Day science, night science: Understanding the nature of scientific discovery and creativity
From our first science classes in school, we are taught about the scientific method. A scientist comes up with a hypothesis, designs experiments to test the idea, and then carefully analyzes the results with colleagues in a laboratory. It is a stereotypical view of how science works we seen in movies and television time and again. Any working scientist, however, will tell you that this model of the scientific method bears only a conceptual resemblance to how science plays out in real life. Indeed, François Jacob (who shared the 1965 Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine with André Lwoff and Jacques Monod) developed a much more accurate representation of the scientific process, which he divided into two parts: day science and night science. A recent series of articles in the journal Genome Biology by Itai Yanai & Martin Lercher explore Jacob’s concept, which is relevant not just to scientists but to business leaders and innovators anywhere.
Jacobs called day science the science that we learn about as kids. It’s the hypothesis and experiment cycle that most people imagine when they hear about research results in the general press. Night science is something different. As Jacob wrote: “Night science wanders blind. It hesitates, stumbles, recoils, sweats, wakes with a start. Doubting everything, it is forever trying to find itself, question itself, pull itself back together. Night science is a sort of workshop of the possible where what will become the building material of science is worked out” . As the authors further note: “Night science is of course not restricted to a particular time of day, just as we can test hypotheses after 10 pm. But these two aspects are distinct frames of mind—so different that they seem like day and night.”
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