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COVER ART OF SCIENCE DAVID R. KAPLAN* The cover of Science magazine this week is blue. It is a picture of the cerebral cortex illuminated with blue light and counterstained with a brown dye that is picked up by certain neurons. As I look at it, I don't think about gray matter and white matter or the rate of axon firing or neurotransmitters. I marvel at the beauty. The blue is rich, and the brown neurons with axons and dendrites are delicate. It is beautiful, and I am inspired by it, for my own research and for science in general. Every week I pause to look at the covers of Science and Nature and many other scientific journals (including Perspectives) whose editors and publishers have decided to decorate their periodicals with pictures of exemplary color, form, and composition. Why have the editors decided to put so much obvious energy and dedication into their covers? Thesejournals are not sold on newsstands so the covers are not meant to entice casual readers. Many scientificjournals do not decorate their covers, so I think this effort must be conscious and deliberate. How do these journal covers relate to scientists working on sundry problems? What do scientists do when they are working? A scientist sat at his desk with his eyes closed and his mind peering out into the infinite possible directions of unknown dimensions. Although awed by the vastness of this unknown space, he chose to pursue a given path and used all of the skills, intuition, and information that he could muster to blaze a short trail into the space. Uncertainty has been his companion all along the way and continues to flavor every decision. Scientists make choices that are not really based on scientific rationale. One scientist has chosen to study living organisms, not chemical reactions or the laws of physics or economic constructs; she has chosen to investigate humans, not frogs or squid or paramecia or apes; to concentrate on central nervous system events, ignoring the peripheral nervous system; to study the cerebral cortex instead of the thalamus or the cere- *Institute of Pathology, Case Western Reserve University, 2085 Adelbert Road, Cleveland , Ohio 44106.© 1988 by The University of Chicago. AU rights reserved. 0031-5982/88/3102-0572$01.00 Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, 31,2 · Winter 1988 | 185 bellum; to focus on the occipital cortex as it relates to visual clues in assessing orientation in space. Each day for each experiment she makes many choices based on incomplete knowledge, imperfect understanding , and limited resources. She guesses a lot, but not necessarily haphazardly . Each guess is calculated to create a story based on her own personal biases. Is the scientist an impartial observer? Are scientists supposed to be impartial observers? There is a myth in the scientific community, an undercurrent of expectation that scientists should function as intelligent extensions of machines. To the contrary, there is bias inherent in the formation of any experimental test. The decision to perform one given experiment as opposed to any other is an indication of bias; the acceptance of one set of assumptions and the rejection of another set are an indication of bias. Scientists are not impartial observers; they are participants whose bias is a necessary element that colors the story that is told without diminishing it. What is the nature of the story a scientist tells? It is not supposed to be fictional. A scientist looks for his stories within the set of potentially verifiable facts defined in binomial terms. Is the ink in the pen I am writing with blue? Yes or no. Yes, the ink is blue. It is not black. It is not red. These are the questions scientists can answer. It sounds simplistic, and, yet, each answer is built on a scaffolding of thousands of simple facts making it a complex construct. The binomial nature of scientific facts is a direct result of the scientific method, which requires that only one parameter be varied while all the others stay constant. Artistic representations certainly differ from scientific work. Artists are not concerned with potentially verifiable facts; but, nevertheless, there are similarities. How does an artist paint? The painter...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-8795
Print ISSN
0031-5982
Pages
pp. 185-187
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-07
Open Access
No
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