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Who Discovers and Why

Right In Front of You

Regular reader Qetzal pointed out in a comment to the “More Fun With DNA” post that a lot of neat discoveries seem – after you’ve heard about them – to be something that you could have thought up yourself. I know what he means. I’ve had that same “Yeah. . .that would work, wouldn’t it. . .” feeling several times.
There’s an even higher degree of the same thing, thinking that surely that new discovery has already been done. Hasn’t it? Didn’t I read that somewhere a year or so ago? I’m trying to remember the British literary/political figure who said it, but the quote was that the most important thing he had learned at Cambridge was not to be afraid of the obvious. I think that a lot of us are, and it’s not to our benefit.
So there’s a useful New Year’s resolution, if anyone has room for a spare one. Shut that voice up once in a while, the one that shows up in your head when you have a wild idea, the one that says that if this were really as good as it sounds, someone would already have done it. A lot of really great stuff hasn’t been done, and if too many people listen to the lesser side of their natures, it won’t be.

4 comments on “Right In Front of You”

  1. SP says:

    You have to be careful with terms, though- there’s a legal definition to “obvious” which is different from something that seems obvious in retrospect.

  2. jsinger says:

    PCR itself is perhaps the single best example that I can think of…

  3. TallDave says:

    I heartily second the motion! I took an idea from an amateur bodybuilding discussion group I frequented and turned it into a small business with credit cards and sweat. We’ve been profitable every month and our sales should break $1 million this year.
    It’s easy now to forget how consumed with doubt I was at the start. Surely someone else had already done this idea, or knew why it couldn’t work. I remember one night at the start when I was lying with my girlfriend on the couch watching TV, my whole body literally twitching every time I thought about the problems I was sure were going to wreck everything.

  4. qetzal says:

    jsinger, I agree with you on PCR, except that one was even more humbling to me.

    I was in grad school when PCR started getting attention. When I first heard of it, I thought, “So what? How often are you going to want lots of copies of one little piece of DNA?”

    Pretty sad, considering I was doing my grad work in molecular biology! Of course, we were still doing chemical DNA sequencing back then, and polymerase-based sequencing methods were just starting to take off. But still….

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