Scientific Research Training for Gifted Youth:
a Network of Excellence
including research training initiatives from Byelorussia, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Croatia, Germany, Hungary, India, Iran, Ireland, Israel, Russia, Serbia, Singapore, Turkey, Ukraine and the USA
Depth of Scientific Thinking and the Acceleration of the 21st Century
Internet Conference to celebrate the
UNESCO World Science Day of Peace and Development
November 10th 2002, http://kutdiak.hu
Here you can download and read Message from the Director-General of UNESCO.
The tremendously increased amount of information reaching us every single day significantly shortened the average messages. Their content became simplified, and complicated thoughts are only seldom communicated. As Oszkar Fuzes phrased it: it takes only six seconds to tell that "All foreigners should leave our country" but it requires at least four minutes to explain why the opposite is true.
Genuine scientific thoughts and every high level achievement of human thinking needs depth. Reaching this depth needs a long time and tremendous concentration. On the other hand, the average person of Western societies has less and less time to think. Contemplation and undisturbed solitude became more and more impossible in our accelerated century. Capable and successful scientists run for more and more information, make high throughput experiments, push publications, hunt grants, build empires. One may ask: when do they really think?
What can we do?
It is our responsibility to ensure that the requirements of the birth of genuine scientific thoughts, such as ample time, undisturbed concentration and solitude remain available despite of all the rush around. We should grant them to ourselves and to fellow scientists around us.
It is our responsibility to extend our thinking from the how-s of doing things to the reasons, aims and timeliness of each of our contribution to the advances in human life. We have to give ourselves back the freedom of saying "no", or "not yet" to at least some of those, which are already possible.
It is our responsibility to achieve the highest quality of thoughts in each of our projects we decide to pursue. We should never forget that rush always brings superficial results and second-hand thoughts are not always lucrative.
It is our responsibility to force the communication of the results of our deep thinking to the society. Taking Occam’s razor we should make our statements as simple and elegant as possible. However, achieving this we have to fight against all further simplification of the media and the rush of the everyday life.
Can we really do these? Are these really what we ought to do? Are these all what we should do?
My thoughts about scientific thinking are similar to those of Albert Einstein's, who said "Always express yourself as simply as possible, but not simpler". Science of course frequently deals with quite complex questions, which must be understood but can not be oversimplified. I disagree, that scientists, who really care about their work, have not enough time anymore to think. We all must set our priorities in life and concentrate on them. One of the most important things I learned in life was to say "no" to many things, which otherwise could even be interesting , worthwhile or financially lucrative. This way I managed to stay still an active and I believe a productive scientist.
1994 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry
I enthusiastically support the movement "Scientific Research Training for Gifted Youth: a Network of Excellence" that had been initiated by Professor Peter Csermely (Budapest, Hungary). I completely agree on all important points of this Opening Thoughts that started an International Internet Conference to celebrate the UNESCO World Science Day of Peace and Development on the 10th November, this Year.
I would like to comment on the last item of the questions under the general title: What can we do?
Communication of scientific ideas, concepts and their practical application towards the Society has an enormous importance. If the scientifically minded people will miss their chance to communicate and properly interpret the importance of the contemporary scientific achievements, the Society will not recognize its importance in shaping the future for all of us. The lack of proper interpretation of the laws of Nature, the Environment and the Society itself, may influence even politicians into bad directions. "False Prophets" may overemphasize or even misinterpret true (or half-true) or not fully clarified problems if we miss our chance to teach Young Scientists that simple, boot not simplified and clear communication and interpretation of Science is a common and very important interest of Society and the Scientific Community.
Biology Section of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences
Recurringly, at various time intervals, science - or rather its pursuers, the scientists – become afraid of themselves, of the complexity and possible sinister consequences of their activity. Indeed, science follows its own rules, mainly governed by human curiosity, and as long as the latter exists (i.e. forever) it will go on. It is another question, what use society makes of the expanding knowledge.
At this juncture, the worry is about exponential increase in scientific information and about how to cope with it. Indeed, these are tall orders, but fortunately they are within the realm of science. And science, by virtue of its very nature, tends to handle scientific problems. Therefore, personally, I am not particularly anxious about the superficial thinking of scientists sitting on their high throughput machines. However hopeless it may look today, avenues will be opened to approach and interpret complexity. Acceleration? Don't forget that the human brain (mind) has almost inexhaustible resources. When Gutenberg found out how to print books, orthodox thinkers who relied on beautiful, hand-painted codices, probably worried of the consequences of knowledge becoming an easily available commodity, free for sale, even to crooks. Needless to say, the Gutenberg-galaxies did not destroy deep thinking. It just put human intelligence on a new fast carrier. In principle, the same is happening now, several gears higher.
member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences
NIH has a long experience in providing research experiences to high school students, many of whom have become leading scientists. I strongly endorse your effort to engage young people in intellectually challenging work and particularly to address the problem of information overload, which accompanies us into the 21st century.
As the opening statement to your conference notes, true scientific progress can only be made in the context of in-depth analysis of the complex problems presented to us by the natural world. In biology, and especially in biomedical research, progress can only be made enlisting the ideas and involvement of scientists from many different disciplines including physics, chemistry, engineering, computer science and mathematics. Opportunities for these scientists, from all over the world, and from many different cultural and ethnic backgrounds, to interact must be fostered. In addition, once the individual contributions of scientists have been defined, support and time must be provided for creative work and to allow continuing, in-depth interactions with fellow scientists.
To accomplish these goals, scientists must be trained and willing to communicate the importance of their work to the general public. This requires both an educated public and a motivated cadre of scientists. So we must work to improve education in general, and science education in particular at all levels, and we need to provide scientists with the tools needed to communicate the excitement and benefits of their research to the public.
Michael M. Gottesman
Deputy Director for Intramural Research
National Institutes of Health, Bethesda MD, USA
It is a commonly accepted notion that only those can teach at a high level who are themselves involved in scientific research. This way the teacher can rely on personal experience and, at least in a specific area of science, he or she is versed in the latest developments. I would like to suggest that the reverse notion has the same validity. When researchers get involved with teaching, their interactions with young beginners may be very fruitful for their research. Sometimes the most innocent question being aimed at the most fundamental problems can trigger a chain of thoughts that may lead to new insights, new experiments, and, eventually, to new discoveries. The previous thought may even be carried one step further.
It may be argued that naivete is an important asset for a researcher as long as it is combined with being knowledgeable. Thus I am not saying that naivete by itself is a sufficient ingredient in scientific research. However, it may facilitate research when, for example, one has an innocent gaze while entering a new field but is armoured with knowledge having gained in another field. Such innocence may help to ask fundamentally important questions and to question long-established dogmas that the authorities in a given field would not think of doubting. Many great scientific discoveries had their roots in such an approach. [See, for example, I. Hargittai, The Road to Stockholm: Nobel Prizes, Science, and Scientists, Oxford University Press, 2002, pp. 169-172.] When Francis Crick, who later became the co-discoverer of the double helix, was looking for a direction in his life, he realized that his "lack of qualification could be an advantage. …I … knew nothing, except for a basic training in … physics and mathematics and an ability to turn my hand to new things." [F. Crick, What Mad Pursuit: A Personal View of Scientific Discovery, Basic Books, New York, 1988, p. 16.]
member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences