Writing Doc’s Codicil

This book did not go in the direction I originally thought it would. I began writing Doc’s Codicil in 2006 with a vague idea that I could introduce laymen to one or two principals of scientific inquiry and, in a general way, discuss how to handle ideas. I hoped to do this with sufficient humor to keep my readers engaged. I started with the notion that it should be easy to tell the difference between good and bad ideas, if only the people I disagreed with would take the time to think.

From that misplaced certainty sprang Doofus, The Cow Flop Fairy. The character seemed like fun and a great idea to personify the source of bad ideas as a good-natured, enthusiastic, promoter of wishful thinking and bad judgement.

In writing about mishandling ideas, I drew from my own experience. I once told my sons that they didn’t have to worry about making mistakes. It happens. Besides, I’d already made more mistakes than they were ever likely to make. A year later I told them that I hadn’t meant to imply that it was a contest.

As I reviewed my life, I discovered that some of my stupidest sounding ideas had turned out well, in fact much better than I realized at the time, while a few ideas that sounded good at first had led to nothing, or worse, had gotten me in trouble. That reminded me of an aphorism in the scientific community: if everyone agrees with the results of your experiments, the work probably wasn’t worth doing. It’s the ideas that sound hare-brained that often lead to the most important discoveries, and the results proving them right are rigorously questioned for years.

That realization complicated my task, and the book wanders a bit because of it. Those chapters that stray from the plot were kept in the story because they contributed significantly to the humor or they had important lessons of their own.

I could not have written the book without the longstanding patience of my wife, the advice and encouragement of instructors, and the guidance of my editor.



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