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Linear Thinking in
Biomedical Chemistry


Linear Conceptualizations of Knowledge and Efficiency in Biomedical Chemistry


       The construction of fact is accomplished in multitudinous forms. Humanists write extensively on subjects, elucidating their underlying causes and effects. Artists create “pieces” showcasing ideas in novel ways that evoke the previously unexplainable. Scientists observe and physically analyze phenomena to transmute the realities of our universe into more accessible figures and tables that demonstrate the processes and structure of our world. However, science is different in its approach to what fact is. There’s a striving to reach an objective view of reality that some other disciplines recognize as unreachable. Biomedical Chemistry is a good case study for these tendencies of science due to its association with medicine. When human life is at risk, there is a sense of urgency that intensifies science’s extant love affair with efficiency and concise writing.

        On February 12th, I interviewed Dr. M------ S------, a biomedical chemist who studies atomic structure and dynamics of organic molecules via a Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectrometer. I questioned him on the characteristics he searches for in “good” chemistry articles and his understanding of the Chemistry Community as a whole. I will be analyzing how this chemist’s perspective fits within the scientific community and how science’s conceptualizations of knowledge inherently affect scientists.

        Dr. S------ works as a visiting assistant professor at D------ University, a liberal arts college. A Liberal Arts education promotes generalist learning principles and an understanding of knowledge as a web that is fully interconnected. I asked Dr. S------, “How is Chemistry related to other sciences and disciplines?”. He responded swiftly, “Chemistry is the intersection of Physics and Biology” (S------, 2/12). He further denoted the difference between the disciplines as a spectrum of theoretical to practical, “I think physics is more theoretical…. Chemists understand that deviation within an experiment is expected…. Biology is important because it’s concerned with ‘big picture’ concepts”. Geoscience is notably absent in this phylogeny of science.

         I was not satisfied with this answer, as Dr. S------ had not connected his discipline to that of anything other than science. Probing further, I questioned how the humanities connected to chemistry. He responded far slower, taking time to consider the question, “I think that chemistry builds skills that are applicable in the humanities, but I haven’t really ever considered the connection....”. This lack of relationship to the humanities fits well within the “Spear of Knowledge” that physicists in Sharon Traweek’s book, Beamtimes and Lifetimes, use as metaphor for their construction of knowledge. Other disciplines all serve as parts of the shaft which physics sits at the tip of (Traweek 79).


         Though Dr. S----- didn’t directly implicate this spear, his answers indicate that he considers there to be a more direct association between the sciences comparatively to the humanities. Histories, anthropological analyses, artistic interpretations, and linguistic investigations of chemistry all exist and are as important as the science itself, yet scientists are institutionally taught to devalue these formations of knowledge as building towards science rather than intermingling with science.

         This involves how theory is evaluated in writing. The journal, Chem [1], lists guidelines that article submitters must follow to be admitted into the authorial fold. The journal is concerned with the application of data via rigorous, lengthy methodology. The first guideline is entitled “Data and Image Processing” (Chem). This placement suggests that figures are paramount to this journal. Dr. S------ espoused similar beliefs when asked what he searches for in a “good” chemistry article. “I first look for the figures and read the abstract. That lets me determine whether or not I am interested in [reading] the article”. The actual writing is devalued in the initial process of evaluation, favoring what scientists call “processed data”. 

          The guidelines on writing are succinct, valuing concise language and reproducibility of the experiment's result. Efficiency is the principal concern when writing for this journal. This obsession with the data of an experiment is extant in the laboratory that Latour and Woolgar write about. The observer follows an experiment’s focus of attention and sees that each end product of a procedure becomes the new center of the process (Latour 49-50). This valuing of the end-product and the means to get there disregards intermediates as being part of the shaft that the processed data is at the head of. The spear has appeared again in a different form.  

          Linearity via the spear analogy is the primary understanding of scientific knowledge in its own processes and in relation to other disciplines. This mode of knowledge permits rare deviances from one’s subject and tends to reward nonobservance of other fields’ connections if they are far enough away [2] on the linear scale of knowledge. Devaluation of other disciplines allows full focus on one’s own work and a more efficient workflow; however, scientists risk alienating others and losing sight of the true breadth of potential knowledge.           


Works Cited

Chem. (2020, February 16). Information for Authors. Cell Press: Chem.


Latour, B., Woolgar, S., & Salk, J. (1979). Laboratory Life: The Construction of Scientific Facts. Princeton University Press.


Scimago. (2020, February 16). Scimago Journal & Country Rank. Journal Rankings on

Biochemistry Articles.


Shannon, M. (2020, February 12). Personal Interview with Dr. Matthew Shannon Ph.D.


Traweek, S. (1992). Beamtimes and Lifetimes: The World of High Energy Physicists. Harvard

University Press.



[1] Chem had the greatest impact factor of all Biomedical Chemistry Journals according to

[2] This is a subjective metric and varies among scientists a great deal

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