The Importance of Stupidity

There is a great article here about “The Importance of Stupidity” in scientific research. I recommend reading the article, but my summary goes like this:

The point of scientific research is to study the unknown. Not knowing an answer makes a person feel stupid, but, by definition, no one knows the unknown, that’s why it’s being studied. If the research process isn’t making you feel stupid then you aren’t doing it right.

While I agree that the transition from learning existing knowledge and regurgitating it on tests to hacking through the wilderness of unknown questions can be a shock and can damage the unwary self-esteem, the author simplifies the issue.

First of all, myself and many of my peers would love to be able to easily stumble into the true unknown, would love to find an isolated problem untouched by other researchers, pure and novel as a mountain stream. I’m not holding my breath.

In the meantime (and meantime may turn into the whole thesis) we get on some professor’s existing grant, work to extend it in ways that may feel prosaic. We also read other people’s papers, find holes or flaws and write our own papers to fill these holes.

So what I’m saying is that, yes, research makes you feel stupid, but the author seems to imply that there is a romance to research that isn’t always there. Hmm, that sounded more negative than I intended. It’s up to you to find the magic, to be bold and crazy with one’s ideas, but it’s also work, like a job. There are tedious portions.

Neal Holtshulte

Neal Holtschulte began graduate studies at the University of New Mexico in 2010. Neal graduated with a BA in Mathematics from Williams College. He works with an amiable and talented group of people including his advisor Professor Melanie Moses. Neal is currently working on automated software diversity with network security applications. Neal makes time to run and occasionally race in the 5k to 1/2 marathon range. He enjoys video games and maintains that while any bachelor can boil noodles, sauteing vegetables officially classifies as cooking.
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