Today, let's hear from another writer - one of the most wonderful and relevant (and brief) chapters I have ever read in any science text - one on which I hope one day to preach a lecture or three. It deserves to be studied, and ought to be copied and read at the start of every academic year, and proclaimed annually in every laboratory! Yes, really.
Here is just one of its dramatic paragraphs:
In the history of astronomy can be found numerous cautionary tales which illustrate the fatal consequences of messy and muddled observational records, as well as of preconceived ideas regarding what is likely or possible, and of emotional bias - expectation, disappointment, surprise, hope. No fewer than 19 pre-discovery observations of Uranus have been identified, from 1690 (by Flamsteed) onward. It is true that many of these in no way reflect upon the technique of the observers, since a single observation would quite possibly not reveal its planetary character. [*] But that none of theese observations should have led to the discovery of Uranus is incredible. The case that is most relevant to thematter of observational records concerns the French astronomer Lemonnier, who in January 1796 observed Uranus six times over a period of nine days, including observations on four consecutive nights. His records of observations were kept in a particularly untidy and unsystematic fashion (one of the Uranus observations was noted down on a paper bag that had contained hair powder), and this certainly contributed to his failure: in a well-kept record the anomalies between these nine observations cold not have failed to strike him - and he would have anticipated Herschel in the first planetary discovery of historical times by twelve years.Please read that again, and ponder this in particular:
* On the other hand Herschel detected its non-stellar character before its motion had been established.
[J. B. Sidgwick, Amateur Astronomer's Handbook, Section 32: Observational Records]
...the fatal consequences of messy and muddled observational records, as well as of preconceived ideas regarding what is likely or possible, and of emotional bias - expectation, disappointment, surprise, hope.Don't be thinking of getting your name into the books. Think of the fact that you may have abandoned your humility - your childlike attitude towards Reality, and substituted Superstition - or belief in Phlogiston, which is the same thing. (If you don't know what that is, I suggest you look it up.) Remember, even the great Maxwell was caught:
For it is one thing to propose an inference as being very plausible and another to assert its reality and in the least uncertain terms at that. In this respect even a Maxwell could not avoid the pitfalls set by an unquestioning faith in mechanism. ... "There can be no doubt," he asserted categorically, that the ether "is certainly the largest body of which we have any knowledge."And, no, he was not talking about an organic chemical with an oxygen between two other groups, like (C2H5)2O. (Ahem, a little chemical humor there, hee hee.)
[SLJ The Relevance of Physics 80-81 quoting JCM's "Ether" in the ninth edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica]
Let us use caution and DILIGENCE! Yes, diligo = "I love"... it is our choice, our selection... and we ought to be fervent in our work. Let us LOVE Reality, our cosmos, our work... and our God Who made it, and our fellow humans for whom we do such work: "Whatever you do for the least of my brothers, you did it for Me" - and that will include even our research as long as we have done it well, and for the sake of our common humanity, rather than out of pride or selfishness.
Yes, to the shock of many professors, and even more administrators, there's a deep truth lurking in "publish or perish" and it is not associated with tenure or professional status. Another day we'll explore where St. Paul spoke on this topic - it's stunning...