Don’t Be Such a Scientist by Randy Olson

30 05 2009

Here’s a Book that I’m looking forward to reading titled, Don’t Be Such a Scientist. The title itself didn’t sound so appealing, until I read the article on Randy Olson is advising scientists to be less of a scientist when communicating with the non-scientific community.

Introduction – The need for a new approach to science communication in an age of information overload. In the words of communication theorist Richard Lanham (”The Economics of Attention: Style and Substance in the Age of Information,” 2007), “style and substance, and our expectations for them, have changed places.” It’s not about “dumbing down,” it’s about using style as a means of communicating substance.

Myself, as a person who is a scientist by day and one who enjoys the creative side of life by night, am very intrigued by this notion. (Not because someone has decided to write a book, mind you). It has always been an independent thought of mine that science needs to break out of it’s own niche and communicate better with the outside world. It’s the only way to effectively apply the theories and research to the world at large. And hopefully inspire budding scientists to get involved and see that science does in fact take creativity. When I was a child, I was turned off of science because I much preferred to draw colorful pictures of the things I saw around me rather than investigate the how’s and why’s of the things around me. Anyway, the book comes out in September, and I look forward to reading it. I’ve just recently begun to start reading about all of this stuff. I never realized that people were writing books about all these things that I’ve always thought about.




One response

19 11 2009

Hi Radha

I read your comments above and I thought I should write as the book I’ve authored, Convergence: A Tale of Four Women, has been targeted with people like you in mind. I dont dumb the science down in the book, and also I place the 4 main characters right into the middle a science mystery intertwined with the politics of science. Please visit the website,, and discover for yourself if the book piques your interest. I’ve also added a review of the book below.


Review Article (abridged)

I have now read Convergence, and can strongly recommend it as an excellent discussion of major ethical issues.

Corruption in academic science is a serious problem. When research leaders fake their results, favour incompetency, steal each other’s knowledge, undermine others for personal motives, and demonstrate indifference regarding systems to uncover such malfeasance, the trust and collegiality on which the system relies quickly breaks down. Convergence, a novel by Christopher Paul Turner, is a detailed study of precisely such events, providing an illuminating forensic morality tale about the perverse incentives that govern success and failure in the modern competitive university.

Convergence should be required reading for anyone wanting to understand the ethical realities of the laboratory jungle. Outsiders imagine that scientists are high-minded and objective, but unscrupulous individuals can easily trade on this trust and respect to rise to career success despite being lazy, stupid, malicious, deceitful and fraudulent.

Convergence is a morality tale of the American health and the American university system. Its lesson is that broad strategic goals such as the pursuit of truth and health mean nothing when corrupt schemers can work the system for their own advantage. The US health system is costing more and delivering less. The lack of ethics built into the Darwinian cut-throat world of scientific grants and papers seems to be a major underlying reason for this systemic failure.

I enjoyed Convergence for its depth of insight into academic politics and morality………
One line from the book that I really liked was that brain cells that can’t form networks die, with the implication that the same thing is true for people. The widespread reliance on superficial impressions results in networking opportunities going to those who create a good social and political image, with excluded people suffering social death. In science this behaviour can easily undermine the merit principle. For all their high intellect, scientists and doctors still act on the basis of heirarchical and instinctive emotion.

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