Laboratory life

Met lovely people last night who had been to my lecture and wanted to chat more about it. Again, as so often, strangely remarkable links in our histories – Africa came up a lot.

They had suggested my comments about ‘scientists as performance artists’ reminded them of Bruno Latour, who I didn’t know, so then I had to get some books out of the library … ‘Laboratory Life’ and ‘Pandora’s Hope’ – anthropologists who study scientists as a ‘tribe’, looking at how they work and what they are like as people. I am fascinated by this. The effort that (for example) ice scientists go to to get their data – a lot is now done by sitting in front of a computer downloading satellite information, but much still has to be done by travelling thousands of miles, hiking for days, camping in adverse and sometimes dangerous conditions, in order to measure a stick, or collect a small bottle of water.

From these collected items, some numbers will be derived and these will turn into a long paper, stuffed with words from what is another language, or at least a dialect (it would be interesting to clarify this) and this, ultimately, and if anybody reads it, may turn into government or global policy on life. Perhaps almost as amazingly, there is so much that is missed, or not included, or which doesn’t clarify a theory or which nobody ever reads which doesn’t go on to make global policy.

Just as much great literature or art is never seen, which might have helped us understand something about love, or war, or the human condition. Lost, or merely hidden to be uncovered some other time. Buried, to be mined and perhaps treasured in another generation.