In this blog, I look at science from the “buy” side.
Most stories about science are from the “sell” side. Sometimes they are written by the scientists themselves. Sometimes they are written by journalists, who have interviewed scientists to get their stories. But all of these science stories are biased in a simple way – it’s always easiest to get information from someone who is trying to sell you something.
Getting “buy” side stories is harder.
The buyer of science might be a technologist, who tries to incorporate a new discovery into a product. A buyer might be a patient who is trying out a new drug. Or a buyer might be the general public, who has to find meaning in all of the sell-side science they receive from the media.
People on the buy side know that stuff often does not work quite as well as the sellers claim. But in science, we often feel like we have no choice but to trust the experts. Science is complicated. It requires specialized knowledge. And, worst of all, the experts have spent all of their careers selling the notion that only another expert can understand or criticize what they do.
I’ve spent most of my career on the buy side of science. I thought it might be interesting to offer a counterpoint to science hype, from the perspective of a science insider. Science isn’t always as pretty, breathless, or effective as the sell side stories might lead you to believe. But for all its challenges, it’s immensely rewarding to practice science, and to apply it to make the world better for all of us.
Perspicacity is “the quality of having a ready insight into things; shrewdness”. This 1966 story from the journal Science about astronaut recruitment efforts sums up its meaning in a more practical way:
To quote an Academy brochure, the quality most needed by a scientist-astronaut is “perspicacity.” He must, the brochure says, be able to quickly pick out, from among the thousands of things he sees, those that are significant, and to synthesize observations and develop and test working hypotheses.
The word has dropped in popularity in the last half-century. It’s time for it to come back.
Seth lives in Longmont, Colorado and works as a technology innovation consultant. He has a Ph.D. in chemistry from Caltech, which he got in order to satisfy a long-standing itch to understand how the world works. But it’s probably just as useful to know that he has a bachelors from a really good liberal arts college, has co-founded several startups, and has 75 issued US patents in a bunch of different fields, from energy storage to medical devices to software. You can reach him at sethathome /at/ gmail /dot/ com.