An open letter

Wed, 26 Mar 1997 00:06:48 -0500

[ Even though not dealing with skepticism, the following letter from
Alan Hale should be of interest to many readers of this mailing
list. Support of legitimate science is something that I'm sure we all
wish to encourage. JR ]

Greetings everyone -- yes, another one of those blanket e-mails that
I send out to folks from time to time. I don't think I know all of
you personally, but at the very least we may have mutual acquaintances
who suggested I include you in this mailing. To those of you whom I
don't know (as well as those whom I do), please forgive my taking the
liberty of sending you a message like this.

The message which follows is an open letter to any and all young
scientists who, like me, are frustrated, angry, bitter, etc. about
the sorry state of science funding in our society today, and who
have been struggling just to get a decent career started. Due to my
current "15 minutes of fame" that I am receiving as a result of
Comet Hale-Bopp, I believe I have an opportunity to raise some
awareness of this issue, and possibly to get things turned around
at least a little bit.

Anyway, please take the time to read through this, and if you feel
like responding to it, please do so. Most importantly, please pass
this around to anyone and everyone you think might be interested in
responding; I'm trying to reach as large an audience as I can, and
the more responses I can get from those whose experiences have been
like mine, the better the chances I have of actually being able to
accomplish something.



An open letter to the scientists of my generation:

I am Alan Hale, the co-discoverer of Comet Hale-Bopp which, as I'm
sure you're aware, is getting a tremendous amount of media attention
at this time. Like I'm sure is true for many of you, I was inspired
by the scientific discoveries and events taking place during my
childhood to pursue a career in science only to find, after completing
the rigors of undergraduate and graduate school, that the opportunities
for us to have a career in science are limited at best and are which I
usually describe as "abysmal." Based upon my own experiences, and those
of you with whom I have discussed this issue, my personal feeling is
that, unless there are some pretty drastic changes in the way that our
society approaches science and treats those of us who have devoted our
lives to making some of our own contributions, there is no way that I
can, with a clear conscience, encourage present-day students to pursue
a career in science. It really pains me a great deal to say something
like that, but I feel so strongly about this that I have publicly made
this statement at almost every opportunity I have been given.

I am trying to use the media attention that is currently being focused
upon me to raise awareness of this state of affairs, and perhaps start
to effect those changes that will allow me to convey a more positive
message to the next generation. So far, I'm sensing a certain
reluctance among the media to discuss this issue, as they seem far more
interested in items which I consider to be irrelevant and unimportant.
But I intend to keep hammering away at this, and I'd like to believe
that eventually some are going to sit up and take notice. I am also
attempting to schedule meetings with some of our government leaders, to
see if I can at least get some acknowledgement from Washington that
this is a problem that needs to be dealt with.

My reason for writing to you is to ask your help. I know that I'm not
alone in being frustrated about the current prospects for pursuing any
kind of decent career within science, and I'm quite sure that many of
you have "horror stories" about your searches for decent employment
that are quite similar to my own. I'd like to hear them. I'd especially
like to hear from those of you who are on your second or third or
fourth post-doc, or who have left the field as a result of the
employment situation, or who have experienced severe personal
difficulties (e.g., break-up of a marriage, etc.). I realize that some
of these might be painful to discuss, but I'd like to show that we are
not a bunch of impersonal statistics, but that we're human beings
trying to make an honest living and perhaps make a contribution or two
to society while we're at it. Speaking of statistics, though, if you
received any information about the numbers of applicants to some of the
positions you applied to -- which was often a 3-digit number in my case
-- I'd like to hear that, too.

Please e-mail your stories to me at, with a subject
line of "horror stories" or something like that. Please let me know if
you would prefer to remain anonymous when I share these stories with
the press and the government. Also, please pass this message on to any
of your friends and colleagues who might be interested in sharing their
stories with me, and keep in mind that I would like to receive stories
from as many scientific disciplines as possible. (Because of the amount
of e-mail traffic I'm receiving these days, along with everything else
that's going on, I probably won't be able to acknowledge each message

Thank you for your time, and I hope to hear from you. Perhaps, with
the opportunity we have before us right now, we have the chance to make
a difference.


Alan Hale