“Not explaining Science seems to me perverse. When you are in love, you want to tell the whole world.” -Carl Sagan
Sometimes it is very difficult to explain how an idea is born. This is the case for my idea of start writing the Baldscientist blog.
Scientists are educators, period. I don’t care if a significant portion of my colleagues do not describe themselves as such. When you do real science, whatever you discover adds up to the wealth of human knowledge. This knowledge, at some point, will most likely help someone to understand our universe a little better; now tell me, if this is not education, what is it?
Educators, particularly science educators are (or at least should be) natural storytellers; in my view, this is the best way to teach. By telling a story you are able to convey your enthusiasm for your field. Trust me, this enthusiasm is contagious and cannot be faked. When your listeners or readers catch up the proverbial enthusiasm bug from you it is very much like a chain reaction, they will want to know MORE. In time, they may contribute original knowledge of their own and the cycle goes on.
Not so long ago I somehow acquired a very rewarding ability. I am able to tell when one of my students “gets it”. It is very difficult to describe how I know, but it seems to be all in the eyes; a subtle change, that tells me, in a very direct way, that something “clicked” in their minds, usually followed by a smile. Very much rewarding indeed!
I feel incredibly lucky and privileged that I ended up as a scientist and educator. I did not follow the direct route though. In other words, I was a non-traditional student. After college, I was a high school teacher; worked in a casino and at a food court (not all at the same time) for a couple of years. After that, I started working as a research technician in a medical school, where I worked for about ten years, coauthored 7 scientific papers and earned a Master’s degree. I would say that it was right then and there there where I learned how to be a scientist (along the way, I somehow had the time to get married and had my first two kids; motivation is everything (;-)…). I then got the opportunity to get my PhD at a top research university and the rest, is history.
I was so lucky to get there, so many people helped me out! That story is for some other time, though.
Coming back to topic, why do I write? Although I am no stranger to writing, my experience was limited to academic writings, namely my MS thesis and my PhD dissertation, as well as scientific papers and review articles.
I started writing this blog on Dec 10, 2010 in a “why not?” frame of mind. My usual topics are science (duh!) focusing on my own research, but I essentially write about anything that catches my attention. I have also written about teaching and some of my experiences raising a child with autism, among other topics, including science fiction.
Writing about science is is one of the ways that I have to try to express my very real fascination with the universe; from stars to dinosaurs to worms. I have always been a bookworm. When I was a boy I liked reading about anything and everything. It’s just that I liked science a little bit more. This was the time of encyclopedias (look them up!) and I went through Volumes A to Z with gusto. I also read any book that I could get my hands on. Would it surprise you that I loved libraries and bookstores?
One of the fondest memories of my childhood is when my late father “asked me questions”. We would usually sit at the porch of our house and he would just start asking questions. “How long ago did the dinosaurs live?”, “What is the biggest planet in our solar system?” and so on, and I just answered while he listened, giving me his undivided attention. This is even more remarkable to me when I think that my dad was not the scientific type. He dealt with numbers, bookeeping, etc. He was just there for me, helping me grow and develop my scientific curiosity.
One just have to be fascinated with this universe, where matter eventually generated life, and life eventually brought about sentience. In at least one case that we know of, some members of an intelligent species in this planet used their brains to think beyond of what was immediately apparent to the senses and wondered things like:
“What’s beyond the stars?”
“How did it all start?”
“Why is there anything at all, instead of nothing?”
In case you are wondering, that intelligent species is us. Granted, many of the questions that we can posit about the universe will take a very long time to be answered, if ever. But if we have any kind of hope of at least try and get some answers, even partial ones, these will only come by through curiosity and wonder.
A practical consideration that any science writer has in mind is that we live in a society that is increasingly dependent on the fruits of science and its first cousin, technology. Despite this, an alarming fraction of people in our society have very little or no idea about what science is and how it works. Worse, even when people are willing to learn about it there is a lot of unreliable sources of information, with pseudoscience and partisan science as two of the main culprits.
Thus, there are two main types of reasons why I write about science. The first one is “from the heart”; learning about science brings me joy; end of story. The second one comes from my mind. I want to try to make as many people as I can realize that science is fascinating in its own right, but at the same time I want to convince people that science also has a series of practical implications that may prove essential to own own survival.
In the words of my favorite Vulcan, “It is logical”.