Monday, 8 June 2009

Weingarten’ dilemma

As usual, I was looking for something else entirely when I came across the book entitled Theory of Technology. It contains a chapter written by Thomas E. Clarke. I allow myself a couple of quotes:

Protestations to the contrary, most organizations are not looking for creative output from their employees. They want employees that can follow instructions and operate within a very narrow band of decision-making authority.
In many cases, when scientists move to the managerial ladder just to get more financial compensation, the organization loses a productive, highly motivated scientist and gains an unfulfilled, mediocre manager.
Personally, I would correct the latter passage by removing “just to get more financial compensation”: whatever the motivation, more often than not the scientist is lost. For good. The author himself explains why the scientists do not make good managers:
Unlike many other professionals, scientists and engineers do not seek out promotion to the ranks of management as this would force them to interact with people to a greater degree and detract from their focus on their scientific profession.

In their sci-fi novel За миллиард лет до конца света (Definitely Maybe in English translation), Arkady and Boris Strugatsky describe a series of unexplained phenomena that occur around several scientists, who are all working on unrelated problems. A working hypothesis is that there is some sort of natural force preventing the humankind from discoveries which may threaten the “Homeostatic Universe”. Weingarten, a molecular biologist, is facing a tough choice: either to continue his groundbreaking experiments on reverse transcriptase (and incur the wrath of Homeostatic Universe) or to become a director of a brand new research institute, knowing that he will not be able to return to his potentially Nobel Prize-winning work. Naturally, Weingarten chooses the directorship (he is arguing that, as a director, he will be able to conduct research worth ten Nobel Prizes; somehow, his friend Malianov is not convinced.)

Of course, the Homeostatic Universe of Strugatsky brothers is just a metaphor for scientific bureaucracy. (Or maybe the scientific bureaucracy is just one of manifestations of the Homeostatic Universe. It does not matter.)

In science, one either does science, or makes a career.

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