The Quantum Pontiff

Krugman on Krugman

A very good essay Paul Krugman wrote on his method of doing research. Some good gems in there for researchers of all fields.

The injunction to dare to be silly is not a license to be undisciplined. In fact, doing really innovative theory requires much more intellectual discipline than working in a well-established literature. What is really hard is to stay on course: since the terrain is unfamilar, it is all too easy to find yourself going around in circles.

Comments

  1. #1 David McMahon
    October 18, 2008

    Great point. Of course working an an innovative theory takes a lot more intellectual discipline. Working in well-established literature really doesn’t take all that much smarts. That’s probably where you find all the former “A” students. These are people with technical skills that are good at following rules, hence they do great in school. But they aren’t innovative or creative in the sense of Einstein or Feynman. Those former A students are producing thousands upon thousands of bland research papers every year. That’s not to say incremental progress in known fields isn’t important, but its certainly less impressive. But its kind of funny how an innovative field like string theory has become “well-established” even before a single experimental test. Although you have to be smart to learn string theory, you don’t have to be innovative to be one of the lemmings publishing yet another paper on it. So now string theory, which no matter what you think of it is certainly an innovative and different idea, is full of rote learners who are technically skilled but not innovative at all.

  2. #2 John Sidles
    October 19, 2008

    The historian Stephen B. Johnson has defined innovation to be “that which few expect and even fewer want.”

    This captures in a short phrase the gist of Krugman’s essay (as I understand it).

    Young mathematicians, scientists, and engineers (and older ones too) are IMHO very lucky to alive in an era in which so many new disciplines, new formalisms, and new tools are being created.

    But it is well to young people to keep in mind that innovative ideas are embraced slowly … for the common-sense reason that the implications of truly innovative ideas are too transformational to be embraced swiftly.

  3. #3 jeff
    October 19, 2008

    I was amazed that Krugman won the prize. Around 2000-2001, he wrote a column in the WSJ which I heartily disagreed with. I wrote a letter to the editor, deconstructing his argument which ended up being published. Needless to say, he found out my address and sent me a scathing e-mail, filled with insults and strong invective. Now that he won the prize, I need to find that old e-mail, print it, and have it framed. Perhaps I should go to Stockholm and have him sign it. I respected Krugman before he let politics cloud his judgment. Although he’s a brilliant economist, I’d lay odds that he couldn’t trade his way out of a paper bag.

    I’ve had a few feuds with pundits in the past, but Krugman took the cake.

    Jeff

  4. #4 Jonathan Vos Post
    October 21, 2008

    Amen to: “The injunction to dare to be silly is not a license to be undisciplined. In fact, doing really innovative theory requires much more intellectual discipline than working in a well-established literature.”

    I enjoy his NY Times editorials, and how they make “loyal Bushies” froth at the mouth.

    Don’t many “talking heads” on TV have knives in the backs of their enemies?

    One of my 10th graders (Nia Charter School) this morning summarized the upcoming 150th anniversary (2009) of Charles Darwin’s “Origin of Species” as related to the right wing wacko attacks on Obama: “People hate new ideas, and will do whatever they can to avoid change.”

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