On Making Science Interesting, The “Curse of Knowledge” and The Myth of “Dumbing Down” (A Letter to My Co-Fellows)

Dear Co-Fellows:

I believe that we are all like 13 year olds learning a new and difficult topic, especially in a challenging field as rheumatology. And sometimes, we have been told not to be “too basic” or “too elementary” in our explanations; that we should use the scientific language to speak and explain…

I beg to differ. I believe that we should simplify as much as we can to the point of telling stories or simple analogies.

I’ve been reading a book called Made to Stick and it has helped me a lot. I will share some concepts to you when we have free time. I shared one this morning, about the “Curse of Knowledge.” It simply means that once we have become knowledgeable about a certain topic, we tend to forget how we learned it (whether it was the hard way or the easy way), and sometimes, we find it hard to understand why people don’t understand what we talk about (when it seems soooo easy to us). I am guilty of this curse, especially on the technical, geeky stuff. A lot of times I find it hard to understand why people can’t understand these stuff (like, why Ken can’t get the concept of Cloud-based files storage like Dropbox. Hehe). That is my “Curse of Knowledge.” What I “hear” in my brain, and the cadence by which I hear it is not the same as what Ken “hears” or how fast he “hears” it. I need to simplify (mistakenly perceived by others as “dumbing down”) so that people can understand.

The book I am reading, Made to Stick taught me the principle of accuracy vs accessibility when teaching. Let me share this brief excerpt:

“We discussed the Curse of Knowledge in the introduction—the difficulty of remembering what it was like not to know something. Accuracy to the point of uselessness is a symptom of the Curse of Knowledge. To a CEO, “maximizing shareholder value” may be an immensely useful rule of behavior. To a flight attendant, it’s not. To a physicist, probability clouds are fascinating phenomena. To a child, they are incomprehensible.

People are tempted to tell you everything, with perfect accuracy, right up front, when they should be giving you just enough info to be useful, then a little more, then a little more.”(Excerpt From: Heath, Chip. “Made to Stick.” Random House Publishing Group, 2008. iBooks.)

Also, watching this 11 minute TED video by Tyler DeWitt awhile ago, inspired me once more, to overcome this “Curse of Knowledge”  and shy away from the myth of “Dumbing Down” and be able to teach in a simple way. I hope you too will find it useful as we become educators in the near future 🙂

Here’s the video: 

Enjoy guys 🙂

Regards,

Allan

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2 thoughts on “On Making Science Interesting, The “Curse of Knowledge” and The Myth of “Dumbing Down” (A Letter to My Co-Fellows)

  1. Sids Manahan says:

    Totally agree with the thoughts and sentiments. I read a similar trend of reasoning in Presentation Zen (and its follow up Presentation Zen Design). At this time when info can be readily obtained online, “true” knowledge now depends on how we curate all these information – how we make sense of all the information so that we can use it when the need arises. And the book (s) espouse simplicity which is often wrongly termed as “dumbing down”. The books were intended for those making presentations/ PowerPoint’s but I guess it also applies to learning and teaching 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • allancorpuzmd says:

      I completely agree sir. Many times, we are accused of being too “unscientific.” Sometimes, the “Curse of Knowledge” makes the “experts” make teaching as something too formal and too comprehensive. In doing that, accessibility is sacrificed for the sake of accuracy. But as the book states and I quote:“The choice may seem to be a difficult one: (1) accuracy first, at the expense of accessibility; or (2) accessibility first, at the expense of accuracy. But in many circumstances this is a false choice for one compelling reason: If a message can’t be used to make predictions or decisions, it is without value, no matter how accurate or comprehensive it is.”

      Like

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