16.11 Giving a scientist a job

Appointments of scientists and engineers in industry are often very dependent on the procedures of Human Resources departments. They often place a lot of reliance on results from “assessment centres” that provide general information about a person but not about his or her specialist abilities. This general information may be very useful – but it doesn’t tell you whether the person is good at science or engineering. In British universities appointments may rely heavily on the opinions of “senior academics” who have often given up undistinguished careers in teaching and research to concentrate on administration – for which they may lack any special aptitudes or skills. They may know little or nothing about the applicant’s specialist area of knowledge.

The idea seems to be that you can judge someone’s scientific ability without trying to understand his or her specialist work. I think this is a big mistake.

Suppose you are leading a university that wishes to appoint a young scientist to do creative research. One of the applicants is a young man with good academic qualifications. When you interview him he has no clear plan of exactly what he wants to do, if appointed, and no idea of what he expects to achieve in 5 years’ time.

You are not impressed but decide to find out more about him. He is an unsociable person who always works alone. There have been examples of bitter feuds with people who disagree with him. Despite being a devout member of the Church of England, he is very interested in alchemy which is, more or less, a branch of magic. Not surprisingly, you decide not to appoint him.

Many years later, you discover that the unsuccessful applicant has given up science. He now works in the financial sector where he is obsessed with fraud. He pursues suspects without mercy, sometimes hounding them to death. Recently, he has lost a lot of money from investment in a company involved in slavery.

You believe that this vindicates your original decision not to appoint him.


Scroll down to find the name of the person you decided not to appoint.






Keep on scrolling!





Isaac Newton
Isaac Newton (1643-1727) on engraving from the 1800s. One of the most influential scientists in history. Engraved by Freeman from the original painting by Sir Godfrey Kneller and published by Arch. Fullarton & Co Glasgow.

Isaac (later Sir Isaac) Newton had invented the branch of science we now call physics by the time he was 45 years’ old. He is widely regarded, along with Albert Einstein and James Clerk Maxwell, as being one of the three most influential physicists of all time.


Follow-up posts

16.15 Science education
17.1 It’s obvious
17.9 Scientists believe that…
17.14 Confusion
17.25 Diminishing deception
17.33 Lord Kelvin and flying machines
17.46 Peeing contests
18.4 Calculators in schools
18.18 Who benefits from scientific research?


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