Wetenschap - 7 juni 2012

Eureka! (and the value of a country walk)

Ground-breaking scientific insights are not always born in the laboratory.


Foto: .

They can also emerge from a bit of relaxed pondering. From getting away from it all and looking at your subject from a new and unexpected angle. This will be is ecologist Marten Scheffer's message in a special edition of Science Café Wageningen. One of Wageningen's best and most inspiring researchers, Scheffer will talk about the best way to go about mulling things over in this way. It seems to have become a new specialism of Scheffer's; he regularly gives talks about reason and intuition these days.
And he has a rich seam of experience to draw on. For example, in March 2007, he invited ten researchers to Wageningen to talk about tipping points in complex dynamic systems, ranging from fish populations to climate, epilepsy or financial markets. It was unusual to bring together scientists from so many different disciplines, from economics to geology. And it was also unusual that they did not hold their discussions in a conference room but while walking in the Hoge Veluwe national park. The result: one of the most frequently cited Nature articles Scheffer has ever worked on.
Scheffer: ‘All the big breakthroughs in science have to do with intuitive clicks. You can stimulate the process by ensuring that people take a broader view, and get more input from other fields and methods. Reading and discussing widely. And having time to process it. You cannot do that at a desk; it works much better if you eat together or go for a walk. If you want to stimulate that you have to do a bit of social engineering: making sure people get together. It sounds banal, but all that social interaction is seen as a waste of time in our offices.'
Tuesday 19 July in Café Loburg. With live music. Science Café Wageningen is a Resource initiative.