Good reasons to have a love hate relationship - title

Good reasons to have a love-hate relationship with science

Among the many researchers I know, many people have adopted either a purely cynical attitude toward the scientific establishment or struggle with an intensive love-hate relationship with science (in academia and industry). Several painful dilemmas cannot be solved, and you must learn to handle them.

Science helps us to understand the world


Science only provides fragmented knowledge

One of the strongest motivations to study science I observe in young researchers is understanding how life works and which mechanisms hold the universe together.

However, when they enter the lab, they will work on a very specific, well-selected, focused research question that only provides fragmented information about a tiny aspect of the vast and complex universe.

The young researchers soon realize their contribution will probably not change the world. Even a Nature or Science paper will probably not change the world, but – in the best case – it will open a new research domain.

In addition, young researchers learn that they know only after 5 to 10 years whether a publication has survived the rigorous process of replication/falsification by other researchers.

My very personal conclusion is that we have no other option than to become humble that we (as a single person and as part of the scientific community) will only understand a tiny fragment of reality.

A heart representing a love-hate relationship with science

Researchers create real knowledge and progress


All scientific endeavors are pointless

Closely related to the previous point is the feeling that most – if not all research activities – do not lead to real progress but just add a little insignificant piece to the information overflow. 

Thomas Kuhn described the famous concept of a ‘paradigm shift’ in his highly influential book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962).

Unfortunately, the author and many of his followers used this term in multiple different manners, diluting its meaning.

As a result, a broad population of scientists sees scientific progress only as ‘paradigm shifts’ in the hollow form of “scientific trends” and “science bubbles” (cf. the stem cell bubble, the optogenetics bubble, the AI bubble).

This attitude breeds sarcasm, cynicism, and negativism in older scientists.

On the other hand, some publications document inspiring scientific progress (see, for example, the already decade-old Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think by Diamandis & Kotler). These may help to motivate young researchers substantially.

However, whether this progress is worth the effort remains a matter of philosophical and political debate.

Some older scientists develop an attitude of ‘wisdom’ to support younger researchers in their careers and guide them.

Science helps us to make moral decisions


Science does not help us to make moral decisions.

Science does not give us the answer to moral, ethical, value-based questions. Science only shows us predictable consequences in the best-case scenario or just a lot of contradictory information.

Let me give you two simple examples. Research from the last decades produced pretty convincing evidence that smoking damages our body, for example, the heart and blood vessels, the lungs, and the elastic fibers in the skin.

Thus, it is predictable that the habit of smoking will result in a higher probability of developing cardiovascular and lung diseases and will make the smoker look older.

Science does not give us the moral imperative to stop smoking. This value-based decision is made under the assumption that the long-term effects of smoking are worse than the long-term effects of non-smoking.

However, in many important domains of our daily life there is so much contradictory scientific information that it does not help us to make easily value-based decisions. Typical examples are the multiple, contradictory studies about the “best” diet.

However, I prefer to have a lot of contradictory information that can hopefully be filtered by clever meta-analyses rather than having no information or just doctrines without a scientific base.

Please tell us your reasons for having a love-hate relationship with science and add a comment below.

I pursue a successful career in science


I pursue fundamental research questions to gain knowledge

In another article about the dilemma of career versus contribution, I discussed the balancing act between career advancement and making scientific contributions.

Overemphasizing a career can feel strategically manipulative and ultimately unfulfilling, while solely focusing on contributions can leave one financially and professionally outpaced by peers.

Integrating both career and contributions is critical. To handle this dilemma, it helps to develop a personal career plan, strategic networking, and rediscover the joy of scientific discovery to achieve a balanced, fulfilling career in science.

I get funding to do my research


I pursue exciting research questions

One of the biggest dilemmas for researchers is the struggle between the research they really want to do and the research they get funded. They frequently must align their studies with the interests of funding bodies, which may prioritize practical outcomes over basic science.

We must search for calls that support the research we are doing or would like to do. We must adapt our research questions to specific calls to be eligible. We must sell our ideas to reviewers who might not be interested or competent enough to judge the innovative nature of the research. We must do the research we get funded for and not use the money for something else.

From a taxpayer’s perspective, this makes sense. You can not ‘abuse’ grant money to follow your curiosity. You can not promise one type of research and do another.

Politicians would love to fund only applied research that creates more societal wealth and jobs immediately. Of course, this wish is impossible to fulfill.

Therefore, universities struggle with conflicting tasks. On the one hand, they must educate many academics for the job market; on the other hand, they must be beacons of excellent research.

Despite these challenges, funding remains crucial as it supports essential resources and facilitates scientific progress. The scientific community must balance these competing interests to maintain both the integrity of scientific discovery and the practical application of research findings. This balance is essential for a dynamic and ethical scientific landscape.

What to do?

These dilemmas faced by researchers can really frustrate you during your career. I had my fair share of frustration. However, there are a few strategies you and I, our colleagues, and our institutions can apply:

1. We have to find a balance between pure and applied research

There are already diverse funding programs that support exploratory, foundational studies alongside those with clear, practical applications. Researchers should be encouraged to pursue their interests in fundamental questions without the pressure of immediate applicability, thus nurturing a culture where scientific curiosity is as valued as outcome-based research.

I follow the Google rule. My staff members are allowed to work 20% of their time on fun projects. This works great and has led to several very well-published studies.

2. Develop interdisciplinary and collaborative initiatives

To combat the feeling that science provides only fragmented knowledge, group leaders and institutions can proactively promote interdisciplinary research that bridges various fields, enhancing the synthesis of knowledge across specialties.

This sounds great – and is pretty challenging to implement.

In my experience, interdisciplinary projects always have problems with being funded – because the funding bodies do not know in which category these projects belong. It is a kafkaesk situation.

As an alternative to really interdisciplinary research projects, you might organize initiatives such as joint symposia, lecture series, reviews, or books supported by a few enthusiastic scientists with strong personal connections. I found this approach more pragmatic and satisfying.

In my experience, this type of interdisciplinary initiative is easy to fund because it increases the visibility of the organizing institutions and is helpful for marketing.

3. Support for young researchers via mentorship programs

More experienced scientists can mentor young researchers, guiding them through the scientific landscape with a balanced perspective on career progression and research integrity. This mentorship can include advice on navigating funding challenges, dealing with publication pressures, and balancing career ambitions with genuine scientific inquiry. In my experience, institutions can easily formalize this guidance through structured mentorship programs.

5. Promote systematic long-term career planning

This is my favorite subject. I am convinced that a systematic education in long-term career planning is the best way to give scientists orientation and help to integrate career ambition, structured qualification, community building, and scientific integrity.

Such training ideally includes strategic networking, ongoing education, and alignment of personal research interests with broader funding trends. Such planning helps researchers maintain a balance between following their passion for discovery and securing the necessary support to sustain their careers.

By implementing these strategies, we as a scientific community can better manage the above-mentioned dilemmas and promote an environment that supports both the pursuit of knowledge and the practical realities of a scientific career.


I have used AI systems, including Grammarly, Google Gemini, Groq, and ChatGPT, to enhance the English and comprehensiveness of this article. This post may contain affiliate links, meaning I get a small commission if you decide to purchase through my link. Thus, you support smartsciencecareer at no cost to you!

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  1. What of the nature of (1) the motivation for the research and (2) the research result? Basic research, knowledge for knowledge’s sake, a minor advance in our armamentarium vs. applied research or knowledge for commercial application and profit.

    The extensive fundamental work on sodium-glucose co-transport and the discovery of SGLT 1 is an example of basic research. This mechanism became the key factor in the success of Gatorade in 1985 when Dr. Robert Cade and associates developed the drink to replenish water and electrolytes in volume-depleted University of Florida football players; obviously, the drink is a commercial success.

    Recently, the SGLT 2 inhibitor dapagliflozin has found a place in diabetic blood glucose regulation by blocking the renal reabsorption of glucose, eliciting glucosuria, and reducing hyperglycemia, another potential commercial success if more extensive studies show the safety of the drug and inevitable analogs.

    The sequence is desirable: Basic research generating advances that foster applied research and eventuate in clinical applications. Although both activities can be found in academia, they can also be found in industry.

    Disclosure: None of my work was intended to have or had a commercial endpoint. And as a one-time colleague of Bob Cade and the person who introduced Gatorade to Stokely-Van Camp, I know that Bob offered the results of his research to the University of Florida only to have it declined – until Gatorade proved profitable.

    Frank Nash

  2. Another “reason for love / hate” is the ongoing, deep corruption by moneyed interests. Scientific research often costs money – sometimes a great deal of money, spread over a long period. When big money infuses mass media and even purchases politicians, “the Science” runs the risk of arousing mistrust, particularly when it involves an experimental gene therapy never properly tested on humans.

    “The Science” (as it is known), academia and medicine have all sacrificed a massive degree of trust since the all-too-timely premiere of the Coronavirus, with its miraculously-synchronous “vaccine” (in “quotes”), whose lab data show great injury and death (alas, the courts did not approve their 75-year suppression from the prying eyes of unbelievers). A combination of media fear barrage (for a virus with ~1% fatality), strong-arming with threats and sanctions, a clever shaming campaign and mandates managed to drive the masses into getting jabbed.

    Now what? Read the insurance statistics on 40% rise in unexplained “sudden deaths”. Check out the wave of athletes collapsing (and often dying) with heart conditions. Quite the coincidence. All driven by the love of money (The Science and Medicine) and Control (governments – never get enough).

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