Today in the States, families of all types are saying the things they’re thankful for, pounding calories, and ending sentences with prepositions. Since I didn’t make it back home this year, I figured I would come up with a list of my own of the science things I’m thankful for.
1) The American people. “Wait a minute, TSS,” you might say, “you said this would be science things.” Well, aware of it or not, the American people have been indirectly responsible for gobs of earth-shattering discoveries. When asked to identify the most important sources of funding for their field, scientists overwhelmingly said that federal agencies fit that bill. These are funded by US tax dollars that cycle through and fund research in nearly all fields. The National Science Foundation alone has funded 212 Nobel Prize winners. So thank you, taxpayer and 2006 Time Person of the Year. You make my world go ’round.
2) The Internet. I can’t imagine what it was like to do science pre-email, pre-PubMed, and pre-file sharing. Since we get funding from taxes (see 1), we are required to publish our data in one of the many repositories that have cropped up, as well as to publish our findings in papers accessible by anyone on the web. This lets us get word to other people– scientist and non– about what we’ve found a lot more quickly than pen, paper, and pigeon. So thanks, Al Gore.
3) Scientific Publishing. This might be a little vague and/or controversial, but scientists need to get their stuff published to survive. I’m thankful that there’s a place for scientists to get credit for their hard work. It’s admittedly double-edged, since so much of our effort goes toward publishing our work, and it’s sometimes a first-or-nothing prospect. But that we have to compete for space in journals keeps us focused and motivated to produce high quality at high speed. So thanks, Elsevier.
4) Evolution. Not just in the gradual divergence of two species is evolution important. Evolution is that we used to think that physicians didn’t have to wash their hands, but now we do. Evolution is that we used to pipette dangerous chemicals with our mouths, but now we use machines. Evolution is the process at the center of science as old ideas that don’t fit what we see are replaced with new ideas that explain more and more accurately. So thanks, Chuck.
5) Viruses. Yep, really. These little buggers are astonishing machines. The impact that something so small has had on human history is remarkable and humbling. Their oddments color our genomes and have been the opposing force of an arms race that inspired biology to combat them. They are more complex than we have dreamed and are amenable to our wants; we use their expertise to remedy our shortcomings in experiments. It’s some kind of poetry how they shaped us and now we shape them to shape us… ow.
Comment with those I missed, but, c’mon, I probably didn’t miss any.