Carl Woese: A Staunch Advocate for Classical Biology
Molecular biologists “can read the notes in the score but they can't hear the music.”
Choosing a research program can be one of the most difficult problems a scientist faces. This is particularly true at the beginning of a career or when one has reached some sort of watershed. Traditionally, the issues to be resolved at these critical times are exclusively scientific, and one will struggle for as long as necessary to identify lines of inquiry that seem to offer the richest scientific prospects. Choosing a research program is especially difficult for genuinely exploratory research because one's vision is limited to a few months at best by perennial fogs of uncertainty, but one hopes for the excitement of seeing glimpses of new horizons and indeed to be able to pose new questions rather than to merely confirm the predictions of well-established theories, essential as these processes of consolidation are. As ever, luck and choosing the right problem at the right time also play significant roles, as a perusal of Nobel Laureates' lectures will confirm.
Nowadays, however, scientists contemplating new crusades not only must consider such obvious questions as, “What should I do next?” but also, “Would my plans qualify for funding?” Scientific considerations might not even be the most important things on their minds. First, they must choose a field from a list of national or funding-agency priorities. Those whose interests do not ...