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Where does creativity fit into science?


This series of articles is based on the notion that there is plenty of scope for creativity in science and that you don’t have to be a genius to achieve it. The cartoon on this page does a good job of demystifying genius – it involves a lot of slog. The ability to come up with new, innovative ideas in science depends on four main factors – creative ability, logical reasoning and analysis, the prevailing scientific culture and context, and good old-fashioned luck. And the most important of those factors is the last1!


Science, like art and most other professions, requires a mixture of two elements – creativity and discipline. Science without creativity is dull, but science without discipline is dangerous. … Discipline is the rigid, regimented, regimented, more robotic objective component that has to be brought to bear for science to work properly. Wild ideas are fine, but without discipline, they become a waste of time and energy. Creativity is the more human, liberated, unrestrained element that must be let loose for it to work. Science without at least a little bit of creativity is just plodding detail that does not expand our understanding of the world.

Randy Olson, American marine biologist, filmmaker and author, 2009

Genius is ...

Where the creativity fits

light bulb tiny Research programs Imagine you are a scientist and you’re at a stage where you need to think about where your research is going. Perhaps you are just about to embark on a scientific career; or you’ve taken up a new leadership position; or your long-term research program has come to its end. Where to now? How can you use your creative abilities to come up with a new, productive direction?
light bulb tiny Devising models All scientific activity is based on models. One of the most important creative tasks a scientist can embark on is the development of a powerful new explanatory model.

1  “In the end, it should become clear that the scientific creativity that produced Principia must be the joint product of logic, chance, genius, and zeitgeist – with chance primus inter pares.”  from Dean Keith Simonton, Creativity in Science: Chance, Logic, Genius, and Zeitgeist, p 13.
Randy Olson’s quote from Don’t Be Such A Scientist: Talking substance in an age of style, Island Press, Washington, p 132.
“Genius is …” cartoon by Grant Snider at Incidental Comics.

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