The Importance of Stupidity in Scientific Research

January 4, 2009 at 3:06 pm | | grad life, literature, science community


I came across an interesting essay about the scientific process.  I agree with the author that students are generally shielded from the  difficulty of doing research until graduate school.  I think that the reality of lab work can be made clear if modern lab classes were less “cook book” and more research-like.  Your thoughts?


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  1. I think that would mean overly simplified ‘research problems’ if you were going to fit in a lab into a three or four hour period. Also, it would make the TAs go insane. It might work with an advanced class of majors that was limited to ten people in fourth year. If you gave me more details. But then, most fourth years in our place do research in a lab, and they are told by the resident grad students what the realities of research are.

    Comment by evgeny — January 5, 2009 #

  2. Wow, what a great article!

    As for lab classes and making them more research-like. I personally think an overhaul needs to be done from the ground up on how science is taught… like from elementary on. I know things have changed since I was in K-12 but it still seems to me that so many kids come out of it like I did: without enough REAL problem-solving skills. Sure, I can memorize facts and figure math problems just as well (or better than) the next guy but open-ended problem-solving still occasionally really kicks my ass. Just ask my undergrad Physics lab TA… that’s how our lab was set up and it would work great, IF we had learned those skills prior and were just applying them to Physics. As it was, each week was a living hell of trying to figure out what we were supposed to be doing to get the answers they wanted.

    Sorry for the rant! Great topic!

    Comment by Katie — January 5, 2009 #

  3. So wide the chances to get attracted or to understand the research that is difficult to say just yes or no to the article. Anyway leave enough space to the student to push their require also to give them enough time to start such research and I am scared that sometime just that time is not available either for “productivity” of the school or laziness of the teachers. Apart from this I still agree with the core of the article just adding that duty of the teacher should be also to leave in the students many “smart” doubts and to warmly invite them to think about them as problems for everyone else in the world and for this open to everyone mind; otherwise the idea that “I have no solution == idiot” will continue to kill the most powerful tool that we have: our imagination.

    Comment by MaurizioN — January 6, 2009 #

  4. Formulaic ‘cook-book’ labs are cheap and easy to do. As consumers that often pay $30k+/yr, college students don’t like being pushed and made uncomfortable (ie. forced to think for themselves).

    It seems like our system is here to stay, with no real impetus on the part of departments or students to demand change. I think the only way undergrads can get a good exposure is to volunteer their time in a real research lab.

    Comment by ilya — January 7, 2009 #

  5. Sure, problem-solving skills are important, and should be taught to pupils and students of different ages. So is creative thinking in general. But always, I think, as a minor topic, while most of the time should be devoted to the basics: memorizing facts and developing techniques. Memorizing facts is important both for the facts, which might help you when you’re thinking, and for building up the memory muscles. Developing techniques, like math skills, will also aid your analytical abilities, eventually. You can’t build a curriculum on problem-solving, because there is simply a lot to know (memorize) before you can actually do useful stuff.

    And I loved the article!

    Comment by David E. — January 9, 2009 #

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