Academia, Economics, Philosophy, Politics, Problems to Solve, Time, Uncategorized, Writing

No More Newtons

English: Isaac Newton Dansk: Sir Isaac Newton ...

Sir Issac Newton

The man was a recluse, aloof in anything social. He threw himself in his work, staying at his desk for hours and hours and sometimes never slept. He was a professor and had few teaching responsibilities so he was able to disappear and work on physics and astronomy with no one to bother him. He was a scientist by all rights.

I’ve had moments like this. So absorbed with trying to figure out a problem or resolve some issue; maybe something that I might have thought was interesting. I have sat in one place for long periods of time working or just writing. When this happens, time has no place. I disappear.

But, this is rare. I’m a cog in a big wheel, and I can’t just go off the deep end for very long, no matter how fun or enthralling such adventures could be in my work.

In the distant past, a scientist didn’t have to worry about their ‘brand’ or reputation. After all there were so few of them. If you were a scientist, you were the only one in the entire town or city. Money was no problem. You were probably already rich, an aristocrat who didn’t have to run business or anything like that. You had a lot of time on your hands so you spent it by exploring the world around you. There was a freedom back then that is no longer true today. Scientists of old were an elite group.

Today

Though not bad in of itself, it seems now that successful academic science people have become best used within a corporate enterprise. I say enterprise because in fact science is now a matter of business. It is now within this construct of marketing, personal networking, and money-acquiring.

What has happened seems to be me like a saturation of the research field (a lot of them), and through some weird coagulation, some type of pseudo-feudal system has been setup in American academia. The majority of the most successful laboratories are the larger ones (i.e., several technicians, post-docs, tier-ranked scientists, and students), which have built-up over time a great system of resources, both labor and money, and through that body maintain the collective creativity of many, diverse people.

So, today with funding problems in science in this country, the corporate labs can keep moving and making those papers, and so can keep making money.

In the past, there was one scientific question, and 2-3 people working to get the answer. Now, there are 10 questions that maybe a thousand people are working on. Some might say this is good, but thinking about it–this doesn’t mean there are 10 answers for those 10 questions. It could mean there are 200 answers for 10 questions! Since there are only a few top-tier journals, there is a violent rush to beat your neighboring competitors. Because of the speed, each answer might differ by a little bit. A little bit here, a bit there.

In the past, those 2-3 people would answer that question. It might take them a year or two, but they’d produce solid evidence that had no wobbly room. What great concrete and solid foundations they have built.

No more Sir Issac Newtons running around discovering or describing the properties of gravity; not alone at least. It’s kind of a bitter-sweet predicament for modern science. Corporate science appears to be our future.

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4 thoughts on “No More Newtons

  1. Well, you know, I can’t recall the name of the person, but before Einstein made it, someone had said that everything that there is to be discovered has already been discovered and there will be no more big innovations. I’m sure you’re familiar with the quote, it’s famous among scientist, partly because Einstein put that theory to shame.
    However, when you compare some of things Einstein came up with, some of the things we’re learning today, etc… with Newton’s discoveries, there’s two sides to see. One is that some things that Newton and others like him gave us is very basic, when compared to the speed of light. On the other hand, what Newton gave us was highly important to us. The scientists of his time gave us our foundation. There are some who will point out that once you establish the foundation, the rest is just gravy. Granted, gravy is good! When made with a proper rue, and infused with good spices, gravy can make the meal! But without the foundation (meat and potatoes, excuse the cliche), you’re just drinking gravy. Who does that?

    Also, it was your mention of time that initially made me think of Einstein, who is often credited for claiming that time does not exist. That’s a concept I didn’t completely understand, even after reading his biography, until this past year. Of course, just like the man that thought we’d learned all we could really learn, I can’t assume that I’ve completely grasped the time concept that Albert was talking about, simply because I feel good about it.

  2. Matt says:

    The tragic fate of science. GMO crops, knock knock.
    It amazes me how pharmaceuticals, pro-GMO crop people use science to make money rather than using it to improve standard of living. I don’t think by large they don’t even care if these have effects on poor consumers.

    I remember one of the leader of B’ahai faith said: religion without science is superstition, science without religion of materialism. the thing about faith/religion can be argued but it scary how we fuel our materialism (rather than curiousityy of the universe we’re living in) with science. Materialism made Science its slave.

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