02 December 2015

Ideas are cheap

In tooling around Quora, I see a lot of questions from non-scientists that sort of run like this:

“I have an idea! How do I proclaim it to science?”

I’ve heard that authors get similar things all the time. Someone will approach them and say, “I have this great idea for a book. Why don’t I tell you the idea, you write it, and we’ll split the profits?” To which the writer says, “So... you want me to do all the work, and you take half of the money? Thank you, but no.”

To top it off, when people tell the author their brilliant idea for a book, the idea is usually hackneyed and trite. “A man and a woman in a space ship crash land on a deserted alien planet. Their names are.... wait for it... Adam and Eve. Brilliant, huh?”

The cold reality is scientists will probably think your idea is not worthy of their time or talents. Scientists have ideas of their own that they want to test. They don’t lack for ideas.

This is not a knock against non-scientists having ideas. Scientists have much the same reaction to ideas from other scientists. Most of them are not going to influence the research questions that we already want to solve.

Ideas are cheap and plentiful. Testing them is hard.

That’s not to say that scientists don’t need to have ideas. Far from it. One of the reasons why first authorship of papers is so critical for early career scientists is that middle authorship is associated with being a data collector, not the intellectual driver of the project.

To be a scientist, you need ideas plus willingness to put in the grunt work.

External links

The efficient research hypothesis

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