UoL Library Blog

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Scientific biographies

Posted by knockels on 1 June, 2009

I’m currently reading Harold Varmus’ autobiographical memoir “The art and politics of science” (1).  Varmus was director of the NIH, was heavily involved in PubMed Central and more recently in the Public Library of Science venture.

His chapter on access to the scientific literature is interesting – he became an open access “convert” when someone drew his attention to arXiv, and recalls at least one occasion when he could not access online something he had written.  

But the thing I wanted to blog briefly about is something else.   There are chapters that describe his medical research (he was awarded a share of the the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1989 for his discovery of the cellular origin of retroviral oncogenes).   They do assume a level of happiness with reading science, but not an intense familiarity with his field, and so I found them written in a way that I could follow, and in a more narrative way than a textbook.   And so perhaps there is a role for memoirs and (auto) biographies in broadening my knowledge of the fields I work to support.     It would be interesting to see if other memoirs are the same – Varmus, it ought to be noted, studied literature before he studied medicine.

(1) Varmus H. The art and politics of science. New York, Norton, 2009, if you want a librarian-ly reference!

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