He’s the editor-in-chief of BioEssays, a journal dedicated to publishing reviews and “ideas papers” in biology. Last year, I was very happy about his editorial concerning anthropomorphic language in evolutionary biology. Now he’s written another one that makes me want to hug him. It’s about recognising scientists who don’t produce bucketloads of data.
He argues that both in education and funding, there is far too much emphasis on data generation, and far too little on data integration, that is, taking others’ results and making some sort of overarching sense of them. He writes:
The problem starts early: as undergraduates, students learn the foundations of the subject; they then passage to learning how to do research – the emphasis being on generating results. Why the overwhelming preoccupation with generating more results? Aren’t there enough being produced? Arguably there are so many results around that we need more dedicated people who explicitly don’t produce new results, but rather distill out higher level insights. Naturals at this kind of science can also be spotted in the lab: supervisors should be mindful not to automatically denigrate diffuse interest or lack of single-mindedness: perhaps they are the signs of an “integrator”. And an “integrator” is every bit as much a scientist as a “producer”.
As a person for whom generating results is usually a chore while thinking about them is a joy, all I can say is: WORD.