Science: a story without subjects

Consider this: scientists are trained, since very early in their careers, to communicate with the passive voice, excluding subjects and emphasizing objects. I propose that this ingrains a strong, subconscious message that scientists aren’t full, emotional, ‘human’ beings.

Besides being dull to read, the standard use of the passive voice gives the impression that science happens all on its own, without motives or feelings or hopes or agendas of the people performing the science. Of course any honest scientist would tell you that this is not at all true. Yet, we cling to the specter of complete objectivity–to the idea that we, as human beings, do not impact the science that we do. We cling to this concept in the language we use to discuss our work, the way we train young scientists, the way in which projects persist longer than the people who work on them.

I perceive two key negative impacts caused by the lack of proper attention to the scientist as subject. First of all, scientists themselves forget to see themselves as biased human beings. This¬†encourages scientists to think that they do not need training in order to avoid racist, sexist, unfair behaviors. There is a strong message that we, as scientists, are above the rules that apply to regular people–such as the need for training in pedagogy or philosophy. In the scientific community, there is a healthy culture of arrogance. Secondly, laypeople do not see how to understand or empathize with the work that scientists do. As a result, the important work that is done by scientists (global warming research, etc) isn’t trusted. Laypeople become uncomfortable with the idea of giving public funds to support efforts by people they view coolly, with distrust.

What would it look like if scientists started being more open about our own role in the research and discovery process?



I Didn’t Mean to Thank You

I, as a person who wants to be friendly and polite, have made a habit of saying “Thank you!”. I say “Thank you!” A LOT. I say “Thank you!” the normal times: when someone did a favor for me, or helped me out in some way. I also say thank you sometimes when it’s not necessary: when someone responded to my email, or when someone answered a question, or when someone was doing their job. Sometimes, I even say thank you when it makes no sense at all: when I did a favor for someone else, when there was an awkward situation I was trying to avoid, when the conversation naturally ended.¬†

Ultimately, offering excessive thanks degrades gratitude. It undermines sincerity and recognition of someone else’s humanity, because it fails to acknowledge the special, separate, unique value of what they’ve done that as worthy of gratitude. If all things are thanked, then nothing is thanked; the word loses all meaning, and there is then no word to replace it.Instead of defaulting to “Thank you!” I’m trying to use my vocabulary to say what I really mean. Maybe it’s, “I value your friendship.” or “I’m happy I can help!” or “You do your job very well.” or even “I appreciate your attention to this issue.”¬†

If indeed it is more blessed to give than receive, why do I always try to paint myself as the receiver, and why am I uncomfortable being the giver?