The link to this TED talk on a new understanding of cancer was sent to me by a friend who is a reader of my blog, writer of her own blog on biology and the life sciences, and cancer researcher. She sent it with the comment, “Not being a scientist is not an excuse not to watch it! She talks a bit about curiosity as well. ” In my commitment to curiosity this year I decided to expand my horizons even though when someone says “science” I usually think “Oops! I’m not going to understand a word.”
Well, I didn’t understand everything when I watched it. I like to believe that given more time I could have understood at least how the experiments she describes led to the conclusions they drew, but I don’t have the time. (And it’s not one of my “unique obsessions”. ;-)) Nonetheless, I found a couple of points that drew my attention.
Working in the diversity sector, I was perhaps most interested in what she had to say about the effect that coming from a different field (chemistry as opposed to biology) played in her ability to make contributions to cancer research. Her background made her pursue answers to questions that the biologists she worked with didn’t even think to ask. Things they accepted as givens didn’t make sense to her and she followed up on that, which led—gradually—to an entirely new approach and understanding for everyone.
It led only gradually to results because at first no one in the field would believe that she was onto something significant. What she was proposing didn’t fit in with accepted knowledge and wisdom so it was initially rejected. Perhaps this is one reason she tells her students: “Don’t be arrogant because arrogance kills curiosity ….”
She doesn’t talk explicitly about how for someone who is curious an answer almost invariably leads to another question, but her final comments bring out that point beautifully. Having laid out what she and her team have learned in their lab about the study of context and architecture in cancer research, she introduces one of the next possible fields of study: “We know nothing about the language of form.” One thing leads to another. The search goes on.
Anyone looking for a research topic in the life sciences? 😉