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Night Science

A workshop on the creative side of the scientific process

Target audience postdocs of all research areas    
Language English    
Duration 1 day    
Capacity 50    
Credits for habilitation yes    
Workshop costs Participation is free for HHU members and members of HHU's Medical Faculty.    
Registration Please register using the registration form below.    

Upcoming Workshops

Date Time Format Registration


09 am - 05.30 pm

On site workshop Registration

The formal scientific method tells you how to rigorously and objectively test a hypothesis. But where do hypotheses come from in the first place? Posing fruitful new questions, having ideas for novel hypotheses, and inventing new experimental technologies all require scientific creativity. Itai Yanai (New York University) and Martin Lercher (HHU Düsseldorf) have been exploring this hidden side of the scientific process in editorials and a podcast.
In this workshop, participants learn and practice different tools for the generation of scientific ideas. Sessions explore, for example, how anthropomorphic language unlocks intuitive brain capacities; how new questions can be identified by honing in on contradictions; how a hypothesis can be a liability for making new discoveries; and how ideas can be imported and exported across research fields. Each of the seven sessions is integrated with exercises, allowing the participants to practice the tools for creative scientific explorations.
The workshop is targeted at young researchers across the natural sciences and mathematics. But it is also highly relevant to seasoned investigators who are interested in a deeper understanding and further development of their scientific creativity.

Itai Yanai, Professor of Biochemistry, School of Medicine, New York University, USA and Martin Lercher, Professor of Computational Cell Biology, Institute for Computer Science & Dept. of Biology, Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf, Germany have developed the course together.
Martin Lercher will be hosting the session on site at HHU.
Itai and Martin have previously taught this course to postdocs, PhD students, and faculty at Amsterdam, Copenhagen, EMBL, NYU, Princeton, and the Weizman Institute.

Creativity as a core component of the scientific process: We distinguish the two modes of science that constitute hypothesis generation and hypothesis testing, and highlight the central role of creativity in the former.

Improvisational science: Borrowing concepts from improvisational theater – including the “yes, and” rule – we discuss the mechanics of ‘talking science’ and explore the creative powers unlocked through discussing ideas with colleagues, highlighting the roles of encouragement and a suspension of criticism.

The two languages of science: Science reporting is precise; but the language of discovery is different, it thrives on analogies, metaphors, and anthropomorphisms, which exploit intuitive powers that human brains evolved in response to social interactions. We discuss and exercise the intentional stance, the role of metaphors in reasoning, and translating between the two languages of ‘Day Science’ and ‘Night Science’.

What is the question: A discovery is unexpected – an unknown unknown – and often does not fit neatly into a ‘knowledge gap’. A crucial step in many discoveries is the invention or the refocusing of a scientific question, and we explore ways in which questions may be formulated or rephrased to facilitate scientific progress.
The data-hypothesis conversation: The creative process thrives on an attitude that encourages exploration and speculation. Science relies on a back and forth between data and ideas, and the two corresponding modes of investigation overcome each other’s limitations.

Contradictions and Perseverance: Contradictions are often perceived as nuisances; but embracing them counteracts our natural human tendency for confirmation bias. We exercise how Night Science’s exploratory mode counteracts cognitive biases, opening the door to new insights and predictions that can profoundly alter the course of a project.

Interdisciplinarity & Renaissance minds: Disciplines and fields are historical constructions, representing just one way of clustering knowledge. We explore the ‘expert’s dilemma’ between disciplinary day science expertise and interdisciplinary night science creativity, which often involves the import or export of ideas and technologies between fields.

Science as a meta-puzzle. Science is puzzle-solving. We describe a system for classifying puzzles, appropriate both for human-made puzzles and for scientific projects. But nature’s puzzles are different from artificial puzzles in one crucial aspect: in an ongoing research project, you can never be sure what kind of a puzzle you are in. We discuss how conscious ‘puzzle-switching’ boosts our scientific creativity.

For more on the content, see the series of editorials in Genome Biology:
For a broader view of Night Science, listen to the podcast: nightscience.buzzsprout.com

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