Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Axelrod philosophy

Julius Axelrod was quite an atypical scientist. I knew little about him (I had vaguely heard about him while reading some review about neurotransmission), but recently read a nice little biography of Axelrod in Molecular interventions (April 2007), and found his story quite inspiring.

But this post isn't really about his life story. There was one little section in that biography that I really liked. It was his philosophy on research. I read each one of them, and found myself nodding in agreement with most of them. So much so that I made a photocopy of them and stuck them on my poster board. This is what he said:

Ask simple questions (but look beyond the obvious)

Do something new, but not too new (work just right or left of mainstream questions).

Talk to people and read, then talk more and read more.

Science is 99% discouragement. Stay focused.

Do one good experiment a day.

Find and exploit your own scientific style.

Skimming the cream is a good thin. But do enough science to know that the cream is real.

Don't sweat the details. focus on your hypothesis and don't get swayed by complexity.

Publish to clarify your thinking and your hypothesis. Nothing more.

Those are some quality words of wisdom.


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Wavefunction said...

There is a fantastic book named "Apprentice to Genius" by Robert Kanigel (same author who penned the biography of Ramanujan) about the unique neuropharmacological scientific dynasty from Bernard Brodie-Julius Axelrod-Solomon Snyder-Candace Pert

Wavefunction said...

You would definitely like it if you haven't read it yet. Kanigel traces the workings, philosophy, scientific rivalries, and camaraderie of all members of this scientific family. Beginning with Brodie at NIH and ending with Pert at Johns Hopkins. He especially describes how both Brodie and Axelrod pioneered a very simple technique (at least simple in theory)- that of measuring drug and metabolite levels in blood- that's so important now that everybody takes it for granted and does not know that someone perfected it sometime. It's really the foundation of much of modern medicine.

Sunil said...

Ashutosh.....may be not the foundation for modern medicine, but Brodie and Axelrod and other certainly laid down the foundations for modern neuroscience....and the present field traces back to them for its conception.

But his modesty is striking. After winning the Nobel, he said "I think there are 100 equally deserving people...I happened to be fortunate to be there at the right time."

Wavefunction said...

I think Axelrod hit the nail on the head...it seems to apply to so many other people, and reminds us that there are so many more deserving ones who did not win the Nobel.
And Foundation for modern medicine in the sense of being among the first ones to make the measurement of drugs of any kind in the body a staple for pharmacology...actually I just remembered I had written a review of it when I read it: