Good Research

Eddie Zhang
3 min readDec 17, 2023

is broadly applicable, simple and elegant, and is persistent.

EDIT: It will also likely be very surprising.

GPT-4’s argument:

Good research stands as the cornerstone of scientific progress, academic discourse, and informed policy-making. The pursuit of knowledge, though varied in its methods and disciplines, is unified in its reliance on certain defining characteristics of what constitutes ‘good research.’ Chief among these characteristics is the broad applicability of findings, the simplicity and elegance of explanations, and the enduring nature of conclusions. This essay posits that research embodying these traits not only advances understanding in a profound way but also provides the foundation for lasting contributions to human knowledge.

First, the criterion of broad applicability ensures that research transcends the narrow bounds of its origin. When investigators address questions that resonate beyond their specific contexts, they affirm the interconnectedness of knowledge domains. Discoveries in fundamental physics, for instance, have implications for everything from cosmology to nanotechnology. This kind of cross-dimensional relevance demonstrates the power of research to serve as a versatile tool for a gamut of applications, fostering technological innovations and potent cross-disciplinary synergies. Thus, research with broad applicability is not just an academic exercise; it is a lever for holistic progress that taps into the universal thirst for problem-solving across human endeavors.

Secondly, the simplicity and elegance of good research embody the principle famously known as Occam’s Razor: entities should not be multiplied without necessity. In this light, the best research can distill complexity into understandable theories and models, trading convolution for clarity without sacrificing accuracy. Elegance here does not imply a lack of depth or rigor; rather, it conveys an intuitive graspability that demystifies the subject matter. This characteristic is epitomized in Einstein’s theory of relativity, which, at its core, is beautifully simple in connecting time and space through the speed of light, despite the intricate mathematics involved. Simple, elegant theories facilitate wider comprehension, enhance teaching, and encourage further inquiry, acting as beacons that guide the trajectory of future investigations.

Finally, the element of persistence attests to research’s true caliber. Indeed, the best research withstands the test of time, proving robust against the waves of new data, critical re-evaluation, and paradigm shifts. This endurance is a testament to the methodological rigor and foresight with which such research is conducted. Examples include the foundational principles of genetics outlined by Gregor Mendel, which remain integral to modern biology, and the persistent utility of the periodic table in chemistry. Longevity in research is the hallmark of work that reaches beyond the transient, offering up findings that echo throughout the ages and remain relevant even as the world evolves.

Detractors might argue that the search for broad applicability could encourage superficiality, simple explanations could discourage nuanced analysis, and a focus on persistent findings could stifle innovation. However, these criticisms misunderstand the nuanced balance good research strikes. The aim is not to oversimplify or generalize at the expense of detail and complexity but to find underlying patterns that resonate universally. The search for simplicity is not a call to ignore the multifaceted nature of reality but to provide models that serve as starting points for deeper exploration. Persistence is not about resisting change but about providing a solid framework upon which to build and refine understanding.

In conclusion, the assertion that good research is broadly applicable, simple and elegant, and is persistent holds merit not as an aspirational platitude but as a foundational philosophy of scientific inquiry. These characteristics render research a potent force for innovation and a reflective lens through which humanity can understand itself and the universe. Such research not only enriches the present but also sows the seeds for intellectual harvests that will feed the future thinkers, leaders, and innovators who stand on the shoulders of the giants before them. It is this legacy that exemplifies the transcendent value of good research — nurturing a tradition that perpetually seeks truth, beauty, and utility in its purest forms.

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