Tuesday, December 18, 2012
As a follow-on to yesterday's post regarding the proper attitude one should take
regarding the discovery that one is ignorant or mistaken about something, I am
glad to be able to provide another (and probably better) positive example of the
same. The below vignette comes courtesy of Amanda Maxham, who brings it up as she introduces a post
on climate change at Voices for Reason:
On what very well may have been my first day of graduate school, sitting in my first class, our professor began by telling us the story of how he had found an error in a physics text book. This was not any old physics text book, mind you; it was Classical Electrodynamics by John David Jackson, a book that by mere mention, instilled fear in even the smartest and bravest of graduate student.Maxham goes on to note that her professor not only took that lesson to heart, but also passed it on: He offered a prize to any student who found an error in his lecture materials. "[H]e meant to show us how to graciously accept scientific criticism and to remember that no matter what the circumstances and no matter how revered someone may seem to be, truth is always the ultimate goal." [bold added]
In my first day of a course with the deceptively simple title "Magnetohydrodynamics I," my eyes became wide as he described writing a letter to Jackson (THE Jackson!), pointing out this error. Rather than that signifying the abrupt end of our dear professor's career, Jackson allegedly thanked him profusely, corrected the error in the next edition of the text and offered a prize for any future errors that he or anyone else could find.
Like Maxham, I wonder "what the goal really is" when I see anything less than gratitude about a chance to correct or clarify something one has said, on the part of any self-proclaimed messenger of truth.