[轉錄] 愚笨在科學研究上的重要性


[轉錄] 愚笨在科學研究上的重要性

作者: buteo (找尋人與人的鍵結) 看板: Chemistry
標題: [好文] 愚笨在科學研究上的重要性
時間: Sun Apr 18 20:52:20 2010
原文發表在Journal of Cell Science
我很喜歡這篇 隨著做的實驗越多 咀嚼其中的話語就越有滋味
但受限於英文+中文能力 有些地方翻譯未能到位
不過還是翻譯出來和大家分享 還請多指教
                                    俊毅Bird Man

The importance of stupidity in scientific research

Martin A. Schwartz
Department of Microbiology, UVA Health System, University of Virginia,Charlottesville, VA 22908, USA
e-mail: maschwartz@virginia.edu
Accepted 9 April 2008

I recently saw an old friend for the first time in many years. We had beenPh.D. students at the same time, both studying science, although in differentareas. She later dropped out of graduate school, went to Harvard Law School and is now a senior lawyer for a major environmental organization. At somepoint, the conversation turned to why she had left graduate school. To myutter astonishment, she said it was because it made her feel stupid. After a couple of years of feeling stupid every day, she was ready to do something else.


I had thought of her as one of the brightest people I knew and her subsequent career supports that view. What she said bothered me. I kept thinking about it; sometime the next day, it hit me. Science makes me feel stupid too. It's just that I've gotten used to it. So used to it, in fact, that I actively seek out new opportunities to feel stupid. I wouldn't know what to do without that feeling. I even think it's supposed to be this way. Let me explain.


For almost all of us, one of the reasons that we liked science in high school and college is that we were good at it. That can't be the only reason – fascination with understanding the physical world and an emotional need to discover new things has to enter into it too. But high-school and college science means taking courses, and doing well in courses means getting the right answers on tests. If you know those answers, you do well and get to feel smart.

對大多數的人來說,之所以在高中、大學會喜歡科學是因為成績表現突出。這不見得是唯一的原因,對了解世界運行深感興趣以及很想發現新事物也是可能的理由。但是高中、大學的科學代表著修課,而在課堂上表現良好意謂著在考試回答正確答案。 如果你知道這些答案,你會表現傑出而覺得自己聰明。

A Ph.D., in which you have to do a research project, is a whole different thing. For me, it was a daunting task. How could I possibly frame the questions that would lead to significant discoveries; design and interpret an experiment so that the conclusions were absolutely convincing; foresee difficulties and see ways around them, or, failing that, solve them when they occurred? My Ph.D. project was somewhat interdisciplinary and, for a while, whenever I ran into a problem, I pestered the faculty in my department who were experts in the various disciplines that I needed. I remember the day when Henry Taube (who won the Nobel Prize two years later) told me he didn't know how to solve the problem I was having in his area. I was a third-year graduate student and I figured that Taube knew about 1000 times more than I did (conservative estimate). If he didn't have the answer, nobody did.

在博士班你必須開始研究計畫,這是完全不同的事。對我而言,這是令人氣餒的任務。 我怎麼可能構想能引領重要發現的題目?設計並執行實驗而能給予令人信服的結論?預見困難並找尋方法繞過困難,或是遇到困境時能解決他?我的博士研究主題涉及多重領域,有一陣子,每當我遇到問題時,我就糾纏系上相關領域的老師。我記得有一天Henry Taube(譯註:Henry Taube在1983年因在錯合物氧化還原機制探討有重大貢獻而獲諾貝爾化學獎) 回答他不知道怎樣解決我在他的領域遇到的問題。我只是個小博三,而且我知道Taube懂得比我多1000倍(保守估計)。如果他不能解答這個問題,沒有其他人可以。

That's when it hit me: nobody did. That's why it was a research problem. And being my research problem, it was up to me to solve. Once I faced that fact, I solved the problem in a couple of days. (It wasn't really very hard; I just had to try a few things.) The crucial lesson was that the scope of things I didn't know wasn't merely vast; it was, for all practical purposes, infinite. That realization, instead of being discouraging, was liberating. If our ignorance is infinite, the only possible course of action is to muddle through as best we can.

這在當時重重的打擊我:沒人可以!這就是為什麼稱之為「研究題目」。而作為「我」 的研究題目,這應該是由「我」來解決才對。一但我開始正視這個殘酷的事實,幾天後我就解決了這個問題。(其實這並非真的很難,我只需要試幾個實驗就好。) 寶貴的一課:我所不知道的事並不僅是很多,而是無限!了解這道理後,我並沒有覺得沮喪,反而獲得紓解。如果我們的無知程度是無限,唯一能做的就是盡我們所能的去搞。

I'd like to suggest that our Ph.D. programs often do students a disservice in two ways. First, I don't think students are made to understand how hard it is to do research. And how very, very hard it is to do important research. It's a lot harder than taking even very demanding courses. What makes it difficult is that research is immersion in the unknown. We just don't know what we're doing. We can't be sure whether we're asking the right question or doing the right experiment until we get the answer or the result. Admittedly, science is made harder by competition for grants and space in top journals. But apart from all of that, doing significant research is intrinsically hard and changing departmental, institutional or national policies will not succeed in lessening its intrinsic difficulty.

我認為我們的博士班課程常會對學生的養成幫倒忙。首先,我不認為學生天生就了解他 們所作的研究有多難,而作重要的研究更是靠背難。這比修最重的課也難得多。研究會難是因為其沉浸在未知中。我們不知道我們正在做甚麼,我們也不確定是不是問了個對的問題或是做了對的實驗,直到我們得到了結果。無可否認地,科學在經費有限與發表頂尖期刊的競爭下更形艱辛。但把這部分抽離,做擲地有聲的研究仍是他X的難,而改變系上規定、機構方針、國家政策都不會減少研究內在的難度。

Second, 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. Preliminary and thesis exams have the right idea when the faculty committee pushes until the student starts getting the answers wrong or gives up and says, `I don't know'. The point of the exam isn't to see if the student gets all the answers right. If they do, it's the faculty who failed the exam. The point is to identify the student's weaknesses, partly to see where they need to invest some effort and partly to see whether the student's knowledge fails at a sufficiently high level that they are ready to take on a research project.


Productive stupidity means being ignorant by choice. Focusing on importantquestions puts us in the awkward position of being ignorant. One of the beautiful things about science is that it allows us to bumble along, getting it wrong time after time, and feel perfectly fine as long as we learn something each time. No doubt, this can be difficult for students who are accustomed to getting the answers right. No doubt, reasonable levels of confidence and emotional resilience help, but I think scientific education might do more to ease what is a very big transition: from learning what other people once discovered to making your own discoveries. The more comfortable we become with being stupid, the deeper we will wade into the unknown and the more likely we are to make big discoveries.




我記得也曾在李遠哲院長的文章看到過,當他到 Berkeley 唸化學時,他老闆 Mahan 教授 給了他一個題目要他去做,然後李遠哲院長第一個月還常常到他老闆的辦公室問他該怎麼做,但他老闆總說:「遠哲,如果我知道的話,早就解決了!我知道的話, 為什麼要讓你來做呢?所以你就自己想想吧!」所以李遠哲院長一開始也很不習慣,不管問他老闆什麼他都說不知道,總覺得這個教授好像什麼都不懂。但到後來, 李遠哲院長也體認到,當一個人所做的研究工作是到世界的最前緣時,探索的是未知的世界時,他的確是不曉得,完全是要靠自己解決的。

http://chiachunchou.wordpress.co ... cientific-research/