The importance of stupidity in scientific research (and in writing), by Randy Burgess

Just heard of a neat article about why feeling stupid on a regular basis is actually a good sign if you're doing serious scientific research. The article is by a fellow named Martin Schwartz, a professor of microbiology and biomedical engineering at the University of Virginia, and it was published in April of 2008 in The Journal of Cell Science. Here's an excerpt:

Productive stupidity means being ignorant by choice. Focusing on important questions puts us in the awkward position of being ignorant. One of the beautiful things about science is that it allows us to bumble along, getting it wrong time after time, and feel perfectly fine as long as we learn something each time. No doubt, this can be difficult for students who are accustomed to getting the answers right. No doubt, reasonable levels of confidence and emotional resilience help, but I think scientific education might do more to ease what is a very big transition: from learning what other people once discovered to making your own discoveries. The more comfortable we become with being stupid, the deeper we will wade into the unknown and the more likely we are to make big discoveries.

What I like about this excerpt - and about the entire article - is that with a very few changes, it could be speaking of writing. Writing seriously, regularly, searchingly, means feeling stupid on a regular basis. For that matter the same applies for writing even reasonably well, at least for me. I've had writing students come up to me anxiously after class and say, "There must be something wrong; I find writing is terribly hard work. It takes me hours." And I tell them, "You can relax - that's normal."

Posted via web from David Dobbs's Somatic Marker

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I've been passing Schwartz's article out to colleagues since I stumbled across it. The response from people at the postdoc level has always been something like "Wow. Exactly. I wish I'd seen this years ago."

Now that I've got research students, it's on their required reading list.

The Flu that killed People in Mexico was the General flu THE U.S. IS LYING Looking for blame, because the U.S. has the highest cases of Flu. Mexicos weather does not support wide spread flus

The U.S. has 36-38,000 cases of death, about 100 deaths per day, 200,000 hospitalized. How many millions sick in bed from the flu? It comes from Mexico? 3-7 dead persons in the U.S., from this so-called Swin flu, a Mexican baby visiting the U.S.?? Another, a person living close to the border?? Another, had it but dead from something else? Are American really this stupid? Is this some type of Zombie training program for the American people? (HINI) was here in 1976, (4000 person class action law suit against the Government for that shot) it was reported not by the U.S. media of course whats new? But by the Mexican health ministry, there was outbreaks in Texas and California in September and October 2009 before any outbreaks were reported in Mexico have you ever heard of the All-American flu or the California/Texas fruit flu? Are you surprised that the U.S. would blame this on Mexico, since the highest rate of HINI is in the U.S. and Mexico?

By G. Arnoult (not verified) on 08 Nov 2009 #permalink