[PMC Weekend Edition] A mystery, solved

Philip Morgan

I love how this story illustrates how mysteries are solved, which is also a sort of story about how self-made expertise is created.Summary: a scientist was looking at some ancient teeth and ran across something surprising.Here are a few key tidbits that illustrate how this scientist went about solving this mystery (all quotes come from the aforelinked article, parenthetical notes following each are mine):

  • “Can you imagine the kind of cold calls we had to make in the beginning?” says Warinner. “‘Hi, I’m working with this thing on teeth, and it’s about 1,000 years old, and it has blue stuff in it. Can you help me?’ People thought we were crazy. (Risk taking, but mostly risking social status)
  • We tried reaching out to physicists, and they were like, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’ We tried reaching out to people working in art restoration, and they were like, ‘Why are you working with plaque?’” (Looking "outside the box")

What strikes me about how the mystery was solved is that it involved relatively little scientific method and relatively a lot of connecting with other experts.There’s a lesson in there for all of us self-made experts.-P