A profile of James Patterson, the hyperprolific novelist, says this:
â€œI donâ€™t believe in showing off,â€ Patterson says of his writing. â€œShowing off can get in the way of a good story.â€
A few days ago, just before this profile appeared, I gave a talk about self-experimentation at EG (= Entertainment Gathering), a TED-like conference in Monterey. One reason my self-experimentation was effective, I said, was that I wasn’t trying to impress anyone. Whereas professional scientists doing professional science care a lot about impressing other people. I planned to say it like this but didn’t have enough time:
Years ago, I went to a dance concert put on by students at Berkeley High School. I really enjoyed it. I thought to myself: I like dance concerts. So I went to a dance concert by UC Berkeley students â€“ college students. I enjoyed it, but not as much as the high school concert. Then I went to a dance concert by a famous dance company that all of you have heard of. I didn’t enjoy it at all. Why were the professionals much less enjoyable than the high school students? Because the professionals cared a whole lot about being impressive. That got in the way of being enjoyable. Scientists want to be impressive. They want to impress lots of people â€“ granting agencies, journal editors,Â reviewers, their colleagues, and prospective graduate students. All this desire to be impressive gets in the way of finding things out.
In particular, it makes self-experimentation impossible:
They can’t do self-experimentation because it isn’t impressive. Self-experimentation is free. Anyone can do it. It’s easy; it doesn’t require any rare or difficult skills. If you want to impress someone with your fancy car, self-experimentation is like riding a bike.
Because my self-experimentation was private, I was free to do whatever worked.
My broader point was that my self-experimentation was effective partly because I was an insider/outsider. I had the subject-matter knowledge of an insider, but the freedom of an outsider.