Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Ira Glass and how I feel about science

In this interview, Ira Glass said this about how they craft the stories for "This American Life":

"being wrong is really important to doing decent work. To do any kind of creative work well, you have to run at stuff knowing that it's usually going to fail. You have to take that into account and you have to make peace with it. We spend a lot of money and time on stuff that goes nowhere. It's not unusual for us to go through 25 or 30 ideas and then go into production on eight or 10 and then kill everything but three or four. In my experience, most stuff that you start is mediocre for a really long time before it actually gets good. And you can't tell if it's going to be good until you're really late in the process. So the only thing you can do is have faith that if you do enough stuff, something will turn out great and really surprise you."

This is how I feel about science, too, at least from the "thought experiment --> literature poking ---> project idea" perspective, and has also largely been how I operate in the lab. It works for me, and helps me keep from getting too dependent on any particular line of thinking. It also keeps me happy.

4 comments:

Comrade PhysioProf said...

You gotta take chances to get anywhere.

melissa's said...

This is also the aspect of science most non-scientists have the hardest time accepting. People have this expectation that science=truth, or else that all scientists think that all science=truth. As if your career would be ruined if you were ever wrong about something.

But the image of a PI in the Ira Glass role, as a producer, might be a good analogy to explain what a PI does, and why projects that fail aren't a waste of time but a necessary feature of the process...

Gerty-Z said...

great post! I think that one of the most important things to learn is how to fail. If you MUST always be right, then you will never learn anything. You always learn more from "failures", assuming that you failed correctly.

Candid Engineer said...

This is how I feel, too. Although now in year 3 of postdoc, it's time to decide whether or not it's worth it to push on some of the "failing" stuff, or to let it go. It's all such a gamble...