Martin Schwarz is Professor of Microbiology and Biomedical Engineering at the University of Virginia.
“Science makes me feel stupid,” he writes. But instead of avoiding it, he “actively seek[s] out new opportunities to feel stupid.” In a nutshell, his essay says that if you're doing research and you don't feel stupid every now and then, you're doing something wrong. You have to keep asking till you ask what nobody has asked before and then you're on you're own. Feeling stupid. If you stick to questions whose answers are known, you might feel smart, but you won't contribute to knowledge discovery.
I basically agree with Schwarz and I welcome that he is getting his point across so well. It is perfectly okay if science makes you feel stupid, whether you're a professional scientist or not. Just don't stop there. I however find it somewhat misleading that Schwarz calls it stupidity if one doesn't know an answer since it mixes up knowledge with intelligence. But it makes for a more catchy title.
Unfortunately, it is badly communicated in school what actual research is like. School science is still mostly a presentation of knowledge that's at least a century old. The answers are all known and your task is to pipe them into your head. But that's a bad preparation for research, and it doesn't get across the wonder and fascination of going where nobody has gone before and thinking what nobody has thought before. I vividly recall that in my first semesters at the university the most exciting moments were when a professor or a tutor (usually a postdoc) mentioned an unsolved problem, an open questions. There it was, the frontier of knowledge, and I wanted to go and poke around in the dark.
Martin Schwarz recalls his experience with his first own research project:
“The crucial lesson was that the scope of things I didn't know wasn't merely vast; it was, for all practical purposes, infinite. That realization, instead of being discouraging, was liberating. If our ignorance is infinite, the only possible course of action is to muddle through as best we can.”
Of course one never really knows whether there isn't somebody who knows an answer to your question. And if you've spent weeks only to figure out that indeed for other people on the planet the answer had been well-known, you feel really stupid. But then it also happens occasionally that the answer that everybody thought was well-known actually was wrong... As my teacher used to say: the only stupid question is the question not asked.
Partly related, Eric-Wubbo Lameijer over at Nature Network has an excellent series of posts on the IQ, what it measures and what not, Should you be smart to become a scientist? I, II and III. See also my earlier post How important is talent?.