Friday, May 22, 2009

Great Article -- The importance of stupidity in scientific research

The author, Martin A. Schwartz, does a great job of explaining the importance of being scientifically curious and humble.

From Journal of Cell Science 121, 1771 (2008). "The importance of stupidity in scientific research."
"For almost all of us, one of the reasons that we liked science in high school and college is that we were good at it. That can't be the only reason – fascination with understanding the physical world and an emotional need to discover new things has to enter into it too. But high-school and college science means taking courses, and doing well in courses means getting the right answers on tests. If you know those answers, you do well and get to feel smart.

A Ph.D., in which you have to do a research project, is a whole different thing. For me, it was a daunting task. How could I possibly frame the questions that would lead to significant discoveries; design and interpret an experiment so that the conclusions were absolutely convincing; foresee difficulties and see ways around them, or, failing that, solve them when they occurred? My Ph.D. project was somewhat interdisciplinary and, for a while, whenever I ran into a problem, I pestered the faculty in my department who were experts in the various disciplines that I needed. I remember the day when Henry Taube (who won the Nobel Prize two years later) told me he didn't know how to solve the problem I was having in his area. I was a third-year graduate student and I figured that Taube knew about 1000 times more than I did (conservative estimate). If he didn't have the answer, nobody did."

Thanks to @timoreilly via twitter for noting in his feed.


control valves said...

You are right on with this post!

Tina said...

Joe, after reading this . . . I feel so stupid! :)