-Die Hard (1988) (Yes, really.)
This recent editorial in Nature (subscription required) complains that truly groundbreaking, paradigm-shifting scientists like Newton and Einstein can no longer exist in the current world of science. The author, Dean Keith Simonton of UC Davis’s Department of Psychology, laments that there are no entirely new fields of science to be founded, nor great breakthroughs to be had from relative laymen. This is not a new argument, but understanding the culture underlying it is critical to knowing one’s context in the larger body of human knowledge.
I want to take a moment to discuss the idea, and the portions with which I sympathize (the ability of an individual to accomplish something enormous) and the portions I find preposterous (a profound nostalgia.) Ultimately, though, the article helps to elucidate something very important: the great scientific achievements of the past millennium were almost entirely accomplished by people who would, by current standards, still be graduate students or (at most) postdocs. The ever-increasing times before young scientists become independent faculty mean that the current scientific establishment is taking on the structure of a pyramid scheme.
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