Sunday, April 20, 2008

Galileos are rare

Via The Island of Doubt comes this comment from Michael Tobis of Wired:

I'd like to caution especially my younger readers that you may be very smart, but you should assume that you are making a mistake if you find yourself thinking you are smarter than every scientist in the world put together. A feeling like that is wrong a million times for every time it's even half right.

Adolescents who fall into this trap too spectacularly have a hole to dig themselves out of. It's not a great way to enter adulthood, having been spectacularly and publicly wrong, but youthful indiscretions are often forgiven or forgotten.

If you have such a feeling of superiority too strongly as an adult the world will not treat you kindly. You will almost certainly be wrong, wrong in the sense that 2 + 2 = 5 is wrong. Most likely you will be called a crackpot. It's suprisingly common to be possessed by this feeling of superiority but it is usually tragic. Science is a team sport.

Or, as Oliver Wendell Holmes put it,"You may have genius. The contrary is, of course, probable."

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