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Monday, June 17, 2013

How To Succeed in Research

Watch this TED talk on memorization:

We can memorize faces, words, numbers... The important thing to note is that we aren't learning about faces, words or numbers. We are learning about memorizing.

What happens at an R&D group in biotech/pharma? People are hired to do research. They do research on IL-15, TNF alpha, HIV... How much time is spent learning about IL-15, TNF alpha, or HIV and how much time is spent learning about research?

Can we teach research like we can teach memorization? Has anyone in modern times written a manual on how to conduct research? Feynman himself admitted that we don't actually teach people how to conduct research.

But there is one
feature I notice that is generally missing in cargo cult science.
That is the idea that we all hope you have learned in studying
science in school--we never explicitly say what this is, but just
hope that you catch on by all the examples of scientific
investigation. It is interesting, therefore, to bring it out now
and speak of it explicitly. It's a kind of scientific integrity,
a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of
utter honesty--a kind of leaning over backwards. 

This TED talk on memorization demonstrates that average people can become better equipped at utilizing their minds. Drug developers, in my opinion, are average people. They tend to look at their education and experience as the thing that makes them superior at conducting research. Yet who among them could give a TED talk on the process of conducting drug research? Are we, as researchers, as smart as we think we are? Can we learn to be smarter? Why are we so often thrown out like a baby with the bath water? A daily perusing of the website Biospace will give you an example of what I'm talking about. 

Merck & Co., the second largest U.S. drugmaker, plans to cut jobs at it's research laboratories. 

No value? Not worth saving? Why do so many research teams suffer this ending? Is it just inevitable?
Gather all of the unemployed, turn the hierarchy upside down and make this group of people write a manual on how they conducted research. Not on what they learned, but how they learned.

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