Is Scientific Genius Extinct?

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Modern-day science has little room for the likes of Galileo, who first used the telescope to study the sky, or Charles Darwin, who put forward the theory of evolution, argues a psychologist and expert in scientific genius.
Dean Keith Simonton of the University of California, Davis, says that just like the ill-fated dodo, scientific geniuses like these men have gone extinct.

“Future advances are likely to build on what is already known rather than alter the foundations of knowledge,” Simonton writes in a commentary published in today’s (Jan. 31) issue of the journal Nature.

An End to Momentous Leaps Forward?

For the past century, no truly original disciplines have been created; instead new arrivals are hybrids of existing ones, such as astrophysics or biochemistry. It has also become much more difficult for an individual to make groundbreaking contributions, since cutting-edge work is often done by large, well-funded teams, he argues.

What’s more, almost none of the natural sciences appear ripe for a revolution.

“The core disciplines have accumulated not so much anomalies as mere loose ends that will be tidied up one way or another,” he writes.
Only theoretical physics shows signs of a “crisis,” or accumulation of findings that cannot be explained, that leaves it open for a major paradigm shift, he writes.
Written By: Wynne Parry
continue to source article at news.discovery.com

17 COMMENTS

  1. This article seems to commit the same fallacy RD brilliantly undercut when he likened seeing phyla emerging in the Cambrian but only species today to seeing a tree nowadays only growing twigs when once it grew boughs. Don’t knock sub-disciplines, or apparent fusions of disciplines; further, maybe the reason we don’t have “an Einstein” nowadays is because there are so many more scientists than there were back then, so being “the best” is harder now. (What’s more, because we now know so much more of the general framework of how the world works than we did back then, new findings will be somewhat less radical against that backdrop.)

  2. Momentous leaps will always be made, but I suspect we will be less and less inclined to believe they were the work of a single individual. Einstein may have been a “genius”, but relativity was ripe for the picking. Same with Darwin and evolution.

  3. In reply to #3 by Keyboards:

    Momentous leaps will always be made, but I suspect we will be less and less inclined to believe they were the work of a single individual. Einstein may have been a “genius”, but relativity was ripe for the picking. Same with Darwin and evolution.

    Agreed. Poincare and Hendrik Antoon Lorentz seemed to have all of the pieces right in front of them to nail down Special Relativity at least.

  4. In reply to #4 by blitz442:

    In reply to #3 by Keyboards:

    Momentous leaps will always be made, but I suspect we will be less and less inclined to believe they were the work of a single individual. Einstein may have been a “genius”, but relativity was ripe for the picking. Same with Darwin and evolution.

    Agreed. Poincare and Hendrik Antoon Lorentz seemed to have all of the pieces right in front of them to nail down Special Relativity at least.

    I just note for reasons I know not why at the moment that Lorentz had the pieces horribly misaligned and neither of them had a clue about their ultimate meaning in the General Theory of Relativity.

    Otherwise I agree with Jos Gibbons: I know some people who were staggeringly intelligent in physics graduate school. People who I suspect would stand out if they were not in huge research groups.

  5. Over time, scientific fields will become more and more specialized. We may not see those huge leaps that throw open doors to new fields, but people will still have brilliant accomplishments in their field. It just may be beyond public understanding or notice.

  6. The genius required in humanity today would be in the studies of politics, commerce and the human psyche. We require a global government promoting global goals before greed, poverty and slavery are erased from global societies. The individual or group to solve these devastating socio-political problems will truly be enlightened beyond genius.

  7. Even Newton knew he was standing on the shoulders of giants. All genius builds on what went before. We are in the most fast growing scientific age ever known to the human race!

    And you think we lack genius?

  8. Perhaps the internet will reveal how genius many of us are and that, but for trying, it is less rare than we think. Had we the internet in Darwin’s day, he may have found he wasn’t the first to think it, just the first to go through the hassle of getting it published. Einstein may have Googled E=mc2 only to find out someone sitting on their couch at home thought of it first and wrote it in their blog.

    As an ad man, what use to be great ideas in a bubble of isolation turn out to be done to death. One thing the internet has taught me is that my “great ideas” are quite common, now that people have an easy way to be heard and share their ideas. Being original is getting harder, now that we all have access to everyone’s ear.

    The old saying, it’s all been done before, has probably been done before.

  9. This author is simply ignorant, so can only see breakthroughs which have been pointed out in history books!

    There have been more breakthroughs in the last hundred years than in the last 20,000.

    With wider education, extensive, quickly available publications, and a larger population, individuals do not stand out in isolation as they once did.

    Breakthroughs are now made by teams, so it is mainly in the air-head media that “celebrity” is widely publicly celebrated.

    Many works of genius are simply unacknowledged. Some are put on hold or thrown away, by unimaginative business or politicians.

  10. This is a nothing story. Dean Simonton is equating genius with fame, but there is no connection between them.

    As anyone who has looked at modern ‘celebrity’ culture knows people today are ‘celebrated’ for merely putting themselves in front of our faces.

    Discovery News (the original publishers) are a mass media title. Like all such media Discovery News thrives on celebrity stories and flattering their readers egos. Thus; any story which pumps up celebrity culture and demeans alternative views of society is promoted. In addition, poorly educated audience members are having their egos stroked. Don’t understand the standard model? Not to worry even scientists struggle with that one!

    I am sorely tempted to write yet another diatribe against modern media. But let’s be fair: Journalism isn’t a profession.

    We need to look at ourselves. Media is the way it is because that’s what we buy.

    If, like me, you’re thinking: Actually, I don’t buy that kind of media. Then what is to be done about those who do?

    In the end our media reflect who we are. If we’re doormats then media publishers take our money and thumb their noses at our concerns.

    It seems to me that the answers are: talk, and education. But I ‘ve run out of time to detail those points.

    Peace.

  11. Frankly, I couldn’t care less whether there is room for individual genius or not. The facts are that science has progressed more in the last 400 years than in the whole rest of the history of humanity.

    My feeling is the same as to whether Shakespeare was written by a committee, the Bard or some other individual. It just doesn’t matter to me. The plays are brilliant whatever!

  12. I feel like the only true fanboy.

    Kurzweil, Dawkins, Pinker, Hawking, Feynman, moving on… it’s clear Edison and Tesla had no respect for each others historical potential. Was Galileo valued properly? We are always on the verge of ignorance, and necessarily ignorant of our greats. They occupy banal stations like Chairs, at profane institutions called Universities.

    Although, I did have fun reading this in the voice of Karl Pilkington.

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