Category Archives: scientific endeavour

Iconoclasts and Received Wisdom

There are many things that are currently winding me up. If it’s not well spoken TV presenters mis-using less and fewer ( and it’s so easy to work out what is the correct usage : if you can count them, use fewer ) or that state of democracy in the western world, or at least the USA, it’s received wisdom that does it for me.

I was listening to the radio the other day, and someone who had been actively involved around the Unions in the 70s, said something along the lines of “I don’t want to have a ‘told you so’ moment” but …

Which set me thinking. Why do we seem to think that saying I told you so is such a heinous crime ? If you were right, and the people making the decisions did not listen, received wisdom is that you did not put your case forward with sufficient vigour. Well, in reality, told you so moments often come because those making the decisions simply do not listen, or chose to ignore because they think they know better.

There are lots of books written about how to get your point across to your senior managers ( or even your immediate manager ), but in real life it is not often that they change their minds. They probably read all of those management books about being strong and decisive, and showing leadership, forgetting to listen to their most useful resource, their team.

So while listening to the radio, I began to think of other key received wisdom phrases : and then last night there was a BBC Horizon programme covering asteroids.

It then struck me that having an open mind is something that is actually pretty rare. Planetary scientists could not understand why an asteroid had a tail. Water is a pretty good guess, as it causes the tails on comets, but because no-one had seen water on any other asteroid, they kinda refused to believe that this one might have water encapsulated in the rock making up the asteroid.

And then there was a film and debate on Channel 4 about “What the Greens got wrong”. Not a particularly good programme, in fact, but interesting to see how apparently closed minded and dogmatic some of the leading Green proponents have been over the years, not looking at the whole picture.

Related to that, was the recent release of Mink from a Mink farm in Ireland. Slightly different, I know, but do the people who did this ever read about how the Otter is now found in almost every river in England, and that the Water Vole is recovering well after being virtually wiped out by Mink on the 70s and 80s ?

Back to the theme though.

It appears to me that there are too few people asking questions, rocking boats, and upsetting the status quo through not listening to received wisdom.

I for one vote for having more of them.