June 9th, 2020

Xiaole Willy Wang

When I was pursuing my undergraduate degree, my professor at the time told me that one type of polypeptide of naked oats has a hypoglycemic effect. There is even an existing patent advocating the same conclusion. I was then challenged by my professor to conduct the same experiment.

“Check the results,” he said, “and if the results come back the same as the patent, you’ll have a chance of investigating further and write a research paper.”

I was so excited since having a published research paper is extremely helpful for an undergrad student, who plans to apply for grad school in America. It would give me more of an advantage among other applicants and be more likely to achieve my dream of being admitted to grad school. With that in mind it became the driving factor, and so I began my experiment.

First of all, I took for granted everything that happened during the experiment process including inconsistencies between my data and what was reported in the patent. My way of thinking, because the published patent is considered “right” and anything that is incongruous with it should be wrong. The right thing can be defined as something repeatable in practice, while the wrong thing is the opposite. What I did was take those inconsistencies as an operational miss, instead of the “wrong thing”. Even though I modified my experiment plan, I still could not repeat the so-called “right result”. With the increasing amount of failure, I became less and less confident and began suspecting whether the result could ever be repeated, I still insisted that it was my fault for the conflicting results.

I then realized that several others had failed as well in duplicating the patent’s result. The trial persuaded me into accepting the truth that the result of the patent can’t be repeated at all. I was chasing an expectation, my quixotic desire to have a published paper became my obsession. Why? What’s wrong with the patent? Surely a patent is an amazing achievement, while it can also be an idealistic fallacy. However, there is only one truth that stands, What we should follow is the truth, rather than accepting someone else’s version as actual fact.

What I learned from the experience is just as Aristotle’s saying goes ‘Plato is dear to me, but dearer still is a truth’, we, especially scientists, should also focus on things that can be questioned, we should not be blinded by specious theories. Questioning is the first step for not being blinded.