The Einstein Card

One of the great things about my job as a Producer for "The Secret Life of Scientists" is that I spend a lot of time with people who are almost always wrong. Here's a sampling:

"So often in the lab I look at my cells, and they're not behaving, and there's so many things that are going wrong. I get so frustrated, and I think 'Why am I doing this?'"

--Eva Vertes, Cancer Researcher

"There's a frustrating, frightening feeling when you can't figure out what's going wrong--even though the experiment has failed again and again and again."

--Nate Ball, Mechanical Engineer/Inventor

"In science, you're wrong over and over again. Then you have a moment of clarity--then you're wrong again!"

--Allan Adams, MIT Physicist

And these are the smart kids?

I hate to be wrong (and the neat thing is that I never am!). But all of these so-called "great minds" keep telling me that they're  wrong all the time. So what gives? How do these folks keep their jobs? Do their  families still love them? Are their dogs embarrassed when they take them for  walks? ("Hey Spot, what's your human companion do for work these days?" "Fido,  I've told you a million times--I do not want to talk about that!")

So think about it. If a journalist were always wrong, he'd get sacked in a minute ("You wrote that McCain won, the Yankees lost,  and the sky is pink--you're FIRED!"). As would a doctor ("You were supposed to  stitch up the cut on the patient's nose, not take out her spleen --you're FIRED!"). As would an orchestra conductor ("There is no 27-minute drum solo in the middle of Mozart's 'Jupiter Symphony'--you're FIRED!")

But then there's the other side of the story... from our good friend, Nate Ball:

"In fact, the more something fails, often, the more I can learn from it."

And then completely out of nowhere and without warning, Nate played "the Einstein card" on me:

"And a fairly famous problem-solver whom you may know, called Albert Einstein, said 'If we knew what we were doing, it wouldn't be called 'research.'"

Jeez. In high school and college, I was always late with my papers--typically only turning them in at gunpoint--because I was so terrified that I might write something that was wrong or just plain dumb. Now given my career choice, I've obviously gotten over this to some extent. Still, I feel like the scientists and engineers I interview for "Secret Life"--the people who are almost always wrong--are teaching me to become an even braver person.

How cool to purposely put ourselves in situations where we know we might fail--in fact, where we're likely to fail--but to do it anyway because we understand that failure will teach us something we'll want to learn. And how lucky I am to have a job where I get to hear about amazing people's life experiences, where I get to absorb their stories, share them with others and have those stories influence my life, too.

Check out NOVA's Web series "The Secret Life of Scientists." And if you like what you see there, vote for "Secret Life" in this year's Webby Awards.

Einstein Card Courtesy Tom Miller

Publicist Note: The web-only series "The Secret Life of Scientists and Engineers" highlights science and engineering stars in a selection of three to six short, punchy films. Each person describes his or her passions both within and outside of science. The second season premieres September 2010. 

User Comments:

Hi daddy thats a good post!! i liked the part where mccain won and everybody got fired.

You're fired!
hee hee.
Nice one Dr. D.

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Tom Miller

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