Doing Elitism Wrong

So, Katie Mack pointed me to this webcomic, which shows two characters stargazing.

“I’m surprised more people don’t love science. It’s so fascinating.”

“By science, do you mean spending countless hours collecting data and studying dense research articles? Or do you just think space is pretty?”

OK. Let’s unpack the wrongness of this. (It’s been a while since a webcomic has prompted such a grrr-rrr-rrrr response from me.) The cartoon conflates scientist-as-job with science-as-body-of-knowledge, which is a serious category error. Then it gets wrong what it means to love a job, or any other time- and effort-intensive activity.

“You don’t love skiing unless you love getting boots fitted and waiting in lift lines.”

“You don’t love cooking unless you love scrubbing out your pots.”

“You don’t love being married to your spouse unless you love filing joint income taxes. Oh, the smell of warm paper!”

On top of that, it elides all the times when the professional routines of science are enriching, rewarding—even, dare I say it, fun. Ratcheting up accomplishments in collaboration with smart, creative people who share your passions? I gotta be honest: when it works, it’s pretty great.

This kind of cheap, lazy elitism ticks me off. It says nothing about why science is hard to understand, and it doesn’t even get the frustrations of the job right. I mean, “collecting data”? “Dense research articles”? Neither of those necessarily implies tedium or drudgery. Shockingly, not everything which requires patience and concentration is unpleasant.