In his novel COSM Gregory Benford describes* four types of scientists -

  1. I want to know – ’Prying into Mother Nature’s secrets.’
  2. Theory predicts – Exploring what theory says ought to happen.
  3. This is what I do – ’Habit often rather mindless. More deeply, it means This is who I am.’
  4. A sweet experiment – Doing a well designed/executed experiment itself.**

What kind of scientist are you?



Gregory Benford is really writing about physicists (he’s a physicist himself) but the categories are basic enough they ought to apply to other fields.

Lest anyone think that computational biologists (my field) don’t do experiments – quibble about it, as I’m sure many will, but you can conduct ‘dry’ experiments on datasets. (Or at least I can wave my hands around a little here…)

If you’re a fan of hard science fiction and haven‘t read Gregory Benford’s work, do. His work is grounded on ideas taken from physics/astronomy/cosmology played out with strong lead characters. There’s a chat on the lablit forums opened by the author, with more thoughts elsewhere on the same forum. Reviews of COSM can be read at Suite101, goodreads and elsewhere.

* p33.

** It’s a bit harder to pick Gregory’s intentions on this one; this is my interpretation.

Other articles in Code for life:

What is your relationship with your research notebook?

Scientific article download costs

New academic visas for New Zealand

The 24/7 lab: in praise of time out

Describe your fantasy institute