What Gould Wrote about Data

Biologist Stephen Jay Gould was well-known for his insightful essays. In my teens and early twenties, he influenced my thinking as an undergraduate science education major. As I reread his works these years after his death and on the other end of my career, they seem as timely and insightful as they did back then.

Rereading on of Gould’s essays, I rediscovered a paragraph that included this quote:

The progress of science requires more than new data; it needs novel frameworks and contexts. And where do these fundamentally new view of the world arise? They are not discovered by pure observation; they require new modes of thought.

False Progress, Good Science

This is a lesson that educators missed In their preparation. We have heard for a generation that answers are “in the data.” We identify deficiencies by looking at the data; we use data to design interventions, and the results of our interventions are seen in the data.

More recently, we have been told that we need to be innovative. New methods are needed if students are to develop the skills and knowledge they need to succeed (and society needs them to have). Unfortunately, educators appear grounded deeply in the data and methods of previous generations. Gould explains the difficulty of the challenge educators face, however.

And where do we find them if the old modes do not even include the righ metaphors? The nature of true genius must lie in the elusive capacity to construct these new modes from appearent darkness. The basic chanciness and unpredictability of science must also reside in the inherent difficulty of the task.