Home as workplace

Richard West at work in his study, 2011
Richard West at work in his study, 2011

Like many non-scientists, scientists often took their work home. Drafting, thinking and writing could continue beyond the working day, on the train home, in the evenings, over the weekend. At retirement, those scientists whose work did not rely on very large or very expensive instruments found that they could continue to work from home, with fewer distractions, in what one of them calls ‘kitchen science’. Others were impelled to set up at home long before retirement because the workplace was too cramped (as in the case of Oxford Instruments) or inflexible (as in the case of Dame Stephanie Shirley’s computer software business). Dame Shirley’s story of playing recorded office-like noises to mask, from clients on the telephone, the ‘domestic sounds’ of childcare, reflects a more general prejudice that science oughtnot to be too homely. As editor of the scientific journal ‘Nature’ in the 1970s, David Davies remembers that papers submitted to the journal from private addresses tended to be not properly scientific and often quite odd – with some exceptions, including those of James Lovelock who has been an ‘independent’ scientist since 1964 and whose remote homes in Wales and Cornwall have served as ideal sites for the measurement of atmospheric pollution, including CFCs.