If I could ensure that kids come away from science class with one thing only, it wouldn’t be a set of facts. It would be an attitude—something that the late physicist Richard Feynman called “scientific integrity,” the willingness to bend over backward to examine reasons your pet theories about the world might be wrong.
Teaching that spirit is easier said than done. “The hardest thing is convincing teenagers they can be wrong,” a high school science teacher from Phoenix lamented to me recently in a conversation about scientific integrity. But to be fair, it’s not just teenagers. We’re all captives of one of the most well-established errors in human reasoning, called confirmation bias: our tendency to focus on evidence that confirms our prior expectations. Once our minds alight on a theory, our impulse is to reassure ourselves it’s true, not set out to disprove it.
I loved this article. It contained a practical approach to being wrong: Call it being surprised or a moment of surprise. It’s easier on the ego. And if we teach students to recognize “moments of surprise” we’ll be doing a good job to continue to create a society based less on dogma and more focused on reason and/or empiricism. We can also relish the surprise in seeing the unexpected. Much as I don’t like being wrong, I also have a strong sense of curiosity that enjoys meandering down roads of discovery.
I’m adding a new area to my morning journals. A surprise call-out. I’d like to capture moments this year when my perspective, my views, my own pet theory about the world doesn’t quite match up. Maybe it will help facilitate growth.