Friday, July 30, 2004



Many people, especially students, are under the impression that typing a few words into Google qualifies as research. A good antidote to this foolish notion is a story about the scientist Louis Agassiz (1807-1873) told by Ezra Pound in his ABC of Reading (London: Routledge, 1934):
A post-graduate equipped with honours and diplomas went to Agassiz to receive the final and finishing touches. The great man offered him a small fish and told him to describe it.

Post-graduate student: 'That's only a sunfish.'

Agassiz: 'I know that. Write a description of it.'

After a few minutes the student returned with a description of the Ichthus Heliodiplodokus, or whatever term is used to conceal the common sunfish from vulgar knowledge, family of Heliichtherinkus, etc., as found in textbooks of the subject.

Agassiz again told the student to describe the fish.

The student produced a four-page essay. Agassiz then told him to look at the fish. At the end of three weeks the fish was in an advanced state of decomposition, but the student knew something about it.

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