Growing pains

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Science  25 Oct 2019:
Vol. 366, Issue 6464, pp. 412-415
DOI: 10.1126/science.366.6464.412

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It's been a remarkable year for ecologist Thomas Crowther—for better and worse. The 33-year-old researcher, an assistant professor at ETH Zurich in Switzerland, has co-authored six papers in Nature and Science. Journalists have produced hundreds of stories about his laboratory's innovative work with huge ecological data sets. Last month, Nature published a lengthy profile of Crowther, noting his rise "from struggling student to steward of a 30-strong team," supported by a hefty foundation grant. But Crowther's rapid rise to prominence has also catalyzed a strong and sometimes personal backlash. Colleagues have called him out for what they view as preening for the press (his lab has its own public relations staff) and for publishing flashy but flawed science. Some researchers have accused Crowther of being a poster boy for white male privilege in science, with one calling his lab "a huge waste of money." The attacks have left Crowther and members of his laboratory feeling bewildered, even depressed. But it has also reinforced their feeling that they are doing meaningful, precedent-setting, and world-changing work.

  • * Gabriel Popkin is a journalist based in Mount Rainier, Maryland.

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