The death of the scientific genius?
Albert Einstein versus the inventor of the washing machine: what counts as genius?
THE READERS:What you said on irishtimes.com this week
Irish Times Science Editor Dick Ahlstrom wrote on Wednesday that we may never again see a genius of the likes of Einstein, Newton or Galileo. Ahlstrom was reporting on an article in the science journal Nature by Dean Keith Simonton, who believes scientific discoveries in the future will build on current knowledge rather than create new fields of learning, as Galileo did with telescopic astronomy, Newton in the field of physics or Darwin with evolution.
“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,” Ahlstrom wrote.
The article drew wide reaction on irishtimes.com . Here’s a selection of the comments.
Very few independent minds exist in science these days. Most have been retired off or forced out, or kept out, and the manner in which research is conducted through large consortia is not conducive to free thinking.
If you disagree with the consensus you don’t get the grant money, therefore you don’t get tenure. The geniuses these days are found mostly outside academia, struggling to hold down jobs, often blogging in relative obscurity.
Universities have had their day as centres for learning and scholarship; they have become businesses staffed by media-savvy careerists, managed by suits, driven by research and teaching output targets. Many promising young researchers, without tenure, have been let go, thrown on the scrap heap, since the beginning of the recession, while the salaries of the burgeoning executive class continue to climb.
Science journalists, like the majority of those who write for The Irish Times, are destroying science by refusing to tell the full truth, and by acting as PR agents for the college administrators. _Brendan_OBrien
This idea is built on a woeful misunderstanding of the history of science and scientific progress. Until relatively recently, “science” was carried out almost exclusively by independently wealthy white men who mostly worked in isolation. While that social phenomenon no longer exists, you have to admit it’s a pretty nice way to work. You don’t have to rely on your findings for income, and your servants are bringing you your meals. Who wouldn’t discover something significant in such circumstances?
Nowadays, as wealth and opportunity have equalised somewhat, scientific progress is more collaborative but is also more results-based. So while you’re not working alone, you’re not likely to spend years trying to figure out one problem – you’ll have to move on to something more productive, and in the meantime someone else builds on your idea.