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'Failure' explores errors’ upsides

Missteps are a must in science, biologist argues in new book

By
7:30am, November 3, 2015

CORRECTION  Galen’s view of the circulatory system (left) held for hundreds of years. It was wrong. William Harvey updated science’s understanding to include oxygenated and deoxygenated blood (right).

Failure
Stuart Firestein
Oxford Univ, $21.95

Failure is nothing to disparage — at least in research. Indeed, it’s one of the principal “engines that propel science forward,” argues Stuart Firestein in the provocative new book Failure. A biologist at Columbia University, Firestein has experienced his share of failures. And as long as they are not due to sloppiness, ineptitude or taking on tasks beyond one’s capabilities, he says, failures in science are not a reason to apologize. They might even be something to shoot for.

Firestein quickly makes a compelling case that fear of failure constrains imagination. Meanwhile, scientists unafraid of failure can consider a whole universe of testable explanations — even if adequate tools don

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