By Merlin Crossley

This week’s blog is something different – I want to direct readers, especially anyone who has ever struggled emotionally with research or felt stupid, to one of the best essays I’ve read – The Importance of Stupidity in Scientific Research by Michael A. Schwartz.

You can find it here .

To me it is a near perfect essay, except I wish he had said “ignorance” not “stupidity”. He uses ignorance near the end and that is what the essay is about – the agony or joy of “not knowing”, rather than of being slow-witted, dull or stupid.

When Socrates visited the oracle at Delphi, the oracle explained that Socrates was the wisest of all because he, alone, knew he knew nothing. Michael Schwartz says the same sort of thing, but the essay is more about what type of person you need to be to tolerate, and then enjoy, the scientific process.

As the essay says Michael Schwartz got used to it and he enjoys it. I looked him up and he seems to be a wonderfully successful researcher. Science suits him. It suits many people but not everyone, because some people, even though they are super-smart, not stupid, are not comfortable with feeling at a loss, and being constantly defeated by the absence of knowledge that surrounds researchers. Gradually people realise science relies on trial and error, which sounds so dumb but a lot of the time that’s what research involves.

That’s enough from me I hope you will enjoy this essay.

Merlin Crossley is DVC A at UNSW. His Crossley Lab blog appears in CMM, Friday.


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