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23 September 2019
DRUSSA Fables: Mama Scientist`s dancing daughter Print
Wednesday, 18 September 2013 00:00

We scientists are like mothers--we cherish our findings and keep them close to our hearts, showing them off only to our scientific counterparts. However, findings "need to become" to be of greater value to society. For that reason, we sometimes need to let go of our findings--the same way Mama Scientist had to let go of her precious daughter, allowing her to drift into territory beyond her control... 

The year Mama Scientist became pregnant, the people around her fell ill with a terrible disease. Mama thought there was something special about her baby, that one day she would become even greater than Mama herself. Together they would work on a cure for the disease and return joy to the people.

When the baby was born, a healthy, bright-eyed girl with remarkably strong legs, Mama Scientist was overwhelmed. She called her Little Finding. Mama raised the baby in the lab, on her bench and close to her heart. On Little Finding`s fifth birthday, Mama Scientist gave her a first microscope. Together they adjusted the lenses and peered into the evasive heart of the disease. Under the bench Little Finding`s feet tapped a rhythm that rose above the familiar sound of the airconditioner in the lab. It unsettled Mama but she kept silent, thinking it was just a passing habit.

"Mama," said Little Finding on her 17th birthday. "I think I have the dancing fever. Please teach me how to dance."

"What do I know about dancing?" Mama replied. "I`m a scientist, not a performer. This bench is where I belong ... where you belong!"

Avoiding Mama`s wrath, Little Finding kept to herself for days. In turn, Mama observed that her child`s brilliant mind was becoming less occupied with analytical tools and computer scripts. It was around this time that Mama was asked to deliver a keynote speech at a nearby university. Returning to the lab a few hours earlier than expected, she discovered Little Finding stripped to her underwear, jumping around the room fiendishly to Shakira`s music.

"Have you gone mad?" Mama shouted. "Get dressed and back to your bench! Now! People are dying!" Little Finding stopped in her tracks, breathless. There was a sense of urgency in her voice. "Mama, I need to leave this lab. Every cell inside me was engineered to dance. Help me to become, Mama. Please, help me!"

"I`ll have none of this!" Mama exploded. "I`ve given you a life--this life!" Later that same day, after the dust had settled, Mama reached out to Little Finding, now sitting quietly at her computer. Mama gently massaged her daughter`s neck, hoping to rub some sense into her. "Please, dearest, stay true to your calling."

"But Mama, I don`t want to be anything else than the greatest dancer ever!"

Again Mama`s voice began to rise. "What exactly do you want me to do? Leave my lab and go knocking on doors, looking for a dancing school and hand you over to the first instructor like I`m some sort of pimp? Forget it! I`m a scientist, you hear, a scientist!"

The next morning Little Finding`s bench was as empty as when it had been before she was born, only a little note remaining:

I need to become.

For once Mama was at a loss for words. She immersed herself in her science by systematically integrating insights from every conceivable discipline. Over the years Mama Scientist would glean news from distant relatives: Little Finding had struggled at first on her own, but then met a young dance instructor from Arabia; they fell in love and got married; Little Finding followed him back to his people, leaving behind Africa and her Mama`s lab--for good.

Mama published many more articles in highly-cited journals. One day, while installing new antivirus software on her laptop, Mama accidentally came across a YouTube video. There it was. Unmistakable. Her daughter`s face. Eagerly she pressed play. There was Little Finding, swirling like a dervish in the desert to the sound of the most magical chants and wildest drums. People sitting around her were mesmerised.

Towards the end, the camera zoomed in on a wrinkled old man, the chief of the desert nomads. He mumbled a few sentences in an incomprehensible language. "This goddess," Mama followed the English subtitles, "her steps milked tears from the sky. Our souls were thirsty but now they`re fat with joy--all because of the tapping of her soles in the sand."

"Yes, yes, yes!" The community echoed.

Mama Scientist replayed the YouTube video and touched the image of her daughter performing a rain dance in the foreign desert. Filled with pride, she closed her eyes and sent her blessing to her daughter: Dance well, my Little Finding, and dance on. What a different kind of healer you have become!


Dr Nelius Boshoff is a Senior Researcher at the Centre for Research on Evaluation, Science and Technology (CREST), University of Stellenbosch