03 December 2014

“We should celebrate scientists... They are brave.”

Many are sharing this superb New York Times article on the woman who discovered the chemical francium. There are only just over 100 elements, and some were known to the ancients, so being the discoverer of a chemical element is a rare achievement indeed.

The article has a lot to offer. It’s part biography about one remarkable woman. It’s part indictment of scientific sexism of the past, lax attitudes about safety, and more. But I want to pull out this section near the end, which talks about science generally, which I liked a lot:

We should celebrate scientists not solely for their accomplishments but also for their courage and the tenacity required to discover anything at all. There are brave people out there working right now. They are brave not because they are killing themselves slowly or leaping from airplanes or catching rare tropical diseases, although scientists have done all those things. They are brave because of the intense emotional risks of trying to do something no one has done before by following your own lead. Radiation is a potent allegory for human life. Everything is always, inevitably falling apart; we are all in arrested decay. Our greatest achievements may become at best footnotes; few people remember us; we can’t know what will eventually come of our work.

External links

My Great-Great-Aunt Discovered Francium. And It Killed Her.

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