Revolutions in scientific thinking are always difficult – but perhaps one reason why we may see fewer of them in the future is because of the highly professional way in which modern science is organised. It takes a lot of courage to challenge conventionally accepted views, and it needs a certain amount of stamina to constantly battle those who want to protect the status quo. Mavericks do not do well in large organisations, which is what some scientific fields have become.
Progress in science needs researchers who are not afraid – or who are encouraged and rewarded – to ask awkward and difficult questions of theory and of new data. It is easier to question mainstream views if you are independently wealthy, as many scientists in previous ages tended to be. But I wonder how many of us would do so if we were employed by the state and our career progression depended on the validation of our peers?
Mahsood has a point here; you only have to look at the computer industry to see that the bigger a corporation gets the less likely it is to do something genuinely innovative. But it strikes me he’s overlooking the potential for unaffiliated independent scientists to work together in ways that wouldn’t be funded by cautious or conservative governments or foundations – what about all the DIY biohackers, for example?
Sure, there’s only so much they can do alone, but the internet means they have all the tools they need to network with their fellow enthusiasts, share information, collaborate… so maybe we’re not seeing the end of science as Mahsood would have it, but the end of state-funded science (at least for non-military applications). You could argue that clades of unaffiliated ‘rogue’ scientists would introduce a large element of danger, especially with regard to genetic or viral research… but then state-funded establishments have made their fair share of screw-ups, too, despite (or perhaps because of) the baroque architecture of procedural regulations. [image by neys]
But hey, let’s think positive here: at least science is opening up new channels for international diplomacy.