Friday, March 15, 2013

Problems in Bioclimatology, René Dubos

"Ideally, the bioclimatologist should have the characteristics of both the classical and the romantic type of scientist"

These words jumped out at me this evening while cleaning out a drawer with some old files as I stumbled across a hard copy of the classic paper Problems in Bioclimatology, by René Dubos of the Rockefeller Institute.  They hit me today much as they did when I first read this essay as an early graduate student.  Proceeding to read the short paper again, I find it amazing how prescient Dubos was when writing this in 1959, and how absolutely relevant the paper is for today's researchers studying climate physics and biophysics.

In the essay, Dr. Dubos acknowledges that he was not trained specifically in the field named in the title, as his background was microbiology (PhD, Rutgers); however, he went on to frame some central questions that focus on the etiology of disease with an emphasis on identifying and quantifying the environmental triggers.  Having worked at the interface of researching and modeling the effects of physical forcing mechanisms and the subsequent biological responses on organisms for years, it is easy to see where groups such as the International Society of Biometeorology and the International Association for Aerobiology, among others, can trace their roots.

Dubos' essay should be encouraged reading not only for early graduate students, as it was for me, but also for seasoned scientists and administrators.  With the proliferation of new data-generating and data-analyzing capabilities leading to advances in virtually all fields of science, more often than not, major breakthroughs within a field will come from a perspective brought in from the outside.  Dr. Dubos' words should serve as a guide as science and technology take humanity to places unimaginable when his essay was first published.

(photo: Singapore Botanic Gardens)

No comments: