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Arrogance in Science

Arrogance, Science

Take a look at these names: C. V. Raman, M. Beijerinck, Homi Bhabha, S. Chandrasekhar, and Meghnad Saha, what is common among all of them except being scientists of high repute? The surprising common thing among them is the fact that all of them have been alleged to be arrogant at times. This article discusses why it happens so that many of the people who are regarded as great scientists are labeled as rude or arrogant. Does this alleged rudeness or arrogance has something to do with excellence in science?

Meaningful research in science demands a highly disciplined and committed effort by the researcher. It requires long hours of hard work in one’s laboratory, and constantly forces the researcher to stretch his/her working hours. As it happens in most other walks of life, in science too, majority belong to the ordinary or average category.

This majority is happy while practicing ordinary science. But conflicts arise when such mundane people happen to work under a scientific genius. As the genius himself will work hard all the times, he surely will expect all his colleagues and subordinates to do the same. Now constant hard work over a considerable period of time with a stern discipline, is something not liked by many. This simply irritates any scientific manager for whom serious science is the only priority. And when this irritation gets expressed the answer comes in form of allegations of being rude and rough.

Few examples will make it more clear. S. Chandrasekhar, an eminent astronomer was once told by a student – most people think you are an ogre. Actually Chandrasekhar loved hard-working students, but he could be rough, even insulting to students who were not sincere. Some students therefore kept away from him and even avoided him if he was seen in the corridor. However, those found to be sincere by him were able to get his help in securing jobs and fellowships.

Indian physicist Homi J Bhabha was also a perfectionist (as most noteworthy scientists are) and disliked shoddy or mediocre work. Although a strict disciplinarian and hard task master, Bhabha was always open for discussions. He would easily forgive an honest mistake but would not suffer stupidity. He appeared aloof from a distance but was basically warm and kind.

Another Indian physicist, Meghnad Saha , who led a life of discipline and commitment, at times appeared harsh and rough because he did not tolerate irresponsibility but he would always guide a student till he had not learnt the ropes. Even Nobel laureate C. V. Raman couldn’t escape the allegations of rudeness and arrogance. One of all time great microbilogists, M. Beijerinck was also known for his strict attitude. Not a large number of students were able to survive in his laboratory for long. But those who did, themselves reached great heights.

These examples make it clear that in most cases when good scientists are labeled as arrogant, it is simply because of their habit of not tolerating stupidity and shoddy work. As they are prone to reject any work which doesn’t fall under ‘good science’, there are little possibilities of them being popular (exceptions are always there). However, the true scientist never cares for such popularity, as he knows that strict discipline and total dedication are essential for practicing good and meaningful science. It is only that sometimes due to heavy managerial responsibilities the scientific stalwarts become isolated from their staff or students.
Published: 2009-06-25
Author: vijay kothari

About the author or the publisher
I am a microbiologist, acting as an Assistant Professor in Science with Nirma University. My current research is focused on natural products.

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