Thursday, December 17, 2009

Importance of Stupidity

In the recent issue of Current Science, P. Balaram writes about stupidity and success (link to pdf file) in scientific research. He says,

... There seems to be little discussion within institutions and departments on the need to promote a collective approach towards building up an intellectual climate that promotes scholarship. An environment which appreciates the ‘importance of stupidity’ (especially ‘productive stupidity’) would be wonderfully energizing. Unfortunately, we have gone overboard in ‘incentivizing’ research ...
He quotes the essay by Martin A. Schwartz on the importance of stupidity in scientific research. Schwartz writes,
... 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 ...
It is quite interesting to find ways to communicate this confrontation of absolute stupidity in a class room. That's less harder than feeling stupid.

Grand Challenges of Indian Science

According to R. A. Mashelkar's recent article in The Hindu, the grand challenges are as follows:
  • To build some irreverence in the educational system
  • To create innovation ecosystem
  • To create truly innovative scientists
  • To pose big problems
  • To promote out of the box thinking

Primary education, modes and delivery of our education system do not figure in these "grand" challenges. May be it is now fashionable to think big, do big, dream big, etc. We should first learn to do simple things elegantly and effectively.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

A Habit of Lies

John A Hewitt writes on his website,

This site is about the way scientists cheat, by falsifying the scientific literature and rigging debate to include and acknowledge only "acceptable" opinion. It is derived from my as yet unpublished book "A Habit of Lies." The particular topic is taken from my own experiences in the field of cell biology but I think the practices described are widespread.

You can read A Habit of Lies here.