From: Robin Feder <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: Sy Moire <email@example.com>
Dear Mr. Moire, I am a High School student who has a crazy theory about dark matter. I get bored often and do not learn as much as I think most believe I should in science class. I was thinking about dark matter and how it reacts oppositely of how we expect it to. We expect it to probably not follow “normal” physics. This got me thinking about other impossible things the human mind has thought of. One of them caught my mind–absolute zero. The logic connected itself in my mind and later that day I typed up a doc just to keep my ideas. I played with it and the more I thought about it the evidence started to overlap. I have finally found an end to the theory. I am now ready to send this theory with some scientists who actually have the expertise to critique me. Please give me your thoughts as I of course am not fully confident in it. I have a lot of information that I can’t fit in one email so this is all for now. Hope to improve it. Sincerely, Robin Feder
From: Sy Moire <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: Robin Feder <email@example.com>
Subj: Re: Questions
My best to your Dad, Robin, you take after him and I’m glad you’re thinking about science. I hear you about the boring — classes often feel that way if the other kids don’t pick things up as quickly as you do. Maybe your teachers can point you to supplementary materials that’ll perk up your interest.
Before we get into your topics I’ll give you some tips that may help your future. The first is, keep an idea notebook. It could be a physical book you keep in your pocket or it could be a directory of files on your phone or computer, doesn’t matter. What does matter is that you record all your ideas as they occur to you so you don’t forget one that might become important later on. In science and other fields, ideas are your stock in trade so you want to preserve your inventory. That absolute‑zero doc is a good start.
Second tip is, after you’ve written down an idea, take a long look at it and ask yourself, “How could I disprove this?” and write that down, too. The essence of science is that it relies more on disproving things than proving them. Get into the habit of thinking about disproof — it’s a powerful way of filtering out incorrect thinking. Works better in some areas than others but in general there’s forward progress.
The reason I highlighted “after” up there is that the first thought, even if it’s wrong, often leads to second and third thoughts that are better. If you discard ideas too quickly you limit yourself. Think of it as an ongoing one‑person brainstorming session. So write first, maybe cross off later, OK?
Third tip is, read up on what your idea is about. A lot. Every field of study has its own “language,” a set of words and concepts that people in the field generally understand. You need to have some command of those if you’re going to ask them clear questions about your idea.
That’s for two reasons. The most important is that using the correct terminology speeds up communication — neither you nor they will have to stop and explain a term or concept. But in addition, if you use the words and concepts properly that tells your conversation partner that you respect their time enough to have done your initial reading.
Fourth tip is where to look for that initial reading. Most textbooks, even shiny freshly-printed ones, are decades behind the current research frontiers. You need to go deeper. You’ll Google your topic, of course, to find popular science articles. Here’s another path to more recent work. Start at a good Wikipedia article. Follow the links to its key recent footnotes and Google the names of the paper’s authors. Many of them will have blogs that they write for a student audience. Follow those blogs.
Looking forward to reading those two files.
~~ Rich Olcott