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30 Years (G)On(e)

Ever since I got my Ph.D., nigh onto 30 years ago, I have been engaged in what’s known as “public good” science. Research and education funded by taxpayers, the results of which were freely available to taxpayers. Work that has provided the essential foundation for most of the “miracles” of the modern era, from ampicillin to YouTube.

I was told, young and up front, that public good science was no way to get rich. But as a young man with no money, social skills, or connections to speak of, I saw the academic life as a way to do something useful, and perhaps to gain enough respectability in society to actually be left alone to do it. It was a calling, and I believed in it.

I was still in graduate school when I first started to doubt. When it dawned on me that I’d been born too late, the academic jobs I’d dreamed about had been filled up and there was a whole mob of us fighting for what was left. When I looked around me, and saw that all of my grad school “peers” were children of prosperity, with whom I had nothing in common but the Petri dishes in the lab.

When I first started out in my career, we held our professional meetings in university student unions, and slept in dormitory rooms with rickety beds. Dedication, I fantasized.

When some of us started insisting on staying in hotels instead of the dorms, I worried.

When the meetings themselves started being held in hotels and conference centers instead of the student unions, I worried some more. OK, it’s nice to sleep in a room that won’t wake you at 3 AM with the whine of a toilet being flushed on the 10th floor, and in a bed that won’t leave you bent double with back spasms in the morning. But that was what “dedication” was all about. Nothing good can come of this posh stuff.

The children of prosperity had other ideas. Especially as their peers in other walks of life were making far more than they. My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends. So they became comfortable.

And as they became more comfortable, they became more noticeable. And it became more noticeable that what they were saying about the world might be true, but wasn’t necessarily friendly.

They proclaimed that God did not specially create humanity – while treating Darwin as if he did.

They proclaimed that humans caused global warming, and that warming is a clear and present danger to humanity – while driving to work (see “Porsche”, supra).

They proclaimed that private support for research threatened the whole research enterprise, by locking information up with patents and contracts – but willingly accepted corporate funding when the alternative, due to the increasing unwillingness of a dubious public to provide more taxpayer monies, was to close laboratories and fire people.

Today (29 December 2009), in “Paradise”, the President of the University of Hawai‘i unilaterally imposed a 6.7% cut in salary on its faculty, citing financial emergency and contractural impasse as reasons to abrogate the “evergreen” clause in the contract that expired last June.

The faculty union, theoretically, has options, including seeking a court injunction blocking the University’s action, or calling for a strike.

But the union has to consider, in its deliberations, the apparently-universal public response to the UH President’s action:

“Damned right and it’s about time. Screw the greedy fat bastards!”

The public is dead wrong.

And perfectly right.

And thirty years is a heap of ashes in my stomach.


    1. Yeah, Dawg, I reckon. I’d imagine you’ve got it worse. The children of prosperity would like nothing better than for the rest of us to hang separately.

  1. If I could go back in time thirty years and introduce myself to Younger Me and tell her all about my life and how things turned out, she’d probably shoot herself in the head.

    Good luck in Washington Amoeba! There are stories in it all somewhere, or novels…
    .-= Susan at Stony River´s last blog ..Ella Goes To Belfast =-.

    1. In my case, the message would be “In every instance, you were right the first time. For God’s sake don’t ever let anyone talk you out of what you know.”

  2. Amoeba – Let the phoenix rise from the ashes. You have passion friend. It is there (and always has been) in every. word. you. write. Don’t let them grind you down.

    I don’t understand the politics, and don’t pretend to. You and I differ on the “belief” scale by miles sometimes (other times not), but I have always admired your passion for what you know and love. Don’t let it be ashes, or if it is, let the phoenix rise.
    .-= Thumbelina´s last blog ..Rain, Rain, Go Away… =-.

    1. Thumbelina — thank you! I am hoping this move will take us to a place where science is better respected for the good it does. Now, if I could just keep Amoeba off-line and away from all the ignorant people who think scientists must be rich and therefore automatically despised (as opposed to movie stars who are rich but loved because for the most part they are also beautiful). We live in a much too shallow world for Amoeba.

      1. Q, while I think beauty has something to do with it, I think movie stars get mobbed (what passes for “love”) because they are front-and-center in providing what people want: entertainment. And because their public peccadillos permit their audience to fantasize “I could do that just as well, and behave better into the bargain”. While the scientists are in the background – if something they produce is desirable, it’s a company and its marketers that get the visibility and the credit, not the scientists. What’s left are greedy little madmen in white coats, who, if they’re given any leeway at all, are likely to take over the world, Batman fans. People, as Ambrose Bierce once said of physicians, “upon whom we set our hopes when ill, and our dogs when well.”

    2. Thumbelina, thank you. Now, if I could only be convinced that Q’s “ignorant people” aren’t in fact ruling the roost …

  3. I imagine that the hallaballo coming out of the “Climate Change” circus has done nothing to help matters. (Notice how they no longer call it “Global Warming”? Might it have something to do with how many times it has snowed in Dallas, TX, this month?)

    I’m confident that Amoeba has nothing in common with fat cats, unless they are playing jazz.
    .-= kcinnova´s last blog ..WWC: 7 and Photojournalism =-.

    1. In a cruel twist of fate (Murphy’s really outdoing himself this time), the USA, where half the populace denies the existence of anthropogenic global warming (AGW), is the only place on Earth that is currently experiencing below-normal temperatures. The rest of the planet is undergoing a heat wave. The extremes are predicted by the most robust AGW models. We don’t wish to hear that we can’t keep living as we’re living indefinitely, and those who profit from us living as we’re living have every incentive to keep their stooges (yes, Rush, I’m talking about you) feeding us comfortable lies. And beating on those (scientists and others) who dare to challenge the lies.

      1. I don’t deny that our climate is in a perpetual state of flux; I’m glad you refer to it as AGW. In my hurry to get a comment written, I failed to clarify my point. That being, the world’s “top scientists” and “dignitaries” flying in private jets and arriving alone in limousines to a conference where global warming is being discussed and greenhouse gasses & polution are the topic of regulation — and in the midst of that, news that data had been purposefully skewed years ago for political gain.

        I am all for non-politicized scientific research and results.
        .-= kcinnova´s last blog ..WWC: 7 and Photojournalism =-.

        1. I’m not sure that the “news that data has been purposefully skewed years ago” is either fair or accurate if what you refer to is the “tricking” comment in one set of emails. Implying that AGW or climate change are new phrases is similarly misleading as many scientists and anthropologist (ie, Brian Fagan) have used those phrases for several years.

          OC is correct in noting extremes in weather events. That, I believe, is where the biggest risk lies.
          .-= sauerkraut´s last blog ..Inhofe wastes tax payer dollars =-.

  4. I understand how you feel. It is the feeling I understand. Many of us belong to groupsa under attack. The people that attack pastors are not the same people that attack scientists but the feeling of attack is the same.
    I understand being dedicated and watching others go after money in the same profession, boy do I understand that.Because what we do is our life we bothy respond tpo any criticism as a personal attack when it may not be intended to be that at all. Life can be tough.
    But hang on to what you believe, proclaim it clearly and let other have their beliefs.
    It’s not my job to convert you and it is not your job to make sure my world view is correct
    But we each have what we consider to be truth to proclaim and in your case to discover.
    May things go better in Washington.
    .-= Dr. John´s last blog ..Last Year in Pictures part Two =-.

    1. Dr. John, thank you. Things may or may not go better for us personally in Washington State. That concerns me less than the state of the profession to which I’ve committed my life, and which runs the risk, not only of losing public support, but of deserving to lose that support.

  5. I have been struck by the kids in college with mine and how they arrive for their freshmen years with larger TVs and nicer cars than I own now. We are a culture of over consumption and look where it has gotten us.
    .-= debbie´s last blog ..Just Little Old Super Me =-.

    1. Debbie, when I was a first-year student, I didn’t have a car. Neither did my classmates; the institution forbade it. Now? Hey, the classes are so watered-down, they’re irrelevant (and the football players still can’t pass them). College is no longer about the grades, it’s about the clubs you join, the friends you cultivate, the social connections you make. And for that, as in the rest of today’s society, the one with the most toys wins.

      I’d close them all, and force society to support the public schools as the most cost-effective and fair way to ensure equal opportunity for everyone. I’d probably get the whole country burned down with that proposal.

      1. The scariest thing about this post, Sauerkraut, is that there are lots of “scientists” out there who will, in fact, prostitute themselves, and that we are, in fact, at risk of having “science” be for sale to the highest bidder.

        As I’ve written elsewhere, the notion of scientists being “above the fray” is dependent on the historical fact that, until the 20th century, science was the exclusive province of independently-wealthy Victorian gentlemen.

        This is no longer the case, and (we’re told), society will no longer tolerate this being the case. But that means science falls under the jurisdiction of the Golden Rule: The one who has the gold makes the rules. And We the People have made it quite clear, through our de facto and de jure cuts to science funding over the years, that there is no gold for disinterested research.

        Who is left? The corporations. Who don’t want disinterested science, they want to promote their profits.

        Which risks turning scientists into lawyers.

        And us into dead men.

    1. Kitty, what Gould and others sometimes fail to consider is that, to those who are not versed in evolutionary theory and debate, it looks like scientists are deifying Darwin. And you’ve surely heard about the ounce of perception …

  6. I am sorry for the pay cut, we had a pay cut too 9% this year 2010, 2011 9% and 8% the following year. We do not have a union. My husband has a doctor degree also. There are those who will be hurt even more than we will because they sacrificed even more becoming a pastor to very small parishes.
    .-= bettygram´s last blog ..Merry Christmas =-.

    1. Betty, I’m sorry. The current recession, I find, has brought out a whole lot of meanness in people. It worries me that a lot of this meanness is proving to be in service to the age-old principle, “the rich get richer”.

  7. Well Amoeba… I don’t know if the whole world looks down on scientists, because I’m only one person and I have never sat around with my friends scientist bashing, so I assume that there are at least a few of us out here who do indeed respect scientific research that leads to a better world for all of us. We may not all always agree about what does indeed constitute a “better world”…. but we all rarely agree on ANYthing! I think you are fortunate that you will soon be free from the University of Hawai’i and hopefully you will find yourself feeling MUCH more respected in Washington! THAT is my wish for you! (and better PAID too!)
    .-= Melli´s last blog ..Random Dozen… This Year’s Finally =-.

      1. Thanks, Melli and Karen – but see the post to which Sauerkraut linked, and my response to it.

  8. the time of explorers is long gone and money rules the world. i’m afraid ‘independent’ or ‘public good’ science’s days are counted.

    (i’m not proud of failing to get a degree in biology – or any other field for that matter – but sometimes i’m almost grateful things tuned the other way…)
    .-= polona´s last blog ..tomatoes =-.

      1. mission accomplished, then

        hell, i lived in the so called socialism for nearly 30 years and many things were not right then but the ‘social’ part was well taken care of as opposed to now…
        .-= polona´s last blog ..tomatoes =-.

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