Monday, November 26, 2012

Scientists Aren't Smarter

Scientists are not special bunch of people. They defecate, eat, sleep, and have sex like everyone else.

Very often, the reaction I get when telling people that I'm a research student in Physics "Wow! Physics!"
No boy, that doesn't help.

The thing is, scientists aren't superficially smart. Neither do they have robotic servants to help them with chores at home. In fact there are many scientists who failed maths and basic sciences as a child. The recently unveiled Nobel Prize winner in medicine, Sir John Gurdon, was thought to be "too stupid" by his science teacher. And many prominent physicists don't fully understand Quantum Mechanics. And more importantly, a lot of science bloggers, who are supposed to be experts in their respective fields, had a bad record at school.

Science really isn't difficult. But I've heard people saying that perhaps our brains are wired that way. That, my friend, is definitely not true. I believe the difference lies in the source, and journalists are the biggest culprit here. Very often when we read about a certain article in the newspaper, we nod along as if every crap written in there is right. But when we read something within the domain of our expertise, we start to think "gosh where does this crap come from?"
In fact, most journalists working for major publications are simply generalists who cover a story in a really shallow way. Of course I do not expect every piece of work to be an error-free oeuvre. But they could at least invest some time doing some research on the topic before start writing. They must remember that they are the link between the story and the reader, and science education starts here. And most journalists have a knack for making science sound difficult. They totally miss the point that science emphasizes on clarity and simplicity. Science was developed as a way to understand the universe, not to make your life difficult. Science takes complex ideas and simplifies them. But some journalists, upon learning something new, would choose to confuse the readers further to create an illusion of possessing a superior intelligence.

A truly intelligent person is not someone who can utter complex terms that other people don't understand, but someone who can make complex terms understandable to everyone else. A man like Richard Feynmann.
The second culprit is our science teacher. I vividly recall a secondary science teacher of mine; a lethargic, inattentive individual. You could definitely sense that he just wanted to finish every class immediately and call it a day. His class was dull and boring, and most students were low in spirit. How could you expect a award-winning scientist to spring out from this bunch of sluggish students, tutored by an incompetent teacher? I spent two years under his tutelage, and my eventual A1 in that particular subject has definitely got no contribution from him.
But I consider myself lucky, because there are a lot more students who thought they couldn't make it in science and headed elsewhere. Thank you, cocky journalists and incompetent teachers.
So a scientist is no smarter than an accountant, lawyer, or economist. He's just lucky.

p/s: But we do have to admit that most of the smartest people that ever lived were physicists.


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