Geniuses have become 'extinct'


Situation vacant: A genius. Age or sex not important and any scientific discipline accepted. Applicants must be able to support their claims of genius with groundbreaking scientific advancement and original thought. Ordinary discoveries will not be taken as proof of genius, and team-based submissions will not be considered. Applicants may apply in writing….

The search for a new genius is a want-ad unlikely to be filled in the near future according to an article published this evening in the science journal Nature. 

Its author, Dean Keith Simonton, believes that we are unlikely ever again to find a genius of the calibre of Einstein or Newton or Galileo. Scientific genius, he suggests is extinct.

He claims to hold some authority on the issue. “I have devoted more than three decades to studying scientific genius, the highest level of scientific creativity,” he says. “But the very phenomenon that I investigate might have actually ceased to exist.”

Clever researchers deliver creative scientific discoveries and ideas daily that are “original and useful”, he says. “The scientific genius, however, offers ideas that are original, useful and surprising.”

These are the findings that deliver “momentous leaps”, says Simonton, who is professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis. These are no mere extensions of already established expertise. “The scientific genius conceives of a novel expertise.”

Geniuses are the ones who have founded new scientific disciplines, for example Galileo’s creation of telescopic astronomy or Einstein’s revelation of the relationship between energy and matter. Charles Darwin described how evolution works at a time when most biologists held that life forms were traced back to biblical creation, Simonton says.

Part of the problem is that scientific discovery has been so thoroughly picked-over during the past 500 years. After a time we had physics, chemistry, biology and astronomy, but much of what followed were just hybrids – biochemistry, astrophysics, astrobiology, he says.

“Future advances are likely to build on what is already known rather than alter the foundations of knowledge,” he writes. And don’t try to include the Higgs Boson, “the existence of which was predicted decades ago”.

This did not mean that scientific progress would cease, nor that science was becoming dumbed down, he said. Brilliant scientists were always encouraged to introduce new paradigms or to attempt to devise original scientific disciplines. “It is just that such innovations seemed less likely to catch on,” Simonton maintains.

“Of course I hope that my thesis is incorrect,” he concludes. “It only takes one new scientific genius to prove me wrong.”

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