My blog has been somewhat neglected this past month…a function of research…something that has been hard to pursue to an end-point this past year, given my travels, but is now biting at my shirt-tails to be completed on several fronts. The outputs of most folks in academia are usually split between teaching and research. To find a balance between the two is tricky, but when I can, I try and combine them both. The many members of the palaeontology research group who often drive the research part of my work, keep me on my toes. I am lucky that I operate with such a diverse and talented bunch of folks…we all do our part and all work towards the same goals.
However, the joy that is writing academic papers never ceases to extract all remnant of what is left of my soul into a small vial and blasts it to some painful dimension. Undertaking the research can be breathtakingly exciting, but piecing your evidence into the context of 50+ years of research can often be daunting. This can be compounded by the realization that you are not alone….not in an X-Files kind of way, but in a…your being stalked, kind of way. At every bump, bend and turn in research you are aware of other folks working on similar, if not identical, material, also trying to squeeze some new drop of science from the same or similar sample(s), distilled to a written piece of work.
There is some solace to this diabolical and quite unnecessary race. Thankfully we all think in very different ways. One mans meat is another mans protein and intramuscular fat with carbs! When some researchers fear that another group is looking over their shoulder at the same thing, they ‘must’ also have the same results and conclusions…this is very, very unlikely. To quote good old Dawkins, it’s akin to throwing several tonnes of scrap metal into the air and it self-assembles on landing into a Boeing 737. Sadly this is compounded by the many journals who, when you finally submit your refined labours, have ‘seen this work before’ giving your paper cursory glance (if you are lucky!). Or, if you are really lucky and a paper gets to be peer-reviewed, then often comes biggest kick in the proverbial’s… ‘this paper is of not wide enough interest to the public’. This meritocracy has its gatekeepers. However, one thing is for certain, we all play by the same rule….I hope!
So, why do we torture ourselves over such trifles…well, its hopefully because we are all working to push the boundaries of science.