Stuart Firestein - Not Knowing Is the Key to Science

By Ben • Uncategorized • 23 Apr 2012

I would use one of these neuroscience textbooks—this one that weighs seven and a half pounds, which is twice the weight of the human brain, by the way—to go along with 25 lectures, also chock full of facts, because that’s what I thought I was supposed to do. And I came to the realization at some point several years ago that these kids must actually think we know all there is to know about neuroscience. And that’s the difference. That’s not what we think in the lab. What we think in the lab is, we don’t know bupkis.

Other highlights:

"In academics, what you get paid for, what you get tenure for is research. These undergraduates are paying small fortunes to come and be taught by professors who don’t put that much time into teaching because in the end they know they’re not being evaluated based on their ability to teach—they’re going to be evaluated based on their research. That sounds terrible on its surface, and it’s not all good. But it’s not all bad. It comes from a good idea, which is that the best people to teach are the people who are doing. Especially in science. You want active scholars doing the teaching. But then don’t have them teach facts. Because the value of having an active researcher teaching is that they’re immersed in the puzzle, they’re immersed in the process. So that’s what they should be teaching.

But somehow or other, it’s easier to teach the facts, and since you don’t get credit for teaching, you just wind up teaching the facts. And the MCATS are there, or the LSATS or whatever, and they just want to know how many facts the students have. There’s pressure on you to not spend a lot of time on teaching because it will just get in the way of your research and there’s further pressure to have your teaching be fact oriented because that’s what your students are going to be tested on."

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