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Of Poets and Bookkeepers

Scientists should think like a poet, but then toil away like a bookkeeper, evolutionary biologist and author E. O. Wilson tells Ira Flatow on NPR's Science Friday.

"I've always felt that scientists fantasize and dream and bring up metaphor and fantastic images as much as any poet. … And the difference is that at some point, the scientist has to relate the dreams to the real world, and that's when you enter the bookkeeper's period," Wilson says. "Unfortunately, it's the bookkeeper period which leads sometimes to months or years of hard work that too many prospective scientists and students interested in science see, rather than the creative period."

Wilson adds that he's seen students at Harvard University, where he is a professor emeritus, turn away from science because of their fear of mathematics. He says, though, that math skills aren't the most important ability for a scientist to have. Instead, a passion for science is.