“Playing against type” is when an actor plays a role very different from the sort of role that the actor usually plays, or that made the actor famous. The link goes to a list of actors who’ve done this.* Think Daniel Radcliffe going from Harry Potter to Equus.
Question: what are the best examples of scientists doing this in their papers? By which I mean, the best examples of scientists writing papers very different from the sort of papers they usually write, or are best known for. And have you ever “played against type” yourself?
First example that comes to my mind is this interesting little macroecological paper from Graham Bell. He’s best known as an evolutionary biologist, though he’s also written numerous papers on the application of neutral theory to ecology. But the linked macroecological paper isn’t neutral theory, at least not primarily. So it’s very different from any other Graham Bell paper I know. Although it does share some features with many of his other papers, such as the use of simple models to generate testable predictions that might be expected to hold in many different systems. And I have no idea whether Graham himself sees this paper as a “one-off”, or as “of a piece” with his other papers. So I guess YMMV on whether this paper is a good example of a scientist “playing against type”.
Note that, before you can play against type, you have to have established a type. So the fact that Graham Bell started out as a grad student doing natural historical studies of newts doesn’t count as playing against type.
A more borderline case is when someone changes types–plays against type for so long that the new type just becomes the “type”. A scientist who works for a long time in one system before switching to a different system would be an example. Like Cher switching from singing to acting (and then back to singing). 🙂
Reflecting on my own papers, there’s only one that feels to me like it was playing against type. No, it’s not my paleontology paper. That one involves the Price equation, which features in many of my papers, so I definitely wouldn’t consider that paper to be playing against type. And no, it’s not the paper I have in press at a philosophy journal. That would be playing against type for many scientists, but definitely not for a philosophy fanboy like me. It’s Vasseur et al. 2014, the only paper of mine that emerged from the one working group I’ve led. Leading working groups isn’t my strong suit, so the process that led to that paper was very much a matter of playing against type for me. But I doubt it looks that way to anyone else, since the topic (interspecific synchrony) and the study system (freshwater zooplankton communities) are both ones I’ve written about in other papers.
Can you think of any better examples?
*That list has a few eye-openers, at least for me. After The Sound of Music, Julie Andrews was in a film that obliged her to striptease?!