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'An Impenetrable Mountain of Facts'

Sometimes, says Scientific American's Stuart Firestein, the more facts one gathers as a scientist, the fewer questions one is able to answer. In fact, he says, "science to many people seems to be an impenetrable mountain of facts," and as research fields become narrower and more specialized, scientists tend to cope with this information overload by ignoring most of it. "You have to know a lot to be a scientist, but knowing a lot is not what makes a scientist," Firestein says. "What makes a scientist is ignorance." Most researchers go into science to be able to answer the questions they have about what they don't know. A scientist's ignorance isn't based on lack of curiosity or education, he says, but rather a "cultivated" one. Science is more about questions than answers, he adds, so "if you meet a scientist, don't ask her what she knows, ask her what she wants to know."

The Scan

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