Why our scientific discoveries need to surprise us

The Globe had an interesting commentary this week written by John Polanyi, a professor and Nobel laureate at the University of Toronto. The commentary, “Why our scientific discoveries need to surprise us”  is about how government regulation can stifle progress in research.

I think this is an important and interesting topic. Scientific discovery should be led by scientists, not politicians. Most of our biggest breakthroughs over the years did not come from someone saying we need to solve x, but because of a surprise (think penicillin). Of course, that’s not to say that always happens, like landing on the moon.

I particularly like his point about publishing:

“Publication is censored by scientific juries, to protect the community from ill-founded reports. Such censorship is hazardous, hence subject to constant scrutiny by the scientific community. The objective is to flag what’s important, set aside what’s pedestrian, and abjure what’s fraudulent. That’s a tall order, but the health of science depends on it.”

I hope, over the years to come, that we continue to let scientists be scientists. And that we develop policy that allows us to make progress unhindered by politics. No hiding of research results because they don’t agree with the current Prime Minister or President or Leaders stance.

Anyway, it’s something to think about, as you make decisions on what you want to research and why.


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