Monday, May 14, 2007


Tomaso Dorigo has a great post on the difficult decisions experimentalists have to make when deciding on their triggers, and on the human behaviour that can be observed in the meetings where they discuss and make those decisions.

To someone looking into the academic world from outside, anecdotes like the one reported by Tomaso probably sound a lot like yet another example of "academic politics is so bitter because the stakes are so low," a quotation commonly misattributed to Henry Kissinger. But what needs to be kept in mind is that the stakes are in fact, extremely high: when a researcher devotes almost every waking minute to some research project, foregoing other (much better paying) career options and postponing, or even completely giving up on, such things as parenthood and home ownership, what is at stake in discussions about that project's future role in the greater structure of human knowledge and discovery is no less than that researcher's major purpose in life. And that is a huge stake for anyone, whether they are a lowly scientist (or historian or whatever) or a mighty CEO -- although the former are far more likely to face that kind of risk than the latter, who have their golden parachutes. So a certain amount of acrimony is really to be expected.