29 October 2007

Sploshing about in ponds, and other stories..

There was a time when fieldwork was the heart and soul of science practice. No reputation was complete unless it was based on a healthy chunk of time spent in the field. Lab time was important, but as a phase in a process that centred on discovery in the field. Those days are gone; the focus of glory has shifted to the laboratory, or even gone entirely in silico. That doesn’t mean that the importance of the field worker has declined; science is still a whole process, not just a few high-visibility star turns, and the field worker is still an essential part of fabric.

But, of course, to misquote Mandy Rice-Davies only slightly: I would say that, wouldn’t I? My love of science started with digging up rocks, gazing at real stars on freezing nights, and (best of all) sploshing about in murky ponds. Furthermore, my current livelihood is built upon the willingness of science to indulge my continued delight in grown up versions of such pursuits. But it’s true nonetheless: new science can continue for a long time on the basis of existing data and increasingly sophisticated methods, but ultimately requires the input of new data which, in many cases, only fieldwork can supply.

Fieldwork has changed with the times, though. [read more]

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