Passion, creativity, and science


I found Florence Williams' story "On Cancer's Trail" engaging and compelling, and a particularly good elucidation of the process of science with all its ups and downs, excitement and drudgery (HCN, 5/26/08). In addition, I was thrilled to see a young, female Native American scientist profiled prominently. I take issue with one point Williams makes, however: She says that Stefanie Raymond-Whish's "intimate acquaintance with cancer may harm her credibility as a dispassionate scientist."

It is a myth that scientists are all perfectly objective, dispassionate observers. Scientists are influenced by their experiences, their culture, their beliefs, and their understanding of the world around them. We do our best not to be biased in interpreting our data, but we still use creativity and instinct and intuition -- none of which are generally associated with being dispassionate. Williams does go on to say that Raymond-Whish may also be propelled into making new discoveries based on her experience, and that is exactly right -- she is passionately concerned about the issue of breast cancer in Native populations. Far from harming her credibility as a scientist, her passion drives her to be the best scientist she can be.

I hope that Raymond-Whish can serve as a role model for other Native Americans and women considering science as a career, because both of these groups are underrepresented in most fields of science. I also hope that this story helps all your readers understand the process of science a little bit more, including the passion that drives many scientists to seek answers to their questions through rigorous scientific investigation.

Anne Egger
Stanford, California