Tell me, O muse, of that ingenious scientist who travelled far and wide after he had falsified the famous cosmology of Ptolemy. Many paradigms did he visit, and many were the theories with whose manners and customs he was acquainted; moreover he suffered much from the two body problem while trying to save the soul of science and raise his family safely at home. Tell me about all these things, O daughter of Jove, from whatsoever source you may know them.
Those familiar with the Classics will recognize the above text as a paraphrase of the opening lines of Homer’s Odyssey. It seems a fitting start to this blog, as my career in science has been a long voyage beset with many storms, complete with monsters worthy of mythology, both great and petty. I have, by chance of circumstance as much as choice of will, led an epic life.
This is a bold claim. Whether it is an accurate depiction of the stories I have to tell, I leave for others to judge. But I do have stories to tell. Many stories, such that it is impossible that they should all come out. Yet they clamor to be heard, and I find myself compelled to begin to tell them, at long last overcoming my discretion and better wisdom. Though in truth I have been at it since 1997, just not in blog form.
These words may sound odd as the preamble to a science blog. The reigning stereotype of a scientist is that of a dry arbiter of facts. This could not be more opposite the truth. We are passionate about the science we do. We care about the paradigms we develop, often much too deeply. We want them to be accurate depictions of the Truth, and all too often convince ourselves that they are.
This blog will cover many topics in science. Primarily it will focus on my own subjects of cosmology, astronomy, and astrophysics. These words mean different things to difference people, so the sociology of science will also be a frequent topic, as will the philosophy and history of science.
There is a tendency to oversimplify the history of science in order to satisfy the human need for a compelling story told in a short time. This serves an essential function: both our patience and our lifespans are finite. It is impossible to relate all the lessons of the past in their full detail. Yet sometimes the oversimplification inverts the truth, and scientists are as susceptible to this human foible as anyone.
I have no plan for how the stories will progress. They boil up, wanting to be told. I expect they will tumble out piecemeal, unstuck in time and devoid of linearity. Sometimes I will discuss current events. Sometimes I will relate what seem to be ancient anecdotes. In no circumstance will I dumb it down. Indeed, one thing I expect to do is write brief summaries of refereed science papers, which even scientists rarely manage read.
I am a practicing scientist. I am not a science journalist. I will attempt to be clear, but I am not trying to reach a mass audience nor explain things to the lowest common denominator. I make this distinction because I am what historians would call an original source. I am not a reporter of science: I do it.