Years ago one of my acquaintances told me this. At the time, I didn’t really think about the merit or the moral of the story. I should have, but I didn’t. I am not completely impervious to learning, but I pick up hints or wisdom very slowly. Now I can’t even remember it was a party or just a chance encounter somewhere. My memory is so bad. Yet despite my bad memory, I remember what this person told me.
At the time she was an immunology researcher working in a lab associated with a hospital in upstate New York. For years, she didn’t have any publication. Year after year, she grew increasingly desperate. Her future depends on these publications and yet despite all her effort, she was not able to. Her boss was equally desperate since his grant was also depended on the experimental results and published papers. Without any paper to show for it, he would soon be losing his eligibility to apply for new grants. At a conference, he met a brilliant post-doc from NIH who asked him for a favor. In return for the favor, he asked the post-doc to come to his lab and help him troubleshoot what the problem is. The lab people were working very hard, but…
So here is the diagnose. The post-doc said people in this lab, though working very hard, always considered the lab result should conform to certain standard. They would discard all the results that didn’t conform. The post-doc reviewed their past results and said they could have published several papers if they could relinquish their ossified standard and understand how to interpret data. The real world never really conforms to the human standard.
There were four of us hearing her story at the time. One said, “this is like the Watson and Crick and Rosalind Franklin story, isn’t it? Franklin worked hard on the X-ray crystallography of DNA and obtained her result, but she didn’t know how to interpret it.”
“That’s theft. How can you use this example?” Another one said.
“I am not talking about the theft part. I only said the data interpretation part is similar.” The first one said.
“How about MaClintock’s jumping gene? For years, people just can’t accept the jumping gene because it doesn’t conform to people’s scientific views.”
The reason I thought about this today is because a girl asked me for advice on something that I am not at the liberty to write about. However it’s another story that the real world event just doesn’t happen in the way we think it should be happening. Sometimes I wonder how many data I’ve failed to interpret, how many events I’ve wrongly discarded as things not worth noticing.