Will There Ever Be Another Scientific Genius?

February 4, 2013
Image Credit: Rob Byron / Shutterstock

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports – Your Universe Online

There may never be another scientific genius on the level of Einstein, Newton, Darwin or Copernicus, one prominent US psychology professor claims in a recently published article.

In that paper, which was published by the journal Nature, Dean Keith Simonton of the University of California-Davis (UC Davis) wrote that individuals who possess what he refers to as the ultimate level of scientific creativity could be an extinct species, primarily because the way that the discipline itself is conducted in the modern era, Rebecca Boyle of PopSci wrote on Friday.

“Other psychologists and even geneticists have argued that modern society is short on astoundingly intelligent members. Pick your reason, from genetic mutations to lack of education access to politics,” she said. “But Simonton is talking about more than just smarts. A true genius, that rare member of society, is a real paradigm-shatterer, a Renaissance human who can completely alter the way we understand the world.”

Geniuses, he told Boyle, are individuals that can come up with “surprising ideas that are not a mere extension of what is already known“¦ There are personality and cognitive traits associated with the ability to do that, but that’s another issue.”

Among those who fit that criteria, according to Simonton, are Albert Einstein, Nicolaus Copernicus, Charles Darwin, Galileo Galilei, Isaac Newton, and Marie Curie, because they either radically altered existing research fields or developed brand new ones of their own — a feat that is rare these days.

“When was the last time that someone forced us to rewrite the textbooks in some domain? Or even create an entirely new domain from scratch? Can you think of anybody since DNA?” he told Boyle. When asked about Stephen Hawking, he said that he was “not so sure” that the renowned British theoretical physicist and cosmologist qualified as a genius under his standards, noting that Hawking is only “a highly creative scientist.”

Athene Donald, professor of experimental physics at the University of Cambridge, wrote in The Telegraph that she agreed with much of what Simonton said — specifically that the kind of drastic scientific advances described by the UC David professor would only emerge thanks to the efforts of large teams, not lone, gifted thinkers.

“A lone researcher transforming the world is harder to imagine. No individual can sit down at a bench and nail down the existence of the Higgs boson; the Large Hadron Collider is needed with its concomitant community of researchers,” Donald explained. “Even the theory predicting the existence of the Higgs boson was not done solely by Peter Higgs. Although his alone was the name attached to the putative particle, several others had similar ideas at around the same time.”

“Part of the problem is that scientific discovery has been so thoroughly picked over during the past 500 years,” added Irish Times Science Editor Dick Ahlstrom. “After a time we had physics, chemistry, biology and astronomy, but much of what followed were just hybrids: biochemistry, astrophysics, astrobiology.”

Is this something that the scientific community should be concerned about?

Donald doesn´t seem to believe so. “The heroic genius was always something of a myth, convenient shorthand to make it easier to make a narrative out of the act of discovery; an exciting tale, but not a very accurate depiction of how science and scientists operate,” she said.

She does seem to have a point, especially in light of reports published earlier this year that Einstein alone may not have been responsible for the mass-energy equivalence theory equation E = mc2.

Writing in The European Physical Journal H, US physicists Stephen Boughn of Haverford College and Tony Rothman of Princeton University said that the equation may have its origins in an obscure Austrian physicist named Friedrich Hasenöhrl. Hasenöhrl´s work in the field of blackbody radiation led him to an idea that was noticeably similar to Einstein´s E = mc2, and that neither man was the first to come up with the idea that mass and energy were related.

Source: redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

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