Students have started to tell me that they do not want or need to think about science. Those concerned were
undergraduate and graduate students pursuing degrees in various biomedical sciences. The thinking expected
was entirely normal for science, involving the synthesis of information, problem analysis, calculation, the
solution and analysis of practical problems and question development, for example. I have not solicited
expressions of reluctance, but I have attempted to elicit more information from those students volunteering
While this explicit reluctance to think is new to me, there are reports of similar observations [1-3]. Of course,
we are all reluctant to think sometimes, but the new willingness of students to express it implies a more
profound problem. If education is intended in part to train students how to learn and think for themselves ,
the reluctance of students to practise this compromises the value of education. For those students intending to
practise medicine, work as scientists, formulate health policy, teach or engage in any of the many other
occupations that might suit biomedical scientists, an ability to think effectively and efficiently is essential .
Students must be helped to prevent a reluctance to think becoming a habit.
Effective thinking relies on both the ability and the willingness to think . Moreover, the ability to think
necessarily implies a recognition of the possibility of error , which is relatively uncommon among students.
There is a considerable difference between the thought patterns of practising scientists and clinicians and those
of students. It takes time for thought and practice to develop the questioning, analysis, pattern matching,
deduction and educated guesswork that contribute to thinking [7-9]. This is reinforced by a Xhosa speaking
South African student of speech and hearing therapy who wrote "... I fail because I have to learn more than the
words of your teaching - I have to give back to you the way you think. This is what you are really testing, this
is how you assess my 'intelligence'. You test to see whether I have learnt to think like you yet" . Even if
students are willing to think, they may not be as capable as we might hope because they may not have had
enough time to develop the necessary thinking skills.
The reluctance of students to think prompts at least four questions. These relate to the significance of the
reluctance, the reasons for refusing, the consequences of refusing and how we might encourage students to be
more willing to think better. I consider each of these in turn.