I've always admired well-written science papers. The authors describe, for example, lattices of graphene supermolecules, and how the electron mobility is such that sometimes the graphene is a semimetal, and sometimes a semiconductor, depending on the external voltage applied across it. They talk about the experiment, and the data, the graphs curving this way and that.
Everything but the We. How We spent twenty weeks in labs, many late nights when there were no distractions from grad students, no classes to teach, looking bleary eyed at the images of atomic force microscopes at the 4 nm (!) flake of graphene only one atomic layer thick, atop a substrate I can't remember now, and then a very very tiny metallic gate atop this chip - so small that a dust mote would look like a 5 mile asteroid next to a puny astronaut - to provide modulating voltage.
It's incredibly bloodless. The focus is on the physics itself. It's not about overcoming the desire to sleep. It never mentions how you wear sweaters in the lab, drink coffee to stay warm, because the lab's air conditioning is absolutely freezing. How you listened to True Faith's song perhaps a thousand times one week because you never had time to change the iPod settings. How you spend all-nighters, and about 5 am you take a quick shower, slip into some khakis and a clean shirt and try not to show your sleeplessness when you have your morning chat with the supervising professor, and you show him the latest graphs, and you do equations on the old school chalk board for an hour. Sometimes you fall asleep with your chalk in your hand, standing up. He's too polite to say anything. He used to do the same thing with his supervising professor.
The relentless pressure to publish. Due diligence on which journals would be most kindly disposed to publish your papers.
And always, the running clock, the clock winding down. On your assistanceship. On the NSF grant monies that support your research. When you have to apply for the assistant professorship at the second rate schools. Giselle who gave you an ultimatum a week ago, when you dragged your sorry ass home and collapsed into bed and passed out.
"What kind of life is this"?
Indeed. I wonder myself.
A science paper has a million stories between the lines. Of love and failure. Of ten thousand hours of painstaking work and ten hours of intellectual exhiliaration. Of doing an experiment three times, under different conditions, just to make sure the effect you saw wasn't accidental. Of walking home at 4 am, the science world's version of the Walk of Shame, nothing to show for your work. Coming home to an empty fridge and a cold bed.
A perfectly written science paper is scrubbed clean of the blood stains, like a crime scene scrubbed by a master fixer. You were never there. It is all about the graphene, the entangled photons, the device physics. You build a compelling story thrilling to any likeminded academic. A bit of theory, a bit of data. The perfect graph. A few beautiful equations.
Nothing about the costs of doing science, the sacrifices you made, you and everyone else at Big State University, the scholastic cloistering.
You took orders. You knew what you were getting into.
You did it for love, once.
Now it seems like a grind.
The grindstone, milling your bones to dust. Do you have enough strength to create something beautiful? Is it in you? Can beauty arise out of the sacrifice you made?
That's what I see when I read a paper about physics, or math, or astronomy. It's all about social isolation, living with your own thoughts for too long, the slow progression of a formerly socially conscious human being into ... something like a machine for science.