Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Scientific Criticism

Michael Eisen on a recent talk by Felisa Wolfe-Simon:
The acid test of a scientist is how they respond when their work is criticized. The best scientists listen and consider what is being said, defend the things they still believe and, most importantly, recognize where their work fell short and use criticism to make their work better. This is, of course, not always so simple. It’s easy to get defensive instead – to view criticism as an attack, see sinister motives in its sources, and ignore its substance.
But I think the worst response is to view criticism as a kind of virtue. And there were signs in Wolfe-Simon’s talk that she is beginning to relish the role of the iconoclast. She appears to see herself as someone who has unconventional ideas that the scientific community can’t deal with. And that criticism of her work is not an effort to get at the truth but a conspiracy to suppress it. At several points she made reference to other scientists whose ideas were not accepted when they were proposed, but which turned out in the long run to be correct. 

People laughed at Galileo. They also laughed at Groucho Marx, though in a different manner. Worst of all is being laughed at like so many laugh at Sarah Palin, as Galileo turned out to be right, and I always got the impression that Groucho was laughing too.

Link: Felisa Wolfe-Simon (of arsenic infamy) is no more convincing in person than in print