One of the biggest indicators of maturity, is learning to acknowledge your mistakes, learn from them, and move on. This is especially true in any science field, but it can be applied to live in general as well. In science, if you make a mistake and are called on it, you better change your ways. Otherwise, you become your own worst enemy. You become everything you dedicated yourself to not becoming.
Take Andrew Wakefield, for example. The dude went to university and studied — hard, I hope — to become a physician. He had a good job in a good place, and then he decided to ask the question of whether or not vaccines caused autism. He asked it because he was being paid to ask it, and maybe because he had some genuine concerns. When he thought he had an answer, he was widely rebuked. He was rebuked so hard that he lost his medical license, no respected journal will ever publish him, and any mention of his findings as “evidence” leads to laughter. In essence, he thought he had a slam dunk, but no.
Instead of accepting what was wrong in his so-called “study,” Andrew Wakefield decided to embrace the crazy idea that measles is somehow more acceptable than autism and just run with it. Had he seen what was wrong in his study, accepted the sanctions from it, and performed a good follow-up, he would be respected more by his peers. His name wouldn’t be associated with and often times mentioned right after the word “fraud.”
When I was studying for my MPH, we analyzed a case where a number of scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) resigned over how a study was being handled. The study in question was being done in a developing country, where the safeguards for the protection of human subjects are very weak or even non-existent. When the scientists found out that this was going on, they complained and asked for the study to be stopped or at least modified to comply with American laws on human research. When it wasn’t, they quit. They took their very bright minds to academia, and they lived with the consequences.
In everyday life, it is much easier to accept a mistake and learn from it than to deny the mistake and allow it or its consequences to fester. In admitting you’re wrong, you get to show to yourself and others that you’re not perfect — which is a given — and that you’re willing to grow as a person. Also, no one likes arrogance, and nothing makes you look more arrogant than to be called out on an error and not do anything about it.
I hate arrogant people, by the way.
René F. Najera, DrPH
I'm a Doctor of Public Health, having studied at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
All opinions are my own and in no way represent anyone else or any of the organizations for which I work.
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