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This is awful. I couldn't read the whole thing without retching.
Such exuberant expressions of superiority!

Charlie (one Schwartz to another)

Michael H Goldhaber wrote:
> http://jcs.biologists.org/cgi/content/full/121/11/1771
>
>
> Best,
>
> Michael
>
> First published online May 20, 2008
> doi: 10.1242/10.1242/jcs.033340
>
> ------------------------------------------------------------------------
> /Journal of Cell Science/ 121, 1771 (2008)
> Published by The Company of Biologists 
> <http://www.biologists.com/web/cob_copyright.html> 2008
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>
>       Essay
>
>
>     The importance of stupidity in scientific research
>
> *Martin A. Schwartz*
>
> Department of Microbiology, UVA Health System, University of Virginia, 
> Charlottesville, VA 22908, USA
>
> /e-mail: [log in to unmask] <mailto:[log in to unmask]>/
>
> /Accepted 9 April 2008/
>
> I recently saw an old friend for the first time in many years.^  We 
> had been Ph.D. students at the same time, both studying science,^  
> although in different areas. She later dropped out of graduate^  
> school, went to Harvard Law School and is now a senior lawyer^  for a 
> major environmental organization. At some point, the 
> conversationturned to why she had left graduate school. To my utter 
> astonishment,^  she said it was because it made her feel stupid. After 
> a couple^  of years of feeling stupid every day, she was ready to do 
> something^  else.
>
> I had thought of her as one of the brightest people I knew and^  her 
> subsequent career supports that view. What she said bothered^  me. I 
> kept thinking about it; sometime the next day, it hit^  me. Science 
> makes me feel stupid too. It's just that I've gotten^  used to it. So 
> used to it, in fact, that I actively seek out^  new opportunities to 
> feel stupid. I wouldn't know what to do^  without that feeling. I even 
> think it's supposed to be this^  way. Let me explain.
>
> 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.
>
> That's when it hit me: nobody did. That's why it was a research^  
> problem. And being /my/ research problem, it was up to me to solve.^  
> Once I faced that fact, I solved the problem in a couple of^  days. 
> (It wasn't really very hard; I just had to try a few things.)^  The 
> crucial lesson was that the scope of things I didn't know^  wasn't 
> merely vast; it was, for all practical purposes, infinite.^  That 
> realization, instead of being discouraging, was liberating.^  If our 
> ignorance is infinite, the only possible course of action^  is to 
> muddle through as best we can.
>
> I'd like to suggest that our Ph.D. programs often do students^  a 
> disservice in two ways. First, I don't think students are^  made to 
> understand how hard it is to do research. And how very,^  very hard it 
> is to do important research. It's a lot harder^  than taking even very 
> demanding courses. What makes it difficult^  is that research is 
> immersion in the unknown. We just don't^  know what we're doing. We 
> can't be sure whether we're asking^  the right question or doing the 
> right experiment until we get^  the answer or the result. Admittedly, 
> science is made harder^  by competition for grants and space in top 
> journals. But apart^  from all of that, doing significant research is 
> intrinsically^  hard and changing departmental, institutional or 
> national policies^  will not succeed in lessening its intrinsic 
> difficulty.
>
> Second, we don't do a good enough job of teaching our students^  how 
> to be productively stupid  that is, if we don't feel^  stupid it 
> means we're not really trying. I'm not talking about^  `relative 
> stupidity', in which the other students in the class^  actually read 
> the material, think about it and ace the exam,whereas you don't. I'm 
> also not talking about bright people^  who might be working in areas 
> that don't match their talents.^  Science involves confronting our 
> `absolute stupidity'. That^  kind of stupidity is an existential fact, 
> inherent in our efforts^  to push our way into the unknown. 
> Preliminary and thesis exams^  have the right idea when the faculty 
> committee pushes until^  the student starts getting the answers wrong 
> or gives up and^  says, `I don't know'. The point of the exam isn't to 
> see if^  the student gets all the answers right. If they do, it's 
> the^  faculty who failed the exam. The point is to identify the 
> student's^  weaknesses, partly to see where they need to invest some 
> effort^  and partly to see whether the student's knowledge fails at 
> a^  sufficiently high level that they are ready to take on a 
> research^  project.
>
> 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 ofconfidence 
> 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.
>
>