It is what it is

As a scientist who spends a lot of time looking at data, I sometimes feel that we venture into an area where we are in danger of over-interpreting our results. On the one hand, it is a perfectly natural and human characteristic; to speculate and even use imagination to try and gain a deeper understanding of the complex world around us.

Frequently, however–in my realm of science–such over-interpretation can often be premature, and even detrimental if one gets locked into a specific mindset–an “idee fixe”–at too early a stage. Especially since our initial ideas so frequently turn out to be wrong.

Consider a simple hypothesis posed as one sets out to dispel prove test one’s idea. In my field, we usually need to gather a fair bit of data from casting a wide net of experiments before we can actually see a cohesive picture emerging. So initially, this requires some patience and the ability to suspend–at least temporarily–one’s speculations and over-interpretations until enough information is out there on the table to propose a model.

Sometimes, it is necessary to stop and say: “It is what it is”–otherwise, over-interpretation can lead us to the following type of scenario as this brilliant sketch by Eric Idle and John Cleese illustrates.

Idle: “Jarrow United came of age in a European sense with an almost Proustian display of modern existentialist football, virtually annihilating, by midfield argument, the surely obsolescent defensive philosophy of Signor Alberto Franfrino.”

Cleese: “Well, I hit the ball first time and it went in the back of the net.”

About Steve Caplan

I am a Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska where I mentor a group of students, postdoctoral fellows and researchers working on endocytic protein trafficking. My first lablit novel, "Matter Over Mind," is about a biomedical researcher seeking tenure and struggling to overcome the consequences of growing up with a parent suffering from bipolar disorder. Lablit novel #2, "Welcome Home, Sir," published by Anaphora Literary Press, deals with a hypochondriac principal investigator whose service in the army and post-traumatic stress disorder actually prepare him well for academic, but not personal success. Novel #3, "A Degree of Betrayal," is an academic murder mystery. "Saving One" is my most recent novel set at the National Institutes of Health. Now IN PRESS: Today's Curiosity is Tomorrow's Cure: The Case for Basic Biomedical Research (CRC PRESS, 2021). All views expressed are my own, of course--after all, I hate advertising.
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