The Renaissance Man
June 8, 2011 2:50 PM   Subscribe

The Renaissance Man: How to Become a Scientist Over and Over Again.
posted by Memo (11 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
I am so pumped for the serious, quantitative analysis of culture, which I think is only recently enabled by the innernette. I am also disappointed that the author didn't go into the special insoles for old people. Those sounded nice.

And not to nit-pick but renaissance men and women gotta have some art cred too. Maybe the insoles are beautiful.
posted by serif at 3:21 PM on June 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

He found out the genome is origami. That's art, right?
posted by localroger at 4:19 PM on June 8, 2011

Great article! Noticed the link to a chart of "the course of irregular verbs" is dead but am highly interested, does anyone know where to find it?

This resonates well with my own experiences:

"There were significant subgroups within the humanities that were up in arms," says Aiden, "because there were no humanists or historians on the paper." Such criticisms were perplexing to a man who regularly jumps from field to field. "[Qualifications] never even occurred to me as something that’s relevant," he says. By contrast, when he published the 3-D genome paper, his most advanced degree was his masters in history. "No one gave a damn in the sciences!"

Hard science claims are so easy to validate (repeated experiments do, or do not confirm your data) that the need to appeal to authority diminishes (obviously not entirely absent though.) Notable figures in physics coming to fame without "proper training" is not unheard of.
I don't know if there's every been a notable literary critic or historian that isn't a tenured professor at a "house-name" school though ?
posted by oblio_one at 4:57 PM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

He found out the genome is origami. That's art, right?

Our lab works on something downstream of that. How DNA folds up also indicates to how it unwinds. How and where the genome unwinds controls what proteins get made and how the organism functions.

We study those kinds of large-scale gene interactions. If you looked at a chromosome of the genome as a long linear string, then a big arc could be drawn between two genes that associate together. But if you look at the chromosome as a tightly-wound ball, the three-dimensional shape of those associations can begin to make more sense — that big abstract arc becomes a fairly localized, sensible point where only a small portion of DNA unwinds.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:57 PM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Cross-disciplinary work was more-or-less considered a dilettante ghetto a few decades back, when disciplines like biophysics were startups.

Now the value of outsider thinking is being more widely recognized. This story reminded me of oneone I read the other day in Nature about physicist Paul Davies being welcomed as a contributer to cancer research discussions:

Cancer gives Davies a new realm in which to exercise what many colleagues regard as his greatest talent: asking 'dumb' questions that provoke fresh ways of thinking about a problem.... "He gave a fascinating perspective, at a level biologists often just haven't thought about." And the cancer researchers in the audience were very receptive.
posted by Twang at 5:38 PM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Damn! This totally scoops a plan I've had since I was an undergrad... It would have cost less than 5 grand; I still think my solution to gather the data necessary is more elegant, and certainly more accessible to a small poor lab. However, my goal was to use the information to build a model, a 1:454,545,455 scale physical model, of the 21 chromosome. I would have trained a couple of friends to do the straightforward lab work while I and an artistically inclined friend locked ourselves in a room with 8.21 kilometers of 19 gauge wire, 391,891,892 ball bearings of just the right size for histones, and a big 'ol bucket of wild eyed madness. I would have even annotated it... I even had a place to build the 6,000 liter thing, a machine planned to assist with wraping histones and another machine planned to assist with the next level of complexity and everything... Damn!

I'll probably still do it if I ever get layed off unexpectedly with some cash and an understanding significant other. It'll just be easier and art instead of original research.
posted by Blasdelb at 6:03 PM on June 8, 2011 [4 favorites]

I don't know if there's every been a notable literary critic or historian that isn't a tenured professor at a "house-name" school though

Jared Diamond, kind of.
posted by empath at 6:34 PM on June 8, 2011

Jared Diamond is, these days anyway, notable for other things
posted by Blasdelb at 6:51 PM on June 8, 2011

And not to nit-pick but renaissance men and women gotta have some art cred too.

If I ever get laid off from my job, there is a part of me that would seriously consider making fine furniture in my basement for a living. (Not that Blsdelb's project doesn't sound like fun.) If you ask me what I do, on the other hand, I'm liable to to spend most of my time talking about protein expression profiles or diffusion and surface concentrations of antibodies, not how much easier it is to work with white oak than red oak.

I would be very surprised to learn he doesn't have his thing he does in his spare time.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 2:57 AM on June 9, 2011

(Oh maaan, that Diamond article is so disappointing, I rather liked Guns, Germs and Steel, but now I guess I have to question every conclusion he came to in the book because apparently he is addicted to pychotropics or something because how the hell else do you invent such a crazy story and then have the balls to submit it to the NYT claiming it as a scientific piece?)
posted by Mooseli at 3:13 AM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

And not to nit-pick but renaissance men and women gotta have some art cred too.

don't forget being a good horse rider and athlete as well.

I'm pretty interested in the whole interdisciplinaryness thing generally. It's given a lot of lip service, but few people really believe in it as a way to approach problems. If anyone is interested, I wrote an essay about it might be more formally understood here (self link!).
posted by leibniz at 3:18 AM on June 9, 2011

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