Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Art of Science

The word “creativity” is most often used to describe art.  When thinking about creativity, and what products come from it, it is the sculptures, drawings, music, poems, and novels that stand out the most, as they often encompass more than just our world.  These are the things that to our society, represent creativity, yet almost everything we do requires some form of creativity, even if it is not our own.  One area that is commonly overlooked in the realm of creativity is science, as it has the bad rap of being boring, tedious, and procedural.  Contrary to this belief, science is a realm that requires massive amounts of out of the box thinking, as scientists are the people pushing the boundaries of how we understand our world.  The imagination it takes to do that, as well as the ingenuity that testing such ideas require, are key characteristics of scientists, and therefore shape the field of science.
The main argument made by those who view science as an uncreative area is that all science follows a procedure, and therefore there is no room for creativity. While it is true that for each scientific endeavor, a procedure is made to guide that process, what these people aren’t taking into account is the process of creating the procedure itself.  There is not one overarching scientific procedure that can be applied to all investigations, nor is there a neat book outlining all of the possible procedures that are acceptable in science.  Science is not nearly that cookie cutter.  Before each new investigation, the scientists that are performing the study must evaluate what they want to achieve and themselves design a path that will lead them there.  This process requires not simply vast understanding of their personal field, but also the creativity and ingenuity to figure out how they will reach their answer.
The groundbreaking discoveries that shape and shake our world can be found in a myriad of ways. Each scientist can conceive of a different method to reach the same end goal, and some will be more successful than others.  A prime example of this variation in methods comes from one of the most significant discoveries in biological history, the discovery of DNA structure.  By the 1940’s we knew that there was a heritable molecule inside chromosomes, but its structure remained unknown.  Racing to crack this mystery were two teams of scientists, Maurice Wilkins and Rosalind Franklin versus James Watson and Francis Crick.  Wilkins and Franklin focused on studying the DNA molecules through X-rays, while Watson and Crick built physical models.  Eventually, Watson and Crick got information about an X-ray result of Franklin’s, leaked to them by a colleague.  With this image, “ they could build a model of DNA that fit with all the evidence Franklin and others had collected... a double helix” (“The Structure of DNA: Cooperation and Competition”).  If science was purely procedural, then both teams would have performed the exact same procedure and gotten the same results.  All the variety in approaches and the fact that it was only when the methods combined that a conclusion was reached, show not only how present individualized creativity is in science, but also how beneficial and essential it is to the scientific process, and to making such revolutionary discoveries.
Even some of the most basic scientific principles that we often take for granted today are the result of scientific imagination, as long ago, these principles were not seen as common sense.  One such principle is gravity.  In the 1600’s, people understood, like we do today, that if you drop something, it will fall to the ground.  They had the experience of it, but nobody thought to ask why it was occurring.  Nobody that is, except Sir Isaac Newton.  Legend has it that he had his famous realization while observing an apple falling from a tree.  Whether or not this story is true, Newton realized that “some force must be acting on falling objects...otherwise they would not start moving from rest” (Thompson). This realization forms the basis of his Law of Gravity as well as his First Law of Motion.   He used this discovery, as well as his new laws, to not only explain the movement of objects on earth, but the movement of the moon, and even the observations of ancient astronomers, such as Kepler (Thompson).  This discovery shows how the very basic nature of science, the asking of  “why” and “how” are examples of scientific creativity in and of themselves, as in order to ask these questions, scientists must look beyond what is culturally accepted and imagine that there must be a reason for, something causing these accepted reactions.  Whether it be the concept of gravity or even the fact that the earth is round and not flat, the act of questioning a cultural belief shows just how essential creativity is for scientific development.
These factors of questioning what is generally accepted, as well as finding your own way to a solution and overcoming obstacles, show how ingenuitive scientists have to be to be successful in their fields.  When somebody aspires to be a scientist, the normal criteria that is looked for in them are intelligence and diligence, yet these characteristics do not evaluate whether that person has the creativity to be a successful scientist.  Without this essential, if frequently overlooked trait, they would not be able to as effectively design experiments, or look for alternative routes to a solution when one fails.  A quality scientist must have creativity, and because of this common misconception surrounding science, the brilliant minds behind some of the world’s greatest discoveries and developments do not get due credit for their creativity and ingenuity.  The irony is that without these traits it is likely that their famous discoveries, or any discoveries for that matter, would never have been made.

Works Cited and Consulted
Responsible Science Ensuring the Integrity of the Research Process. Volume I. Vol. 1. Washington, D.C.: National Academy, 1992. The National Academic Press. The National Academy of Sciences. Web. 20 Dec. 2016.
"The Structure of DNA: Cooperation and Competition." Understanding Science. The University of California Museum of Paleontology, Berkeley, 2007. Web. 20 Dec. 2016.
Thompson, Hobie, and Sarah Havern. "The History of Gravity." Gravity. Stanford University, n.d. Web. 20 Dec. 2016.