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April 24, 2019 at 11:07 am

Hooper: ‘Biology Still Needs Romantic, Heroic, and Idiosyncratic Research’

Dr. Scott Hooper was recently featured in a Q&A issue of Current Biology, where he noted, “I believe that biology still needs romantic, heroic, and idiosyncratic research and that progress will suffer if we do not provide sufficient funding for it to continue.”

Dr. Scott Hooper is holding the next generation of possible scientists -- his niece's son.

Dr. Scott Hooper is holding the next generation of possible scientists — his niece’s son.

Hooper, Professor of Neuroscience in Biological Sciences, discussed his journey from isolated childhood ranch to Ohio University, where he has been since the early 1990s. His research uses electrophysiology and computer simulation to study how neuromuscular systems create movement.

In one response, he disabused the notion biology is basically understood:

Do you believe that your history made a difference in how you think about science? In that it has made me very suspicious of premature transitions from basic to applied research, yes. Major funding agencies have decided primarily to fund only research with very direct connections to human disease and defect. Implicit in this shift is the belief that biology is basically understood and the only need now is applying this understanding. The history of science is littered with ludicrously wrong pronouncements that field X is basically understood. One hundred years ago, physics was supposedly essentially ‘done’: all that remained were a few insignificant, niggling problems, such as black-body radiation, an insignificant, niggling problem the solution of which spawned quantum mechanics. We cannot yet construct even a bacterium from scratch. The idea that we have sufficient understanding of the immensely more complex eukaryote cell — much less organs composed of millions or billions of these individually immensely complex entities — to push biology toward being primarily an applied science seems hubris to me. I find it inconceivable that there do not remain transformational discoveries in biology: discoveries that will be made from basic research in some presently obscure backwater of science. Barbara McClintock is an example of the difference a romantic and heroic individual can make. I believe that biology still needs romantic, heroic, and idiosyncratic research and that progress will suffer if we do not provide sufficient funding for it to continue. Like all research, most of it will be dross, but some of it will be the rare gem that clarifies everything that is viewed through it.

Read the rest of the interview, including his thoughts on robotics, in Current Biology.

Hooper recently co-edited a book (with Ansgar Buschges, University of Cologne) titled “Neurobiology of Motor Control: Fundamental Concepts and New Directions.”

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