scientist, most people would be forced to admit in the face of evidence, what is objectively real and what is not.
Interpretation is up for debate, okay. But it turns out that even the objective definition of "real" and "fake" depends entirely on people's perceptions and willingness to admit their fear and insecurity.
I guess I've been thinking about this because a friend's paper got rejected recently with reviews that basically accused her of lying. But the evidence is right there in the paper, and this particular kind of result can't be faked.
It's infuriating because it's almost religious, this kind of argument. Which means there is basically no way to win.
And this is kind of how I feel about science in general lately. That there are so many bullies around, we can't get any real science done.
In thinking about this, one of my memories of elementary school came back to me with visceral clarity.
I always hated recess, because as a kid I wasn't very athletic at all. I was always bored at recess. I would probably have been happier to sit outside and read a book, but for some reason I think they wouldn't let us take books outside. I remember watching the other kids chasing each other around, throwing balls, hanging off the monkey bars.
And I was just waiting for it to end, so we could go back inside. Probably backwards from how kids are supposed to be, but I was much happier sitting in class.
I kept watching the other kids, trying to figure out what I could learn from them. I couldn't figure out what I was missing, since I couldn't do what they did. Maybe if I could have run around in circles, I would have gotten the data I was missing.
I guess this is sort of a metaphor for how I feel about the scientist playground. I feel like yeah, maybe it serves some purpose, and maybe most people enjoy all the monkeying around.
I've even come to learn to appreciate some of it that I didn't before- having drinks with friends, shooting the shit. It can even be the fun part when you're at a meeting sharing data all day. Just to do something else for a couple of hours in the evening, use a different part of your brain. That makes sense to me now.
But most days, even in lab I keep feeling like I did in elementary school: like I'm wandering around the playground by myself, looking for someone to talk to, who also wants to go back inside and do the fun part.