Scientists must be free to learn, to speak, to challenge anything new and to fail.

By Maria Anna van Driel,

Scientists must be free to learn, to speak and to challenge anything new and to fail. WAIT, WHAT? NO! Yes, scientist must have the freedom to fail an experiment or two in the same way you did in school failing that particular math or literature test. But as I have once said to a close friend of mine, who is a scientist, “you can only fail when you give up before even trying“.

So, even a failed hypothesis teaches us something. The best way I can explain that is through my own adventures as a science journalist working in the midst of scientists from all over the world and from varied institutes.

As I started writing as a science journalist several years ago, and yes, you may start laughing right now but I was scared, really scared! I was scared of these super intellectuals with their big brains, their big books, their big, unfamiliar words and titles I had never hear off before. But as conversations and interviews with these brilliant scientists from the CERN, the Max Planck Institute, SETI, the University of Harvard, Oxford, Warwick, Colorado Springs just to give you some examples, unfolded, I quickly learned that these brilliant scientists were nervous, even afraid to talk to me. Maybe even thinking; “Oh my god, she is going to misinterpret everything I say, rip me apart before I am truly death and in the process my research!”

This idea bothered me immensely. Knowing that many of our scientists are writing down their best ideas and then hide it away in the most remote drawer they can find because it is too “farfetched”. I felt I had to do something with this. So, I set aside my fear for this feeling of failing and started talking to these scientists via e.g Skype and email…no talk about complex research findings or computer data from new experiments.

It took me a long time before I gained the trust of some of these genius minds after all, I am a science journalist. The words of a journalist have a tremendous power… my words are power which can spit out venom or can inspire a nation and invite people to the wonderland of science. Slowly it became understood that I also came from this world in where you are constantly under attack, and that I had personally felt the outrage of being put away in this labeled cube.

I was extremely surprised by the many responses I received of which the content ranged from; “Shit, I have killed my laptop!”“Today I let the laser device explode 🙁 “The weather is foggy at the airport.” But besides talking about the everyday things, some of them told me about the ideas they had in their field of work. And I was amazed about their open-minded theories, their creativity in critical thinking and the advanced ideas they had…have! I asked myself, could I be a voice for those who were being silenced by this fear of failing. Shortly after The Next Truth magazine was born and I set goal to use it as a new platform to give scientist and citizen scientists the change to talk about the importance of advanced theories and experiments in new science.

I am of the opinion that it is critical, absolutely critical, that our scientists are free to undertake their work, free to collaborate with other scientists, free to speak to the media and free to speak to the public.

Scientists must be free to explore unconventional or controversial topics. They must be free to challenge the thinking of the day and to feel free to present uncomfortable or inconvenient truths, because that’s how scientists push boundaries and pushing boundaries is, after all, what science is all about.

3 responses to “ Scientists must be free to learn, to speak, to challenge anything new and to fail. ”

  1. Kathi says:

    Hi there, I enjoy reading all of your article post. I like to
    write a little comment to support you.

  2. Tony Damian says:

    Maria, I so agree with your article about the need for scientists to be free to make mistakes, take calculated risks, and produce scientific failures; without judgment and ridicule.

    Going back throughout history to 1,000 years before Aristotle, the Scientific Method has been practiced, revised, and revered as the proper way of new discovery.
    Laid out simply in layman’s terms:
    1) Define a question
    2) Gather information and resources (observe)
    3) Form an explanatory hypothesis
    4) Test the hypothesis by performing an experiment and collecting data in a reproducible manner
    5) Analyze the data
    6) Interpret the data and draw conclusions that serve as a starting point for new hypothesis
    7) Publish results
    8) Retest (frequently done by other scientists)

    It appears here in the US, that for the first time in history, to my knowledge anyway, society does not trust or believe scientific research or proven scientific facts. The younger generations seem to gravitate to conspiracy theories rather that truths. It seems to stem from the governments of the world repeatedly lying to the public about anything that may shake foundations in religions mostly.
    Examples of conspiracies: Flat-Earth theory, Moon landings never took place, the space program is a hoax, CERN is going to create a black hole and suck in the Earth. This list can go on and on.

    Scientific failures are not only necessary to true discoveries, they are part of the human experience. We need to always bear in mind, that no matter what papers one may have on the wall, stating what one might be an “expert” at, we are all still only humans first. And the human experience is all about trail and error, learning from mistakes.

    Albert Einstein said, “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”

    “Those who never fail at anything, are those who play it safe by hiding behind others work and discoveries as supporters only. Never getting out of the box they have created for themselves.
    Scientific failure is the fuel for chaos theory. Failed experiments that led to world-changing discoveries.” -Tony Damian

    Serendip is an old name for the country of Shri Lanka. Three traveling princes repeatedly made discoveries about things that they had not planned to explore and answers that surprised them Sir Horace Walpole in 1754 was impressed by the “3 Princes of Serendip” story he was the first one to use the word “serendipity”.

    “Scientists are not passive recipients of the unexpected rather they actively create the conditions for discovering the unexplained” -Kevin Dunbar and Jonathan Fugelsang

    Experiencing serendipity is a deliberate change in a recommended procedure, an oversight or an error, which may have a significant effect on the outcome of an experiment. The altered procedure may lead to a failed experiment; however, it may be exactly what is needed to produce a “serendipitous discovery”.

    The discovery of penicillin by Fleming, for example. He Ignored protocol to discard a petri dish contaminated with mold, (Staphylococcus) then taking the time to observe it, record it, hypothesize and publish his findings.

    Just a few other world-changing discoveries through failed experiments include the accidental discovery of: lysozyme, cisplatin (cancer treatment), the effect of an electrical current on E coli cells, sugar substitutes like sucrose, saccharin and aspartame, the microwave oven, Viagra, potassium bromide, the big bang’s residual radiation background noise by Penzias and Wilson, X Rays, safety glass, quinine, Velcro, the pacemaker, LSD, Play-Doh, insulin, corn flakes, vulcanized rubber, Teflon, super glue, and Vaseline.

    We should be thankful and grateful to the world of science, for mostly upholding their methods. Because it is a never-ending, always changing universe full of unknowns to find. Even gravity is being questioned. I can’t wait to see what wonders will be uncovered when we (as a collective) figure out dark matter and dark energy.

    It puzzles me when school systems refuse to update their science books with the fantastic new discoveries of the past decade. But will introduce a new math that has confounded the older generation, and absolutely confuses our children. To the point of never wanting to pursue any field that requires math. If our society cannot wrap their minds around something as fundamental as math and science, how the hell can we even fathom space and other lifeforms?

    We are in a paradigm shift of change in this new Age of Aquarius. A shift of conscious awareness. Our dharma or destiny here on Earth, and our place in the stars. From all of this chaos we are now experiencing on what seems to be; every level of thought, belief, understanding and knowing… will come order. A new order, a fresh understanding of the truths of our existence.

    So, hold on tight, find patience and tolerance, to accept and allow what our brave explorers are finding for us! Subject to change without notice 🙂 – Tony Damian

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