Looking in the wrong place at the wrong time

Imagine a very dark street. In the distance is a single streetlight illuminating a small circle of the sidewalk. All other lights along the road are for some reason off. Within this circle of light is a man on his hands and knees, scratching around.

You walk up to him and ask “What are you doing?”

He replies: “Looking for my keys“.

Naturally you want to help as he seems really quite desperate. It’s late and cold and surely two people looking in the same space is better than one. So for reasons of efficiency – to help you guide your search – you ask: “By they way, where did you drop them?”

The person answers ” I dropped them way over there“, pointing to a place in the dark

You ask :” Then why in the hell you are you looking here?”

The person answers “Because this is the only place I can see!”

The reasons for our collective and generalized failure to explore research areas subject to limited or no light are many. Among the most predominant, exploration in the dark is difficult. Indeed, the rewards of academic research (e.g., publications, grant funding, promotions) appear far more often dispensed to those that find ways of producing efforts within the light that appear to be appropriate (i.e., confirming existing theories, affirming conventional wisdom, bolstering dogma, providing incremental advances).



  • Fisher, B. Mutt & Jeff. Florence Morning News, 3 June 1942, p.
  • en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Streetlight_effect