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Scientists Don’t Sleep

Scientific researchers continue working into the wee hours of the morning, but the experiments they really want to do would take 1,000 lifetimes

Scientific researchers continue working into the wee hours of the morning, new research confirms. Weekends are not sacred, either. Around the world, the Journal of Informetrics paper says, scientific achievements tend to correlate with hard work, which means putting in the extra hours when everyone else is in bed or enjoying some R&R.

To arrive at this conclusion, the researchers—who did not confirm whether or not they too were guilty of overwork—monitored how often and where people around the world downloaded scientific papers on the site Springer. They discovered that the US, Germany and China accounted for most downloads, so they honed in on those three countries.  The researchers assumed that whenever a scientist downloads a paper, she’s is working, even if YouTube is on in the background. During nights and weekends, the downloads slowed down but never stopped. As Chemistry World details, US scientists proved to be the biggest insomniacs:

Scientists in the US were most likely to be working through the night, with post-midnight to sunrise downloads remaining between 100 and 300 downloads for each 10-minute time slot, compared with the weekday late afternoon highs of around 700 downloads. Downloads in Germany and China generally tapered off sharply after midnight to below 50 downloads every 10 minutes until sunrise.

The researchers attribute this live-to-work mentality to the intense pressure amongst today’s scientists to constantly publish papers and outperform competitors. The authors speculate that this degree of work commitment must come with a cost, however, meaning hobbies, family, exercise and down time likely fall by the wayside.

It doesn’t seem like the scientists care much, though. A survey published in Nature reports that most scientists who took part in the poll feel pretty good about their lives. Of women scientists, 63 percent said they’re very satisfied or satisfied, and for men, 67 percent reported the same feeling of well-being.

In fact, if scientists could work much, much more, many likely would. Leading scientists enthusiastically responded to a question Scientific American recently posed: if you had 1,000 years, 10,000 years or even a million years to make observations or perform experiments, what would you do? Amongst the responses, some favorite scientific pet questions were:

  • How did life begin?
  • How smart can chimps become?
  • How do massive stars blow up?
  • Will humans evolve resistance to major diseases?
  • Will we eventually wage endless  local wars when fossil fuels dry up?
  • Is the universe lopsided?
  • Will our heads get bigger?
  • Are protons forever?

As SciAm points out:

In most fields of scientific research, however, some of the most interesting and fundamental questions remain open because scientists simply have not had enough time to pursue them.

More from Smithsonian.com:

Scientists Are People, Too 
Become a Mad Scientist 

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