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May 17, 2005
Very Wrong, or Very Right
It's not completely fair of me to make fun of the old hype about rational drug design, because every moment has its overhyped technology. (Perhaps, as we've speculated around here before, today's candidate is RNA interference. . .) All of it ends up sounding silly in the end.
And the arrogant tone that the proponents of some new systems often take sounds laughable, too, after things don't work out. But that same attitude is probably needed, up to a point. You really have to have some nerve to remake a scientific field. After all, at the very least you're saying to everyone that there's something important that they don't know about yet. And sometimes, the message is a flat "You people have this stuff completely wrong, so step back and let me show you why." It's not a job for the meek.
People with shy and fearful personalities will almost never make a great discoveries in the first place, much less publicize them effectively. That kind of thinking will cripple you with all the reasons why things won't work, why someone else (surely smarter and more competent!) would have already tried this, and so on. And even world-beating ideas tend to fail a lot before they finally get going, so the timid or easily discouraged will be convinced that they're wrong before they ever get a chance to be right.
I'm not saying that all the great discoverers are intolerable, although some of them sure are. But even if they're good to the people around them, they're mighty hard on nature and on their experiments, and harder still on the existing order.
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