Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

The spot on the sea urchin’s egg

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Peter Medawar

It can be said with complete confidence that any scientist of any age who wants to make important discoveries must study important problems. Dull or piffling problems yield dull or piffling answers. It is not enough that a problem be “interesting”—almost any problem is interesting if it is studied in sufficient depth.

As an example of research work not worth doing, Lord Zuckerman invented the cruelly apt but not ridiculously farfetched example of a young zoology graduate who has decided to try to find out why thirty-six percent of sea urchin eggs have a tiny little black spot on them. This is not an important problem; such a graduate student will be lucky if his work commands the attention or interest of anyone except perhaps the poor fellow next door who is trying to find out why sixty-four percent of sea urchin eggs do not have a little black spot on them. Such a student has committed a kind of scientific suicide, and his supervisors are very much to blame. The example is purely imaginary, of course, for Lord Zuckerman knows very well that no sea urchin eggs are spotted.

Peter Medawar, Advice to a Young Scientist

Written by nevalalee

October 22, 2016 at 7:30 am

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