More Thoughts on St. Kern

Oct 05 2010 Published by under [Science in Society], Professionalism

Burning scientific passion

By now most of you know about Scott Kern, the martyr of Baltimore, and the kerfluffle he caused last week. My colleagues here at Scientopia (I do have to single out the wonderful Drugmonkey post) and elsewhere have taken on his message, and I have enjoyed the shenanigans on twitter (#K3RN3D). Of course, I consider it hypocritical that he admits to attending football games during his training in Ann Arbor in this bio; I mean, where was his passion then?

Passion is a key component of the scientific process, but creativity is just as important. Looking at the world or a problem in a new way leads to the really important discoveries.

Last week I wrote a short essay for an unrelated activity; they asked, "What gives you your creative jolt?"

Living well provides the most important stimulation. Walking outdoors, listening to music, and reading novels may all provide that spark of curiosity that leads me in a new direction. Cooking can also clear my brain and allow important synapses to find each other. I also find my online interactions provide a new peer group that stimulates me. We tweet and blog together, providing comments and fodder for the next post.

I never know from where my next important idea will spring; it is important to stay active and experience life to its fullest.

Some of my best biomedical ideas came to me while I was working out or reading a novel or watching a movie. We all need periods to recharge and allow our brains to associate new things. One could make the case that cancer might be cured faster if we made its scientists take a break outside on gorgeous fall days. Or even go to football games. Then I heard this morning's story on the Nobel Prize in Physics and the discovery of graphene. These scientists have a tradition of "crazy experiments" on Friday afternoons, one of which involved cellophane tape across a block of graphite. That goofy activity led to the creation of this wonder-material with a multitude of potential uses.

They may not have cured cancer, but they have discovered something incredible! At least in part because they had goof-around time!


Of course, I also wonder what the editors had in mind when they published this inflammatory piece. Could this be a call for visibility? I mean, Cancer Biology & Therapy is not one of my top 10 journals, but then I have chosen a different path in medicine. It's a young publication with an Impact Factor (flawed as this measurement can be) of 2.71. Cancer Research is 7.54, while the glamour mags score in the 30's. Could this be an attempt on the part of the editors to drive traffic and name recognition for their publication?

Or am I just getting cynical?

My husband worked for a mentor as "passionate" as Kern once, a man who said he really didn't remember much about his children between their births and graduation from college. A man who held his weekly lab meeting at 5pm on Fridays. A man who drove my husband out of science and into the clinic. I wonder how many capable, creative people have left the world of research because of this demand for "passion?" And how many patients they might have cured.

Image of fire courtesy of PhotoXpress.

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