I have had a nagging feeling for some time. And although I’m still unable to put a “label” on it, I am very clear what is driving this unease: the news reports on the hot-button issues of the day. Think: BP oil crisis, unemployment rate, continuing decline of home prices, stock market volatility, deficit reduction, to name a few. What I find troubling is both the way in which we talk about these issues and what the media coverage reveals about how we handle the process of finding solutions. The latter has rankled my feathers.

Reality TV can be entertaining and sometimes inspirational. However, I think the medium has significantly altered our individual and collective tolerance for trial-and-error. With reality TV, a problem is solved and a “winner” identified within thirteen weeks. Real life doesn’t work like that. And even though people know this intellectually, that awareness seems to get placed on the proverbial back-burner.

Take the BP oil crisis. Yes, it was (and is) tragic; human and animal life was lost, and the ecological and economic ramifications will probably be far-reaching for years to come. That said, 120 days to a solution (even if imperfect) is not that long given the scope of this tragedy and the clean-up efforts needed.

Personally, I do sometimes wish life came with a map with clearly marked “solution found here” signs. But perhaps now is a good time for us to model the behavior of scientists. Rarely do the answers they discover become evident overnight. Inherently, it seems as though scientist manage their expectations and give themselves permission to experiment with what is considered “failure” and “success.”

When will we learn to do the same?

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