As a young visitor to the Museum, I never really looked behind the taxidermy. I never imagined that there were scientists behind the scenes, managing collections and pursuing their own research. It certainly never occurred to me that collections housed here in Santa Barbara would draw researchers from other institutions worldwide. This reflected not only my lack of knowledge about the Museum, but something I didn’t yet understand about science: that it’s conducted not by lone wolves, but by pack animals.
This might sound surprising, in light of what we all usually picture when we imagine a scientist. Even if we’re lucky enough to know some real scientists, we typically visualize someone whose expertise exceeds their social skills, someone who’d rather spend Friday nights alone in a lab than having a beer with friends. Shows like The Big Bang Theory derive their humor from this entrenched stereotype. What the stereotype gets right is the fact that scientists are typically passionate about what they do, and most of the time they’d rather be doing it than anything else. They’re in it for love, and not for the money, which you can confirm by asking any researcher what they earn.