Over at The Scientist, Douglas Green has some simple advice for scientists: "I can sum up in two words what it is that is asked of you, and really, everyone who works in science: Astonish us."
NeuroDojo's Zen Faulkes has a problem with that advice. There's nothing wrong with a "dramatic" breakthrough, he says, but it's easy to get carried away. For instance, he adds, saying that microbes can live without phosphorus or that vaccines cause autism are pretty astonishing claims. But science also puts a pretty high premium on truth, and the research community has seen that some astonishing claims often have problems attached to them. If the focus is on astonishing science, then regular everyday science gets overlooked. "Focusing on astonishment plays into the belief that science is just for geniuses," Faulkes says. "This craving for astonishment feeds into the mindset that if it isn't amazing enough to get into Science, Nature, or Cell, it isn't worth doing. So entire foundational fields, like basic taxonomy, suffer because describing a new species of beetle isn't astonishing." Researchers should focus on hard work and incremental progress, which get "undervalued" when we're focused on the astonishing, Faulkes says.