The Ego Problem

You can ask around and everyone will (probably) agree that one of the biggest problem to deal with in academia and in science in particular is the ego problem.

Why is it so hard for scientists to admit that they don’t know the answer? And I am here talking from experience people. Often, while presenting in a seminar, the speaker will BS his way around an empty answer, rather than saying: you know what? I honestly don’t know. And don’t even get me started with admitting that one was wrong.

I don’t get this. For a group that works in finding answers, we sure are reluctant to admit that we don’t have them. If we had all the answers, we wouldn’t have anything to do mind you!.

This problem seems to increase as the level in academia goes up. As a PhD student I cannot tell you the amount of times that I’ve been discouraged to admit that I don’t know the answer, when I honestly believe that it is better to admit so than elaborating in a non-answer. It sure has been the approach I have used in my seminars and presentations, but I have been told afterwards to avoid that.

I am not saying that a person shouldn’t be prepared to answer all the questions if possible. When you present your data, might it be for a big audience or just during a lab meeting, you should be able to discuss, to try to find solutions to problems. But there is also the (big) possibility that you might just not remember a certain point or reference or just simply put that you do not know the answer. Why is it frowned upon when people admit to this, but it is encourage to answer with the oh so old “that’s a great question, blah blah, avoiding the question, blah blah”

I think it is an ego problem. I think we are pushed to a point where we are expected to be able to answer no matter what, even if the answer is not really answering anything. And what is worst, the person asking the question might most certainly accept this empty sentence. So many times, the speaker ends the so called answer with “did I answer your question” and so many times, it is obvious that the answer is no. Yet, the person who asked it in the first time will just go with the flow.

Why do we do this? Why the fear of admitting a bit of ignorance? I do not have the answer sadly. After more than 10 years studying, between B.Sc, M.Sc and now my PhD studies, I’ve never understood this. What are your theories? Why is it so hard to just say: I don’t know?

No comments:

Post a Comment