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john hawks weblog

paleoanthropology, genetics and evolution

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The importance of kindness in scientific work

Nature has a “Career Feature” by Kendall Powell recounting a recent scientific meeting in New Zealand meant to promote the idea of kindness in scientific work: “Should we steer clear of the winner-takes-all approach?”

While working on another topic, I was just thinking of how much more valuable kind researchers are. I believe that promoting kind behavior and rewarding cooperation are essential in training the next generation of scientists. In paleoanthropology, we have to break a cycle of bad behavior that existed in the aging population of senior scientists.

One thing that interested me in the linked article is that some researchers recognize the explicit connection between kindness in science and effectiveness within in communities where we work.

This is from James Ataria, a Maori researcher:

Kindness is quite an evocative term, but I see it come through when researchers experience how their work is changing a community. Likewise, from the community’s perspective, being at the decision-making table and co-generating research is empowering, and is a form of kindness. We’ve got these concerns, you’ve got expertise: how can we pair them together? Collaboration with communities can both create conditions for kind science and produce good scientific outcomes.

There is a place in scientific work for healthy, good-spirited competition. Science today is a team sport, and teams work together well when the players have a team spirit. And we need to be making the communities where we work part of the team.