The Value of Stupidity: are we doing it right?
Introduction Story (Via Neurotopia)
Apparently this essay came out in the Journal of Cell Science last year, and I guess Sci just didn’t hear about it. I finally DID hear about it, however, when I discovered The Faculty of 100 Biology. It’s freakin’ BRILLIANT. It basically gathers together over 2000 well-respected scientists from around the world, and asks for their comments on papers, as well as their rankings of the papers. Unfortunately, Sci’s library sux, and does not have a subscription to this. I think I might have to beg. I signed up for a three-week trial, but I’m still unable to get to the best part: the comments. Comments by renowned scientists on what is important and why. I would kill for this insight, and reading the comments can do a lot to hone your own critical reading skills. So check it out, and if your library has access, join!
Actual Introduction (Via Neurotopia)
I think anyone who has gone through grad school knows how that person felt. I know I feel more stupid with every passing day. I’ve been told that the day when you feel that you are the stupidist creature on the planet is the day they hand you a PhD. I cannot help but think that day must be coming soon, as my stupidity must soon reach critical mass. Stick a fork in her, Sci’s done.
The author points out that, for most people in science, their first love of science came…because they were good at it. Scientists tend to be pretty competitive people at one level or another, and there’s a big ego boost to be had in knowing you’re good at something that most people think is HARD. You master the math, you stomp the science! Not only that, most people who go to grad school, in any field, know they are pretty smart, and some have been told they were the brightest bulb in the box from the time their chubby fingers could learn the Suzuki method.
Additional Article Excerpts (Via Neurotopia) Best Section In Article!
Perhaps we should put more emphasis on this collective stupidity. The fact that formulating your own research plan, coming up with your own questions and the best way to answer them, is hard, and will never be easy no matter how high you get on the ladder. In the words of the author “if we don’t feel stupid it means we’re not really trying”. The point of science is to ask questions that no one has answered yet, to find things where you don’t know what the result will be, and to discover more about the world in the process.
So in a way, it’s good that we learn how to feel stupid. It does keep you humble, even in those mad scientist moments. It’s a well known idea in the preliminary exam, you keep asking a student questions until they answer “I don’t know”. That “I don’t know” is an important thing, if you knew everything, what would there be left to do? But I don’t know that we need the added feelings of stupid that I have described above. The stupidity of science is constructive, productive stupidity. The kind you get every day in grad school…perhaps not.
The more time I spend in grad school (and it will probably be a long time yet), the more I am convinced that the competitive nature of most modern grad programs often works against their goal: to train and motivate young scientists. There will of course be a level of competition, it’s in our nature. But there should NEVER be encouraged to tear down others when you point out their flaws. A mentor should never roll their eyes and dismiss a question without explaining why. Grad students should not be backstabbing each other and tearing each other down, to bring themselves up. We do enough of that in the grant application process, we can at least keep it out of the hallways.