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Gee Charlie, i had a different reaction and sent it out to a number of 
demoralized grad students.  I assumed that the value of their grasping 
that what makes them feel pretty clever as they earn the privilege of 
grad school is their ignorance of how vast is the amount that they don't 
know and probably never will, while what makes them feel stupid in grad 
school is simply coming to grips with reality--that value is greater 
than one more example of how arrogant many scientists are.
herb

Charles Schwartz wrote:
> 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.
>>
>>
>