20 November 2008

How to win a Nobel Prize

Paul Krugman, winner of the 2008 Nobel Prize for Economics, has some interesting advice on his website for anyone embarking on a piece of research.
  1. Listen to the Gentiles: Read outside your discipline. In his own words, ‘Pay attention to what intelligent people are saying, even if they do not have your customs or speak your analytical language.’
  2. Question the question: The questions asked in any academic discipline are theory laden. There is no such thing as a bare fact in any subject. Everything is affected by the presuppositions of the discipline, so Krugman quite rightly advocates paying critical attention to those presuppositions.
  3. Dare to be silly: Don’t be content with the safe and the familiar. Dare to strike out into uncharted territory.
  4. Simplify, simplify: Keep shaving with Ockham’s razor. Personally, I like A.N. Whitehead’s approach: ‘seek simplicity, but distrust it’. Or, to paraphrase Einstein, theories should be as simple as possible, but no simpler.

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