Science, like sex, thrives on diversity. I can start the New Year no better than by offering you the thoughts of the late Sir Peter Medawar, biologist, Nobel Laureate and raconteur, on the subject, presented in an article in the Times Literary Supplement:

There is no such thing as a Scientific Mind. Scientists are people of very dissimilar temperaments doing different things in very different ways. Among scientists are collectors, classifiers and compulsive tidiers-up; many are detectives by temperament and many are explorers; some are artists and others artisans. There are poet-scientists and philosopher-scientists and even a few mystics. What sort of mind or temperament can all these people be supposed to have in common? Obligative scientists must be very rare, and most people who are in fact scientists could easily have been something else instead.

Medawar’s own approach was what he defined in a book with that title as “the art of the soluble”, and consisted of “making difficult problems soluble by devising means of getting at them.” Such problems are now thought of as being in “The Medawar Zone” of problems that are the most likely to produce fruitful results (, being not too hard to solve once they are configured appropriately, but not too trivial to be not worth bothering about. They include his own Nobel Prize-winning work on acquired immunological tolerance, which laid the foundations for today’s transplant surgery.

Medawar himself had a way of getting right to the heart of a matter, as the following story shows:

I once spoke to a human geneticist who declared that the notion of intelligence was quite meaningless, so I tried calling him unintelligent. He was annoyed, and … We never spoke again.

Would that we could all think so quickly on our feet, and deflate pomposity so effectively!




Share This