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Hey Scientists! (Don't) Get a Life!

Scott Kern, a researcher at Johns Hopkins' Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center has incurred the wrath of the blogosphere with an essay in Cancer Biology and Therapy that seems to suggest that researchers — particularly cancer researchers — have lost their passion for their work, and that patients are suffering as a result. Kern relates a Sunday afternoon stroll he recently took through the state-of-the-art facility where he works, and his dismay at finding no more than 36 researchers hard at work. "Today, tens of thousands of cancer researchers work barely 40 hours a week on a scourge that kills 30 percent of all persons, many of the victims young or of childrearing age, a puzzle involving the most severe analytic difficulties," Kern says. "Which of the other professions can adopt a country-club mentality, restricting their activities largely to a 35–40 hour week? Where is the passion?"

Janet Stemwedel at Adventures in Ethics and Science says Kern's essay is full of unsupported assumptions, like whether researchers working more hours would result in anything at all except researchers who have bad health and no life. And nowhere does he suggest adding more researchers to the staff, instead of expecting the current staff to work 80- or 100-hour weeks, she adds. Mike the Mad Biologist says cancer researchers are people too, and some of them have passions and lives outside the lab. Mike asks, do we want to start losing good researchers because we demand they do their job to the exclusion of everything else? And Dr. Isis reserves some of her harshest sarcasm for Kern. "If we could just grab all the scientists, give them a shake, and tell them to be passionate, I have no doubt we'd cure cancer in the next 18 months. 20 months tops," she says. The problem couldn't possibly be that researchers have to scramble, writing grant after grant just to stay funded, she adds. No, the problem here is "laziness."

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