July 22nd 2011

How to Become a Scientist Over and Over Again

A very interesing Scientific American article about Erez Lieberman Aiden, a twenty-first century Renaissance Man with work in lingustics, mathematics, engineering and genetics.

Although I strive to be interested in multiple things, this article made me feel like a very low-ranking amateur-division polymath, if ever. But even though there’s no contest there — some people are just geniuses the way some are natural leaders, others run 100 meters in 9.5 seconds and others fully recharge on just 4 hours sleep —, this is the kind of success-story article I find misleading: even if corporate and academic establishments are supposedly supportive of All-Round People, often these will only actually get there through a mix of far-out genius, luck and nepotism — and I feel there’s a very thin line between being perceived as ‘a genius’ and ‘a deadbeat who can’t focus’, very much like the thin line between being brilliant and being a self-obsessed douche (think of you favourite sport for thousands of examples of this). The truth is, establishments, being establishments, want drones. Caring about multiple kinds of stuff may get you plenty of pats in the back and the kind of weak praise that is disgusting the way weak handshakes are, but doesn’t correlate with big cash payments and career advancement (see most true Renaissance Men — for each sponsored millionaire like Michelangelo there were dozens of peers striving to make ends meet).

But still, being interested in things is interesting. Keep doing it.