What is a scientist like? Typically, they are mathematical, methodical, and logical; however, the general consensus seems to be that because of this, scientists also lack the ability to be creative and imaginative. There is a widely held believe that science does not require these traits in a person because science itself is purely procedural. This is simply not true. Science absolutely requires creativity and imagination; otherwise, no discoveries or progress would ever be made.
Regarded by many as a significant “turning point in human history,” the discovery of penicillin demonstrates how science involves creativity and imagination (Markel). The bacteriologist Dr. Alexander Fleming was studying colonies of Staphylococcus aureus in 1928 when he realized that his samples had been contaminated by mold. If science were strictly procedural in nature, Fleming would likely have scrapped these contaminated specimens and started over. Because it is not, Fleming carefully examined the mold instead. Fleming observed that the mold prevented the normal growth of the bacteria, effectively discovering the world’s first antibiotic. It’s good that he did; penicillin has saved countless people from early deaths due to bacterial endocarditis, meningitis, pneumococcal pneumonia, and other diseases (Kalvaitis). This incredibly important discovery only occurred because one scientist had the creativity to try what had yet to be tried before.
Creativity and imagination is required, not only in the designing of experiments that lead to important discoveries, but also in the reasoning and synthesis of evidence that lead to the formation of important scientific theories. The theory of evolution, or “the process by which organisms change over time as a result of changes in heritable physical or behavioral traits,” is a prime example of this (Than). Today, this theory is so widely accepted that it is taught in schools, but there was a time when it was not. Before Darwin’s Origin of Species, Creationism was the prevailing belief. Darwin had to have the imagination to think up this theory, and the creativity to collect and assemble the evidence to support it, such as fossil records and the variation in populations of Galapagos finches.
Another such theory is the Endosymbiotic Theory. This theory “describes how a large host cell and ingested bacteria could...become dependent on one another for survival, resulting in a permanent relationship” (University of Utah). Specifically, it claims that mitochondria and chloroplasts were once bacteria. This is a quite a weighty claim to make, but there is a wealth of evidence to support it: both organelles contain their own DNA; both organelles produce many of the proteins they need themselves; both organelles reproduce independently, etc. There was no precedent for this theory. Prior to it, the general belief was of “Modern Synthesis,” which “stated that natural selection and mutation were the driving force behind the evolution of eukaryotic cells and new species” (The Endosymbiotic Hypothesis). If scientists were not creative or imaginative, the original theory would have remained predominant, because no one would think to question it or combine the evidence in such a way as to lead them to this theory.
For many people, the mention of science calls to mind their high school days of experiments and lab reports. They likely remember gathering the materials on their lists, following the steps in their procedures, and answering the questions provided about the results. Because their personal experiences with science did not involve much creativity or imagination, they think that all areas of science are like this. However, where do these people think those materials lists, procedures, and questions came from? Someone had to have come up with them, and use their own imagination and creativity to do so. This is the true nature of science.