Right Question

Asking the right question is usually more productive than trying to prove the right answer.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

What do I mean by the 'right question'?

Let me start with a couple of quotes:
That is the essence of science: ask an impertinent question, and you are on the way to the pertinent answer.

- John Bronowski

An approximate answer to the right question is worth a good deal more than the exact answer to an approximate problem.

- John Tukey

Too often today it seems like the great debates in politics focus on details that miss the essence of the issue. Perhaps this makes for better sound bites, perhaps in helps in fundraising, but it certainly doesn't help us as a society to make important decisions.

What I mean by the 'right question' is a question which focusses our attention back on the big picture. It's the antithesis of the 'zinger' -- of a question that either works to artificially constrain the issue or simply to generate emotion rather than thought.

The most important element of the 'right question' is that when we ask it, we don't already know the answer. It's the question of a scientist speculating over lunch, not the question of a lawyer cross-examining a witness. The right question should lead to thought and research, not to easy answers.

I'm sure my questions won't always live up to this standard, but it's good to have ambitious goals. I hope you'll join me in discussing the issues of the day and trying to ask the right questions.