For a Happy New Year …

“We have the choice to say ‘no’ to racism, hatred, suspicion, fear, cruelty, ignorance, and self-interest every day. … And we have the choice to say ‘yes’ to kindness, compassion, forgiveness, humility, openheartedness, justice, and joy every day.”

Rachel Held Evans, columnist, blogger, author

Curiosity-Driven / Science

“The type of science that I do is sometimes known as”curiosity-driven science”—this means that my work will never result in a marketable product, a useful machine, a prescribable pill, a formidable weapon, or any direct material gain—or if it does indirectly lead to one of those things, this would be figured out at some much later date by someone who is not me. As such, my research is a rather low priority for our national budget. There is just one significant source of monetary support for the kind of research that I do: the National Science Foundation, or NSF.

“The NSF is a US government agency, and the money that it provides for scientific research comes from tax dollars. In 2013, the budget of the NSF was $7.3 billion.* … Remember that this figure must support all curiosity-driven science—not just biology, but also geology, chemistry, mathematics, physics, psychology, sociology, and the more esoteric forms of engineering and computer science as well.”
—Hope Jahrens, from Lab Girl**

This is the sort of thing scientists stuggle with every day—continuing their work in the face of competition for shrinking budgets.

On my way to have dinner with a friend recently, I heard on the radio that Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan have donated $3 billion (billion!) to science—with a stated goal to cure all diseases by the end of this century.

Mark Zuckerber and Pricilla Chan Photo credited to the AP by Business Insider

Mark Zuckerber and Pricilla Chan
Photo credited to the AP by Business Insider

And at the time I thought, well, that is a worthy goal … but how many other worthy goals are there? I was thinking of Lab Girl.

Then I read this article about it in Business Insider:

It’s ambitious framing for what is in fact a more straightforward and concrete goal. The donation, administered through the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI), essentially exists to shake up many funding schemes and career paths that dominate the field of modern medical research (along with most other fields of science).

In short, CZI plans to make it possible for large groups of scientists to focus on riskier projects that won’t necessarily yield results for years or even decades. That is, they want to give medical scientists the opportunity to work like coders in an ambitious Silicon Valley startup.

“That means we can look at projects that can pay off in 20 years, and 50 years,” Zuckerberg said.

So THANK YOU, Mark and Pricilla. I still think the eradication of global poverty and stopping global warming (because it is manmade) are more important. But I’m not the one with the $3 billion.*** 🙂

* And given the recent election, my guess it will be less in the coming years.
** Transcribed by me from pages 122 and 123 of my hardback copy of Lab Girl, published by Alfred A. Knopf, 2016.
*** And there’s always Bill and Melinda Gates—or other billionaires, some of whom participate in the Giving Pledge.

Life Lessons: Kindness

I keep getting older and, thus, generally, better. 🙂 And as one does, I think about what’s really important, the one or two traits you can carry in your toolbox that will guarantee success.

Kindness is one.

I don’t know how I missed this—this graduation speech to the Syracuse University class of 2013 from author George Saunders—but it’s wonderful, it’s what I wish to say, and maybe you do too. “To the extent that you can, err in the direction of kindness.”

George Saunders

George Saunders

Yes. That. Be kind. In this moment in US history in particular, be kind.

(Here are some other interesting commencement speeches, including the one that Kurt Vonnegut never gave.)


Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.

Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexations to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.

Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.

And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be.

And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

Max Ehrmann (1872–1945), published in 1927