Everyday Practice of Science- Frederick Grinnell

Now this is the book which I finished most recently. I read about this book in review article in one of the twitter feeds I follow (I think it was Chemistry World). Got interested to find the review quoting this book to be a good ‘bedtime’ read. And after having spent around almost a month in reading the book, I would very much agree with the initial review that the book is optimal for bedtime/ leisure reading.

I would recommend the book to all science enthusiasts especially to students planning to pursue research careers. There is a lot of information for ‘to-be’ researchers in the book.

The book begins with talking about what actually is the ‘Everyday Practice of Science’. It describes in detail how the perspective that most science students develop about research and scientists, as very un-affected and focused people wearing white lab coats working all day long in a small lab in some corner of university campuses with their heads buried in a thick book or a complex instrument, is not correct. How the actual lives of scientists are and how it differs from the widely prevalent perception. It highlights the intricacies in the processes of discoveries and inventions and how scientists too feel the human emotions of frustration and despair. All research is not as organized and neat as presented in the papers that the research leads to; how the life of a scientist is full of frustration of not getting the right readings and data as his theory postulates; how they sit in despair in self-doubt and doubting their original ideas.

The book is full of examples from the life of the author, which I must say is extensive and all encompassing, and these example truly relate to the topic in mention with complete details. The best part is that the author has himself experienced all that he talks about, from self-doubt, to ideas being stolen, plagiarism and how ideas and focus of research changes during the research. 🙂

The book is divided into two broad parts: Science and Science and Society. I would definitely go on to say that he division is very apt and the sub chapters cover almost all the topics (I can think of) which a researcher might touch or face in his career. The sub-chapters, namely, Practicing Science, Discovery, Credibility in the Science section and Integrity, Informed consent and Risk, Faith in the Science and Society section touch all these topics in details from live examples of the author and quite a lot of Nobel Laureates.

Starting from an idea, getting people interested in your idea (mainly your advisor), pursuing it, seeking guidance, preparing, carrying out experiments, getting data, segregating noise from actual data, importance of noise, getting journals to publish your findings, socializing your claims and papers, spreading them around the scientific community, getting credibility, getting citations, informed consent, stolen ideas, ethical problems, human trials, everything. I mean literally everything that you can think of or maybe even did not know could come up has been discussed and touched in the book.

I would not go into a lot of detail about the inner workings of the book or the concepts discussed (which should make individual posts :)) and would leave room for you to explore the book on your own. Throughout the book the pace of writing and the topics keep the readers busy and thinking, it is not a book which would make you tired after a couple of pages, due to lots of science involved, nor is it a book where you would lose interest/get bored after a couple of pages; it is one in which you would probably continue to read for as long as time permits, and then close it and continue from that same paragraph the next time you open it, with ease. It is a great and entertaining read, which I would go on to say, is absolutely essential for anyone thinking of pursuing a career in research. It would serve as a guide and tell you about the times to come (warn you maybe :)).

The most important thing (at first thought) that I learned from this book is the importance of citations and citing the original authors of any work (or anything, even a quote) when you use it. It doesn’t hurt, not doing so can kill your reputation and even result in them suing you.

Great book, a must read, you may not want to put this on your Top-Priority-Reading list, but it should definitely be on your To-Read list (I have these lists, and geek-ily presume others do too :)). It is also something you can read while studying something else; I for example was reading another book at the same time; switching to this when I god bored/tired of the other which required a lot more thinking. This one was my refreshing-read. For the students who are planning to pursue research in the near future, I would say, definitely make this your top priority:). It’s not a long read around 200 pages, but great 200 pages at that.



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