11 science lessons -- from war

Former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara's 11 lessons of war apply to scientific research, according to a biologist

Steve Midway
Apr 11, 2010
Former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara is usually remembered for his close ties to the war in Vietnam -- his central role in the war's escalation and the associated loss of life. But McNamara, trained in economics, also spent significant portions of his life thinking about and implementing methods to improve efficiency. During World War II, for example, he worked for the Office of Statistical Control to improve flight paths and help end the war in the Pacific.
Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara
pointing to a map of Vietnam at a press
conference on April 26, 1965

Image: Wikimedia commons,
Marion S. Trikosko
In 1995, McNamara wrote a book highlighting his 11 lessons of war, which were later featured in an Errol Morris documentary. The lessons have an ostensibly militaristic feel, but I've found that with slight tweaking they work well as guidelines for conducting scientific research. 1. Empathize with...

2. Rationality will not save us
3. There's something beyond one's self
4. Maximize efficiency
5. Proportionality should be a guideline in war
6. Get the data
7. Belief and seeing are both often wrong
8. Be prepared to reexamine your reasoning
9. In order to do good, you may have to engage in evil
10. Never say never
Nature11. You can't change human nature
linkurl:Steve Midway;http://student.uncw.edu/srm8757/ is a PhD student at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, studying fisheries biology.



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