Blinded by science?

Philip Morgan

In my POV workshop and 1:1 intensive, we start by thinking about how we see the world and what the purpose of our work is. We map this out on a POVSpace map, like so:

I've noticed almost every participant sees the world largely from their own experience, and when I ask folks if they want to change where they stand in this POVSpace map, most want to move towards a more data-based or data-informed perspective.

This widely-shared preference is probably adequately explained by noting that our culture has a bias towards data and science. (I hope this is already clear and I'm just being redundant here: noticing a bias towards data/science doesn't mean I'm pro or anti data/science. Noticing a bias is merely… noticing a bias. :) )

This is a really interesting example of this bias towards data/science in action:

Here's one quote from the aforelinked:

Looking at US patents over 1975-2002, they find the patents of people who are new to a domain seem to be less valuable, as compared to the patents of people with more experience in the domain. Here, they are measuring “value” by how many citations the patent receives, or how likely it is to be renewed (you have to pay non-negligible fees to keep patents active, so renewal is a common proxy for the value of a patent - it suggests the patent-holder thinks the patent is worth the fees).

Using science helps inventors avoid this penalty when they enter a new field. Arts and Fleming use the citation of scientific articles in a patent to measure reliance on science. In general, patents that cite science receive more citations and are more likely to be renewed. But this effect is especially strong for the patents of people changing fields. Compared to experienced inventors in the same field, people for whom the field is an unfamiliar one seem to disproportionately benefit from having science there to guide them while inventing.


Small-scale research is one way to move your perspective towards data, or broaden the edges of your perspective to include more data.