After writing about gap analysis for the Pharma of the Future? blog, I went in search of an example that would illustrate the problem of defining “gaps” and stumbled on a piece called Reading and Guilty Pleasure in the New York Times. The writer, Gary Gutting, describes 2 assumptions underlying the concept of a guilty pleasure: some books are objectively inferior to others, and “better” books are generally not very enjoyable. So, are “better” books actually better? Gutting says that in discussions of this sort, people will often adopt a relativist position:
Are some books objectively better than others, or are literary preferences ultimately just matters of subjective taste? In our democratic society, many take a relativist position: you can’t argue about taste, because there are no standards that allow us to establish higher quality as an objective fact. If I think that Proust’s “In Search of Lost Time” is a magnificent probing of the nature of time and subjectivity and you think it is overwritten self-indulgent obscurantism, we both have a right to our opinions. So doesn’t it follow that each opinion is only relatively right (right for me, right for you)?
In science, and in dealing with regulatory agencies, we don’t have the luxury of adopting a relativist position to advance a thesis. And yet, how many of our arguments are based on an implicit belief in the relative value of empirical findings versus model-based evidence? Professor Gutting’s article is a useful reminder of what is going on behind the scenes in our mind as we formulate and consider arguments for or against an issue.
How well we flesh out the details in support of a thesis and how well we are able to move decision makers is what distinguishes a well-crafted briefing book or regulatory filing from wishful thinking.
If that knocked your socks off, take a look at our next cool topic, Inventors and innovation. And if you want to peruse all of the previous sock-knocking blog entries, visit the Knocked My Socks Off archive. (links to another blog site)
Gutting G. Reading and guilty pleasure, from The Stone online blog. New York Times. June 21, 2012. http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/21/reading-and-guilty-pleasure/?ref=sunday. Accessed Sept 6, 2012.