Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Science and Sherlock

t’s not often that I write a post based on a TV show. Bear with me on this.

The BBC have just started showing ‘Sherlock’, a contemporary (and very good, so far) update of the Sherlock Holmes stories of Arthur Conan Doyle. And it got me thinking about the inspirations that originally made me want to be a scientist.

Like many people who end up being scientists, I was inspired by stories of the great scientists and their discoveries. I admired Einstein and Feynmann, I used to have undergraduate lectures near where Crick and Watson figured out the structure of DNA - the list goes on.

But my primary inspiration in how to think like a scientist wasn’t a scientist. And he wasn’t even a real person. Holmes’ deductive reasoning has always struck a chord with me and it’s the best written description I know of concerning how to think like a scientist. The focus and precision of it, the attention to detail and the fact Holmes treats it as a craft to be honed.

There are many very good science texts that the aspiring scientist should read. I’d suggest that it’s also worth spending some time reading the Sherlock Holmes stories, for the simple reason that in order to be a scientist you need to think like a scientist!


  1. While I'm no scientist myself, I think I know exactly what you mean. And of course it's important to note that Holmes' chains of reasoning were inspired by Joseph Bell's method of medical diagnosis.

  2. Hi, it's really interesting you say this, cause I have the exact opposite experience of Mr. Holmes :) Whenever I read the stories I get the feeling that this is the prime example of drawing too big conclusions from too little data - the very opposite of being a good scientist.

    Seems like I am the only one feeling that way though, so possibly I'm just a bit jealous of Mr. Holmes being more clever than me.

  3. I take your point :-)
    (there's probably a bit of suspension-of-disbelief required, in that regard).

    It's not so much the specific examples as the approach to deduction/inference that I was thinking about. The precision of thought, the focus and the attention to detail were all things that really grabbed the younger me. The Sherlock Holmes stories are certainly not a manual, but they did get me thinking in good directions about how to be a scientist.