I recently read about Alice Stewart, a pioneering industrial epidemiologist whose work on the dangers of low level radiation was aggressively opposed by the establishment. Because she was pitted against a powerful lobby group, her work was starved of funding in Britain, and she was frequently shunned by her peers. Nevertheless she persevered and was finally vindicated when the permitted levels of radiation for the public was reduced by two thirds.
What I found particularly interesting about Alice Stewart’s approach was her partnership with a statistician by the name of George Kneale, whose job it was to prove her wrong. As the evidence mounted, he became less and less able to disprove her findings, thereby lending more and more weight to her claims.
In our anxiety not to be proven wrong we are tempted to surround ourselves with people who agree with us. We seek out those who will “like” our Facebook posts, leave supportive comments on our blog, and re-tweet our 140 character views of the world. Isn’t it more important to find people to critique our work so as to help us find our errors, and in so doing quickly put us back on the right track?