Who's the most influential dog? Yes, you are, good dog, extra treat for you

Oct 24 2017 Published by under Uncategorized

So SCIENCE wrote an article based on an AI company's determination of "the most influential scientist". It and Jeremy Berg got some pushback because the list was not, as it is said, diverse.

Kudos to Datahound for listening. So while the lack of diversity is a problem, and a problem that happens over and over and a problem worthy of our time and attention, there's a bigger problem in the whole idea of most-influential.

Most Influential? The title could practically be click-bait. Who's the most <pick a superlative> of all <pick noun/job>?

We love knowing the best. And when I was at MRU, where the US N&WR rankings of medical schools were *important*, I knew people who cloaked in false modesty cared about being the <most> of something. These people were acutely aware of their place in the hierarchy, even as they pretended to be driven by something else. And sometimes the drive (to find a cure, a molecule, an answer) was real. Really. But they still knew who was "better" and "further along" and "more influential". It was the unstated sub-text.

The idea that there should be pleasure of a job well done, whether it is painting Sistine Chapel or decorating cookies for the postdoc's party, is given lip service. And actually some people who do things that fall between masterworks of genius and cookie decorating, understand it. They are often called "happy".

But we as a society, and even we, as the educated vanguard, banner carrying scientists committed to making the World A Better Place, care way too much about "the best". We are about glamour pubs, and claim that one can't get a job in academic research or an NIH grant funded without them. We care about impact factors, and h-indices and all the ways we can measure who's the best. We just talk about how our measuring the best is better than the way glossy magazines or talk show hosts measure.

In the end, there is a pleasure in making a beautiful cookie, doing an experiment, and even teaching a student who won't end up being one's brilliant legacy. Maybe that's just "little people" talk. But ask yourself: what do *you* want out of life. Don't answer me, answer yourself.

One response so far

  • eeke says:

    I think there is something wrong with their algorithm (Semantic Scholar). I used that site to do a literature search on "influential" papers in my narrow field, known to have very prominent papers by women, each with 500+ citations. The results? All male senior authors, some papers with < 100 citations. So fuck that site, doesn't deserve the attention it's getting.

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