Scientific thinking is assumed–especially by scientists–to be a good thing. And not just any good thing. It’s one of those rare “too much of it can be wonderful” good things. Everyone needs more of it at all times and in all circumstances. Leaving aside the fact that no one can really define scientific thinking, I wonder if it really deserves all the hype. Are there instances thinking like a scientist actually gets in the way of more important ways of thinking?
Let’s revisit this paragraph from the Slate article on our need for more doctors:
As for postgraduate training, Emanuel and Fuchs attacked the increasingly common requirement that residents and fellows complete laboratory or clinical research projects. They don’t buy the popular ideal that every doctor must be a “physician-scientist.” Referring specifically to surgeons, they wrote, “The most important factor in becoming a competent surgeon is high volume—performing specific procedures many times over. A research year does not add to surgical volume and skills building.
So deep scientific reflection may actually be a hindrance for some doctors. Especially since we need more doctors and fast, rote application might be better than developing (largely useless) research skills. Understanding does not have to be the not the only pedagogical goal.
Of course practicing scientists live and breathe scientific thinking. They (we?) have to think scientifically most of the time. It’s somewhat understandable, if misguided, to believe that something so critical to our own success is generalizable. But precisely because academic research is, well, so academic, the mindset it cultivates might not be relevant elsewhere. Heck, great scientists don’t always succeed as advisors or administrators in the same field. So why should we expect scientific thinking (still undefined!) to transfer elsewhere?