Years ago at a conference, someone told a colleague and me that our ideas were "dangerous". A danger how? And to whom? He didn't say, but in fact it was obvious that our ideas posed a danger only to those who didn't like them or who had published ideas to the contrary. Our research was of the most basic, curiosity-driven, no- animals-killed-to-produce-this-product sort. For my colleague and me, the statement "Your ideas are dangerous" has become a favorite phrase, brought out at random times for a laugh.
So I almost laughed out loud at a recent conference when a cranky old scientist took issue with a grad student's talk and told him that his ideas were "dangerous". The student looked upset, so it would have been quite inappropriate for me to laugh at that moment. In fact, compared to the comments that the Angry Scientist typically makes, the student got off easy.
I went to find to the student during a break and told him that I really liked his talk and his dataset and his interpretations. He had picked up on a strand of a project that I had left dangling years ago, never having the time or funding for that particular thing to pursue the topic. I was really pleased to see these new results, which were interesting and a bit unexpected, and therefore exciting.
He cheered up considerably and we had a good discussion about his work, but at some point the student looked over at the Angry Scientist and his gloom returned. He said "But he hates my research" and I said "Yes, but that's how I know you must be right!".
I told him that there is nothing wrong with having dangerous ideas. In fact, it's a compliment. It means you are making people think, and it gives us all something to talk about. His ideas had been presented in a very professional way and were completely appropriate based on his dataset and analysis.
The statement that an idea is dangerous, in which the only possible danger is to someone's ego, is an absurd attempt at criticism. I will, however, stop short of recommending that this phrase be expunged from the Conference-goers Phrasebook for Rude Things to Say After Someone Else's Talk because, in this context, it may be better to be criticized by someone who has nothing of substance to say than to encounter an articulate, hostile person.
9 months ago