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You can’t teach an old dog new tricks

25 July 2011 No Comment

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What do the following three statements have in common?

Reading in dim lighting will ruin your eyes.

Eating turkey makes you sleepy because it contains tryptophan.

Dynamic light scattering analysis is not suitable for samples that contain aggregated or agglomerated materials.

These three statements all share the fact that they are myths. Untruths.  Poppycock.

I enjoy watching a particular television show with my children called Myth Busters.  On the show, the cast tackle what are considered to be common—and sometimes uncommon—beliefs in order to either confirm them or “bust” them.  The show’s hosts go about it in highly entertaining and educational fashion by drawing on their vast backgrounds in acting as movie stunt men and working on movie special effects.  They also sprinkle in a healthy amount of actual scientific content and theory.

It is good practice to re-evaluate what you believe from time to time and explore the reasons you hold certain beliefs.  You just might find that some of your beliefs or things you hold as “common knowledge” are actually founded in fiction.

Separating fact from fiction
I recently held a web seminar in which I tackled some common myths related to light scattering entitled, “Light Scattering Methods: Separating Fact from Fiction” in which I debunked several commonly-held myths about light scattering technologies.  (You may view a recording of the webinar at: http://www.malvern.com/malvern/ondemand.nsf/launch?openagent&id=SREL-8GTC8F)  I thought it was important to discuss some aspects of light scattering that I know are widely misunderstood because I am asked about them by customers quite often.

If you have any questions about light scattering, laser diffraction or other materials characterization technologies we at Malvern are eager and happy to try to answer or address them for you no matter how basic you think they are.  Some of the best and most challenging questions I’ve been asked by our customers were immediately preceded by the disclaimer, “I know this is a dumb question, but…”   It turns out that those questions are often some of the most important questions to answer and they are often very challenging because they go against conventional wisdom which causes me to formulate what I believe is a truism: There really is no such thing as a dumb question.

Oh, and by the way…you can indeed teach old dogs new tricks.  The Myth Busters proved it when they were able to successfully teach some aging Alaskan malamutes several tricks that were previously not in the dogs’ repertoires.  Maybe there’s a chance for the rest of us also.