I came across this excellent aphorism in someone's collection of quotes:
Hawkins Law: Progress does not involve replacing one theory that is wrong with one that is right, rather it involves replacing one theory that is wrong with one that is more subtly wrong.
As usual, I tried to determine the source of the quote before using it. I tracked it down to this journal article: Problems with Monitoring Heparin Anticoagulation. The article cites David W. Hawkins, Pharm.D. as the source. I eventually emailed Dr. Hawkins via a institution he is associated with, and received this reply:
I checked with the author of the paper you cited (Henry Bussey) and he claims that I gave him that quote in an unpublished paper I wrote about 25 years ago. I quite frankly don’t remember making the statement. But, if I did, I am sure I was arguing that we often learn more from theories that are flawed but nevertheless insightful than from what is true and already known. Such theories generate debate and deep thinking and propel us to make considerable progress in the discovery of new knowledge and fresh perspective. It is like Darwin’s theory of evolution or the old adage that we learn more from our mistakes than from our correct way of doing things.
Imagine coining an aphorism that becomes widely circulated twenty-five years later and not even know it.
PS Here is a more frequently quoted paraphrase:
Progress does not consist of replacing a theory that is wrong with one that is right. It consists of replacing a theory that is wrong with one that is more subtly wrong.
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