20 December 2016
Common Misconceptions about Science
Many people, particularly those not especially familiar with the sciences, often make inaccurate assumptions about scientists in general. However, the most glaring misconception often has to do with the idea that science does not come hand in hand with creativity. This stems from what is usually taught in middle and high school regarding the scientific process. Most people are at least familiar with the traditional scientific process: ask a question, research, offer a hypothesis, follow a procedure, analyze the data, and present results. This process seems simple on paper, but to offer up an educated hypothesis, create a procedure, and determine how to analyze results, one needs critical thinking and some imagination. No science would get anywhere without a creative and open mind.
Creativity is crucial for success in many professions, not just science. “In a 2010 IBM research study involving over 1,500 CEOs from more than 60 countries, the number-one core leadership competency for future success was identified as — drum roll, please — creativity,” according to a Huffington Post article. The ability to follow instructions is obviously necessary, but to be able to comprehend and build from them in new ways is what leads to success. The National Institutes of Health claims that “Creativity is an essential element of problem solving (Mumford et al., 1991 ; Runco, 2004 ) and of critical thinking (Abrami et al., 2008 ). As such, it is common to think of applications of creativity such as inventiveness and ingenuity among the HOCS as defined in Bloom's taxonomy (Crowe et al., 2008 ).” Being creative is what sets someone apart in their field.
In science, creativity is as important, or even more so than other professions, due to the uncertainty of what the future holds. The same article from the NIH went on to say that “To be successful innovators in science and engineering, students must develop a deep conceptual understanding of the underlying science ideas, an ability to apply these ideas and concepts broadly in different contexts, and a vision to see their relevance and usefulness in real-world applications (pp. 181–182).” There often is no set procedure, and it must be invented by the scientists themselves. To actually make a breakthrough, a scientist must investigate something never found before, and be able to make sense of new results that are equally new.
Albert Einstein himself offered his views on science and imagination, by stating that "The greatest scientists are artists as well.” Later on, in a book written with Leopold Infeld, Einstein also commented that “The formulation of a problem is often more essential than its solution, which may merely be a matter of mathematical or experimental skill. To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks real advance in science.” Albert Einstein is considered one of the greatest scientists of all time, one that acted on ideas never even dreamed by anyone else of his time. For him to personally say that the greatest people in his profession require creativity, it can almost be assured that it is true.
Many other scientists have expressed the same thoughts, and many more have shown it in their work. Alexander Graham Bell accomplished the feat of direct communication from long distances. “When a person speaks into a telephone, the sound waves created by his voice enter the mouthpiece. An electric current carries the sound to the telephone of the person he is talking to. A telephone has two main parts: (1) the transmitter and (2) the receiver (“Antique Telephone History”).” This process of using a telephone is not simple in any way, and to think of all the pieces that were necessary for its success is incredible in itself, let alone its actual creation. He was not following a manual; the manual had to be created by himself as well. The creator of penicillin discovered it by accident in mold, and then took his findings and tested if it really inhibited growth of bacteria ("The Real Story behind Penicillin.") This required his own critical thinking to realize that instead of looking at a messy lab, he was looking at a revolutionary discovery in medicine. In a more modern example, the new creation of CRISPR cas9, a genome editing tool exemplifies this as well. The tool is built on what most people assumed was impossible: reversing supposedly terminal cell paths. To challenge this commonly accepted theory, and be able to prove its falsehood shows creative thinking in its greatest form.
Clearly, creativity and imagination are necessary for success in science. There is no way to move forward in scientific work unless one can think outside the box, and build off of what has already been discovered. Oftentimes scientists are working with very little, and must pave their own way in the form of even basic procedures. Nothing is ensured, which makes it such an uncertain yet exciting line of work. In the real world, science is very unlike the labs in high school science classes that have an intended outcome. The outcome can hardly ever be exactly predicted, and so the ability to attain it, and then the ability to make sense of it, comes with imagination, not memorization of the scientific method.
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DeHaan, Robert L. "Teaching Creativity and Inventive Problem Solving in Science." CBE Life Sciences Education. American Society for Cell Biology, 2009. Web. 20 Dec. 2016.
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"The Real Story behind Penicillin." PBS. PBS. Web. 18 Dec. 2016.