The Importance of Incremental Research

Last year Bertrand Meyer authored a post titled Long Live Incremental Research! at BLOG@CACM. Rather then writing my own post on the topic, I instead want to encourage people to read Meyer’s post as I think he does a great job of summarizing the importance of approaching research incrementally and not aiming for the next great breakthrough. A few quotes from his post:

“First, 99.97% of all research (precise statistic derived from my own ground-breaking research, funding for its continuation would be welcome) is incremental. Second, when a “breakthrough” does happen — the remaining 0.03%  — it was often not planned as a breakthrough.”

“Beginning PhD students can be forgiven for believing the myth of the lone genius who penetrates the secrets of time and space by thinking aloud during long walks with his Italian best friend [3]; we all, at some stage, shared that delightful delusion. But every researcher…quickly grows up and learns that it is not how things happen. You read someone else’s solution to a problem, and you improve on it. Any history of science will tell you that for every teenager who from getting hit by a falling apple intuits the structure of the universe there are hundreds of excellent scientists who look at the state of the art and decide they can do a trifle better.”

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