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Is the Era of Groundbreaking Science Over? 470

Posted by Soulskill
from the just-until-zefram-cochrane dept.
An anonymous reader writes "In decades and centuries past, scientific genius was easy to quantify. Those scientists who were able to throw off the yoke of established knowledge and break new ground on their own are revered and respected. But as humanity, as a species, has gotten better at science, and the basics of most fields have been refined over and over, it's become much harder for any one scientist to make a mark on the field. There's still plenty we don't know, but so much of it is highly specialized that many breakthroughs are understood by only a handful. Even now, the latest generation is more likely to be familiar with the great popularizers of science, like Neil deGrasse Tyson, Bill Nye, and Carl Sagan, than of the researchers at the forefront of any particular field. "...most scientific fields aren't in the type of crisis that would enable paradigm shifts, according to Thomas Kuhn's classic view of scientific revolutions. Simonton argues that instead of finding big new ideas, scientists currently work on the details in increasingly specialized and precise ways." Will we ever again see a scientist get recognition like Einstein did?"
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Is the Era of Groundbreaking Science Over?

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  • stupid. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @09:29PM (#42804069)

    Is the Era of Groundbreaking Science Over?
    No.

    • Re:stupid. (Score:5, Funny)

      by ozmanjusri (601766) <aussie_bob@nOsPAm.hotmail.com> on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @09:36PM (#42804119) Journal

      Yes.

        Everything that can be invented has been invented.

      • by Taco Cowboy (5327) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @09:42PM (#42804167) Journal

        In the late 1990's someone proclaimed that there was nothing more to invent, and he was proven to be very very wrong ...

        Now someone is trying the same thing, again, while tweaking the wording a little bit, by adding "groundbreaking" in the proclamation

        It gonna be as wrong as that guy in the late 1990's.

        Science progresses on.

        Groundbreaking or not, that's not the issue.

        For new breakthrough in science always "stand" on the shoulders of all the previous scientific findings

        Furthermore, how do you define "groundbreaking" ?

        Does one actually have to "break some ground" to be groundbreaking ?

        How about some new ideas being applied to older subjects, which yield new findings ?

        Would that be counted as "groundbreaking" ??

        • by Nefarious Wheel (628136) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @09:56PM (#42804247) Journal

          Indeed -- if you invent stepping discs, or the transfer booth, or even an economical and practical flying car, you *will* get recognition.

          • by slick7 (1703596)

            Indeed -- if you invent stepping discs, or the transfer booth, or even an economical and practical flying car, you *will* get recognition.

            You'll get recognition all right, ask Stanley Meyer how that worked out for him.
            It's not about inventing something new, it's about bringing it to fruition. Expect delays, expect opposition, expect heartbreak.

          • by girlintraining (1395911) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @11:32PM (#42804895)

            Indeed -- if you invent stepping discs, or the transfer booth, or even an economical and practical flying car, you *will* get recognition.

            Yes, you'll be sued into poverty and then watch as some rich bastard takes your beautiful invention and ruins it. Nobody I know who has a creative / inventive nature is doing anything in this country because they know the only recognition they'll get will be from the large companies that own this country and control its laws. They will take everything and leave you with nothing.

            Anyone with a good idea is well advised to flee to somewhere the United States' and its notions about intellectual property aren't going to interfere. China is right now (literally) knocking down mountains and building cities at a breakneck pace. Their economy is driven because they copy, then improve, in an iterative process without regard for intellectual property considerations. As a result, many of the world's goods and services now flow out of China. Yes, we may have invented those things, but they took them and made them better. Why can't we do the same? Oh right... Corporations.

            There's plenty of talent right here to make that next big thing. And it's gone to ground because of the flying hunter-killers with lawyer bombs on patrol, looking for them. Legal theft. Small wonder innovation's ground to a halt in this country...

            • by jacksonyee (590218) on Wednesday February 06, 2013 @03:03AM (#42805901) Homepage

              I've been living in China teaching English for two years now, and I can tell you that the locals themselves are quite wary of bad copies coming out of their own factories. The Chinese are indeed good at copying things, but not all of the copies necessarily work so well, and the few that do are still far behind most of the originals in one area or another.

              Now, if you want to talk about the Japanese or the Germans for taking our original inventions and making them better, then I'm with you all the way. The Chinese? They still have a while to go before overcoming their issues, especially when the cheapskate culture is so widespread around here.

              • by wvmarle (1070040)

                China, interestingly, doesn't really have brands. There are really few local brands that have any significant recognition (and virtually none with any recognition outside of China). This makes the products fully interchangeable: brands add value. You pay more for a Porsche because it's built by the Porsche factory. You wouldn't pay the same amount for a no-name brand sports car even if it looks and behaves just like a Porsche.

                So what's left for the factories to compete on, is price. Consumers can not distin

            • by khallow (566160) on Wednesday February 06, 2013 @04:53AM (#42806277)

              Anyone with a good idea is well advised to flee to somewhere the United States' and its notions about intellectual property aren't going to interfere. China is right now (literally) knocking down mountains and building cities at a breakneck pace. Their economy is driven because they copy, then improve, in an iterative process without regard for intellectual property considerations. As a result, many of the world's goods and services now flow out of China. Yes, we may have invented those things, but they took them and made them better. Why can't we do the same? Oh right... Corporations.

              Let me get this right. Someone is going to "flee" the US which at least has significant protection for inventions and go to China which institutionalizes the theft of IP.

        • by Kell Bengal (711123) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @10:01PM (#42804281)
          I think the argument that the author is trying to make is that the scope of new work is more tightly focussed than before. There have been relatively few new 'fundamental' discoveries in physics, compared to refinements and increasing precision. While we are always inventing new ways to use physical laws, the laws themselves haven't changed substantially since quantum mechanics became well understood (proposed nearly 100 years ago).

          Once upon a time, people didn't understand how many physical systems worked; the motion of galaxies and the intricacies of light interferometry were classic examples - a single scientist could make a new discovery, Now, we have good reliable models for their behaviour. The sorts of physics experiments that discover novel phenomena about how the mechanisms of the universe functions require teams and teams of physicists.

          There are relatively few outright mysteries that remain - the Higgs Boson and the effects shaping the inflation of the universe (eg. dark mater) are classic examples of our time. I suspect that eventually, we will have a coherent explanation for all observable physical phenomena - it's not over yet by a long shot, but one day we'll figure it out.
          • by icebike (68054) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @11:01PM (#42804703)

            I think the argument that the author is trying to make is that the scope of new work is more tightly focussed than before. There have been relatively few new 'fundamental' discoveries in physics, compared to refinements and increasing precision.

            Agreed, the is what he is talking about, but was it not always thus?

            When Mendel was laying the foundations of Genetics, the idea of DNA was unknown.
            He was working at the edge of knowledge, with no possible way forward.
            He described WHAT happened but could not even approach the HOW.

            Now, DNA pretty much defines Genetics as a science. We understand the HOW somewhat better.
            At least we know where to look.

            There must be more questions that we aren't even beginning to answer. WHY, for one (Why dna, Why here)
            WHERE for another. Did DNA originate here? If we find life on mars, will it have DNA?
            Or will it be totally different [gizmodo.com]?

            "To the best of our knowledge, the original chemicals chosen by known life do not constitute a unique set; other choices could have been made, and maybe were made if life started elsewhere many times."

            Paul Davies [dailygalaxy.com].

            Lots left to do.
            Science doesn't know everything. Science Knows it doesn't know everything. Otherwise, they'd Stop!. [youtube.com]

          • by TapeCutter (624760) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @11:49PM (#42805015) Journal

            we will have a coherent explanation for all observable physical phenomena

            Contrary to popular belief we have no explaination for gravity, spacetime, or the other fundamental forces (eg: try and define "time" without the definition becoming circular). What we have are models that predict how these "miracles" behave and interact in most situations.

            • by mysidia (191772) on Wednesday February 06, 2013 @02:42AM (#42805853)

              Contrary to popular belief we have no explaination for gravity, spacetime, or the other fundamental forces

              False. We have no falsifiable, measurable, or experimentally verifiable explanation for gravity, spacetime, or other fundamental forces.

              Explanations abound, but there is almost inherently no way that science can test any coherent explanation that came up.

              As far as good scientists are concerned... if you can't measure something, and you can't test it -- then it is irrelevent.

              It may be true or false -- you don't know -- it falls into the realm of 'belief' or 'religion' instead of science, if it is not testable.

              • falsifiable, measurable, or experimentally verifiable

                Sorry, I assumed people would insert those caveats themselves, I was thinking about scientific explanations not the type of explanation that is extracted from the arse of a preacher. This is because I don't see religion as an explanation of anything, I see it as speculation about everything. There's nothing wrong with speculation, it's only becomes a problem when it's mistaken for truth.

            • by Sique (173459)
              Time is a mechanism to explain causality. The flow of time is determined by non-reversable processes, like entropy increasing or matter being ingested into black holes.
              • Er, you can scratch one of those things off the list. Matter being ingested into a black hole is known to be reversible. Stephen Hawking worked out the math to describe it, and it was so unexpected, it got named after him. Black holes can emit Hawking Radiation.

                Entropy, on the other hand, is a prime example of one of the areas where groundbreaking science is still possible. Nobody knows what entropy is. There is no model of entropy itself. It's a term in an equation, the value for which is looked up i

          • by ceoyoyo (59147) on Wednesday February 06, 2013 @12:58AM (#42805349)

            There have been relatively few new 'fundamental' discoveries in physics, compared to refinements and increasing precision. While we are always inventing new ways to use physical laws, the laws themselves haven't changed substantially since quantum mechanics became well understood (proposed nearly 100 years ago).

            Let's see... the idea of a quantum field theory, 1920's to 1950's. Quantum electrodynamics, 1950s. Gauge theory, 1950s-70s. Quantum electrodynamics, 1950s. Quantum chromodynamics, 1960s-70s+. Grand synthesis/standard model, 1970s to today.

            Up until the 30s we didn't know about the neutron, which makes up about half of everything around you, including you. Until the mid to late 60s we didn't know about quarks or gluons, which actually make up almost all of everything around you. Even then we hadn't the faintest idea that we'd only discovered a third of the matter particles (well, a third of the ones we know about now. We're pretty sure there are more we haven't discovered yet).

            Physics right up until the present day has been a non-stop factory of fundamental discoveries compared to other eras in history. The period between Newton and Einstein wasn't exactly devoid of progress, but it was also three hundred years.

            I guess you're right though, the laws of physics haven't changed much since quantum mechanics became well understood, proposed nearly 100 years ago and last modified... well, we're still arguing about how exactly to modify them, but one of the last big revolutions requiring modification was the confirmation of neutrino mass, in 1998.

            Of course, we know it's still wrong. Dark matter (probably), dark energy and the incompatibility between the standard model and general relativity means we still don't know what's going on.

            The original poster's thesis is something silly that people, particularly non-scientists, have been saying for a long time, quite often right before some revolution shakes everything up. The particular example you chose to support his point is one a lot of people, including me, would choose to use to demolish it.

          • by mysidia (191772)

            I suspect that eventually, we will have a coherent explanation for all observable physical phenomena

            Most likely we'll have a coherent (but wrong) explanation, as usual.

            And in a couple hundred years, there will be someone with more groundbreaking work :)

        • by goombah99 (560566) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @10:13PM (#42804365)

          The people you are thinking of are Lord Kelvin and Michelson. Michelson quoted lord Kelvin as saying all future science is in the 5th decimal place. But, as Michelson went on to explain, he didn't mean everthing left was about dotting i's and crossing t's. He meant it was unlikely that classica physics was profoundly wrong in the realms we observe and inhabit but there could be great physics out there. It just had to be lurking in the shadows-- out in the 5th decimal place. And sure enough it was. ANd still is. Just the other day someone measured the radius of a proton using muons instead of the usual electrons and it was wrong by 4%. That's absurdly huge. COuld be some new physcis is about to move into the light.

          • by TapeCutter (624760) on Wednesday February 06, 2013 @12:22AM (#42805213) Journal

            He meant it was unlikely that classical physics was profoundly wrong in the realms we observe and inhabit but there could be great physics out there.

            "John, when people thought the earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the earth was spherical, they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together." - Asimov, The relativity of wrong [tufts.edu].

        • In the late 1990's someone proclaimed that there was nothing more to invent, and he was proven to be very very wrong ...

          In the late 1890's people were proclaiming that there was hardly any more physics left to study, and universities were starting to actively discourage students from studying physics, as almost everything was solved.

          Then Einstein came along with relativity, and quantum physics happened, and physicists are still trying to figure out the impact of all of that.

          But one point TFA makes about "it's become much harder for any one scientist to make a mark on the field" is interesting. When you look at papers pub

      • Everything that can be invented has been invented.

        Does that mean that we can close the US Patent Office now? The fewer bullshit software and business method patents that get approved going forward the better.

      • by symbolset (646467) *

        Since nobody else here is going to do it (/., you disappoint me again), the quote you are looking for is:

        Everything that can be invented has been invented.

        This appears to be an urban legend. The quote is often misattributed to Charles Holland Duell [wikipedia.org] who in 1902 said:

        In my opinion, all previous advances in the various lines of invention will appear totally insignificant when compared with those which the present century will witness. I almost wish that I might live my life over again to see the wonders which are at the threshold.

        Or perhaps Patent Officer Henry Ellsworth [wikipedia.org] who in his 1843 report to Congress said:

        The advancement of the arts, from year to year, taxes our credulity and seems to presage the arrival of that period when human improvement must end.

        That latter quote being twisted and misattributed to Duell after the fact also.

  • by DavidClarkeHR (2769805) <david.clarke@nosPAM.hrgeneralist.ca> on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @09:35PM (#42804115)
    Well, this article is right. And will remain right, until the next big breakthrough.

    At which point, it'll probably be irrelevant, so ...
  • by stoicio (710327) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @09:36PM (#42804117) Journal

    Isn't this like saying we now know everything major, so only minor things are left to discover.

    Seems a bit dubious since there are massive voids in our scientific knowledge in many fields.

    And, didn't we just find a Higgs Boson(s) recently?

    • While I don't agree with the article (or at least the summary) I don't think the Higgs Boson was the ground breaking science they're talking about. Finding it didn't change our view or model of how things worked. It reinforced it. Now the idea that time moves at different rates related to mass and acceleration. That's groundbreaking. Of course even that was dependent on numerous other little advances in observation. Until you can measure the speed of light accurately you're never going to wonder why i
  • PCR (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Wild_dog! (98536) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @09:36PM (#42804121)

    The guy who came up with PCR while driving on the road to Santa Cruz California would make the question in the Title completely silly and irrelevant.

    Is slashdot becoming like yahoo or something? Snazzy titles to suck people like me in, but once I consider what the title is saying, it is really just absurd.

  • by swampfriend (2629073) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @09:36PM (#42804123)
    There was just a question the other day asking if we were past the age of invention. I believe one of the tags on it was "retarded."
  • by trout007 (975317) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @09:38PM (#42804133)

    I'm pretty sure whoever figures that one out will be famous.

  • No (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Colonel Korn (1258968) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @09:38PM (#42804141)

    Is groundbreaking science over? No, not remotely. Is the era where groundbreaking science is publicized and sort of vaguely understood by a lot of non-scientists over? Probably not, but that's at least closer to the truth.

    • Re:No (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Colonel Korn (1258968) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @09:40PM (#42804161)

      Is groundbreaking science over? No, not remotely. Is the era where groundbreaking science is publicized and sort of vaguely understood by a lot of non-scientists over? Probably not, but that's at least closer to the truth.

      Sorry to self reply, but another thought: the only reason people ask this stupid question or make the implied statement is that there's just do damn much groundbreaking science done today. Yes, it's harder to stand out than it was a couple hundred years ago. No, it's not because progress is slower - it's just ubiquitous. Science is more amazing than ever and in a hundred years it will be more amazing yet.

      Shit, I think I'm arguing for the existence of something analogous to Kurzweil's moronic singularity.

  • by phantomfive (622387) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @09:39PM (#42804145) Journal
    Ask people who are famous scientists, and you'll get Einstein, Newton, and maybe a few modern ones like Watson and Crick, or Stephen Hawking (who incidentally probably IS more famous than any of those listed in the summary, and also has been at the forefront of his field).

    So you have two big ones separated by a few centuries, then a scattering of scientists who are in the modern era. Going by that timeframe, we're highly likely to see groundbreaking research by a new famous scientist in the next 300 years.

    Also, Edison was a GREAT scientist (j/k, j/k, have mercy, mods!)
  • Hindsight (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Slippery_Hank (2035136) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @09:39PM (#42804153)
    The greatest scientists of our generation will not be truly known until many years from now, when we can look back on the contributions with a greater understanding of the truth.
  • by joe_frisch (1366229) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @09:42PM (#42804171)

    There IS ground breaking science. Dark matter, dark energy, experimental measurements of cosmological inflation: our picture of the large scale structure of the universe has changed dramatically. Higgs bosons, neutrino mass: our picture of the microscopic structure of the universe has changed. We've found hundreds of extra-solar planets. We've built giant particle accelerators and telescopes, huge computers and data networks, peta-watt and X-ray lasers. We've sequenced the DNA of many creatures, including some that are extinct - and which we may bring back.We have pictures from the surface of a moon of Saturn, and an car driving around Mars.

    • So very very true!

      I literally stayed home all last year (maybe a month outside tops) after leaving full time work, decided to dedicate the year to myself and leisure (damn first world problems! I'm only 29) and ended up spending over 12 hours every day online trying to keep up to date on the new breakthroughs and studies in most fields. The speed we're progressing at is so insane that perhaps this is why such articles are around, it's that there's so much ground breaking science happening our brains do w
    • While it may take more scientists, and more and grander hardware (like the LHC) there's still plenty of cool shit left to be discovered. Also some of it will likely have some amazing practical applications.

      For example: Some day we may truly decode DNA. I don't mean just sequence it, I mean understand how it works, what it says, completely. Be able to read, and perhaps write, the code of life in a complete and precise fashion. Well that has a hell of a lot of implications as to what one could do with it, it

    • by kamapuaa (555446)

      What the heck. It wasn't like one guy built a particle accelerator in his basement and discovered the Higgs boson. It took a large team of scientists and a large research infrastructure, which is what the article is about.

  • Only if ideas can be patented, in which case, yeah, we might expect science to grind to a halt.
  • I don't see why not. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by TsuruchiBrian (2731979) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @09:57PM (#42804249)

    Einstein was famous because his discovered relativity. If he didn't discover it, someone else would have, and they would have been approximately as famous as Einstein.

    There are lots of really famous scientists like bohr, heisenberg, feynman, etc. They did amazing groundbreaking work. And that wasn't even too long ago. Some science involves spending billions of dollars on particle accelerators to verify existing hypotheses, but it still takes visionaries (like Peter Higgs) to come up with the ideas worth building an LHC to verify.

    To say that no one will ever be as famous as einstein, is to say that there isn't anything else out there that we could learn that would be as mind blowing as relativity. Maybe that's true, but I don't see any reason to believe it is true.

    After Newton came up with his laws, I'm sure the scientists of the time felt they'd pretty much figured it out. Sure there was some details that needed filling in, but Newton had hit the nail on the head and it was just a matter of time before everything else fell into place with this new knowledge. Why would anything contradict these laws? They are so perfect!

    Well it turns out they weren't so perfect afterall, and observations did contradict Newtons laws that they had to be wrong in some fundamental way. Nothing but a revolutionary theory was going to make sense of it.

    We are already in a time when stuff doesn't make sense. Phase 1 complete. All we need is for someone to complete phase 2 and come up with a clean equation (or a crazy dirty one) that explains it all, and phase 3 build a really fucking expensive death ray type device to open a portal into another dimension to verify that it's right. What an exciting time we live in.

    When you read about scientific history, it seems like discoveries come so fast because we get to skip all the boring parts. In the present it seems to go so slow because we can't fast forward. But in reality things are going so much faster now. Maybe the next great scientists will be an artificial intelligence that we create.

  • by Uberbah (647458) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @09:57PM (#42804255)

    500 years ago: scientific research is done by aristocrats as a self-funded hobby, or sometimes by priests [wikipedia.org] after the Catholic Church got over it's butthurt on heliocentrism. Printing is exorbitantly expensive and education for the general population. There might have been hundreds of Issac Newtons born in a generation, but they ended up working on farms or in the military, not going to an academy.

    Now: research is directly sponsored by governments. You don't have to be in the priesthood or be the child of rich parents to go to secondary school anymore - though the latter certainly helps with admissions and student loans. The Mars Rovers were huge government funded, collaborative projects, not a hobby by Bill Gates. And of course the Internet allows sharing of data at a speed and volume that Newton never could have imagined.

    You would hope the "anonymous reader" would have thought about this after a couple seconds, and is just posing the question for conversational purposes....

  • by rnturn (11092) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @10:02PM (#42804287)

    All the low-hanging fruit -- i.e. discoveries -- have mostly been discovered and what remains requires the "big science" projects like CERN that involve hundreds or thousands of scientists. Or... today's scientists just don't measure up to the Einsteins, Bohrs, et al. (OK... I've got on my Nomex longjohns on... fire away.)

  • " Those scientists who were able to throw off the yoke of established knowledge and break new ground on their own are revered and respected."... many years later. Their contemporaries often criticized and ridiculed them, even threatening excommunication if they didn't recant.
  • by Kwyj1b0 (2757125) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @10:04PM (#42804307)

    Sure, Einstein was ground breaking, but apart from E=mc^2, how many people know what he did (or even what it means)? How many know of the photoelectric effect? Relativity and quantum mechanics gets thrown around a lot as buzzwords, but most people have no idea what they mean.

    So you might consider that Einstein has become a great popularizers of science - unintentionally, but most people know that he was in a physicist, and don't really have a clue what he did.

    You seem to want groundbreaking to mean both Famous and Important Contributions. But I'm not sure how long it took for Einstein to become a household name. And you also want it to be One man/woman. That might not be as realistic anymore. Because research in most areas requires lots of equipments and teams (except in a few areas - theoretical mathematics and physics come to mind). But just because it is a team, doesn't make it any less valuable.

    In fact, I prefer teams and organizations get recognition. Students and the younger crowd have something concrete to work towards. Not "I want to be the next XYZ", but instead "I want to work at XYZ". They might have a hero-worship of the organization, but will still work hard towards something measurable.

  • Many seem to be declaring that a new breakthrough is right around the corner. But I suspect they don't realize how successful our current theories already are. In fundamental physics, we simply can't find anything that deviates from our current theories at scales smaller than a galaxy and at energies small enough to be relevant to anything except the big bang and future particle colliders. What would a breakthrough in fundamental physics look like? Maybe someone finds a supersymmetric particle that guid
    • by ceoyoyo (59147)

      Uh huh. Got an apple? Drop it. We still don't really know how that works. We've got a theory that describes what happens pretty well, the only problem is that it's incompatible with pretty much everything else we think we know. Don't think resolving that would have some practical implications? See Star Trek to get an idea of some of the things we could do if we could manipulate gravity the way we do electromagnetism.

      Okay, how about something a little closer to home. If you live in New York it's quite

  • by Proudrooster (580120) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @10:12PM (#42804353) Homepage

    Answer any of the following and you too can win a Nobel prize...

    1. What is a magnetic field?
    2. What is a electric field?
    3. What is gravity?
    4. Do tachyons exist?
    5. Does the Higgs Boson exist?
    6. Does matter decay?
    7. Is a magnetic field really a field or is it just another property of space-time?
    8. In how any dimensions does the Universe or multiverse exist? (The basic question of string theory)
    9. Can magnetic and electric fields be quantized or are they continuous?
    10. Can time and space be quantized or is it continuous?
    11. Why can't we all just get along?
    12. Is the universe a giant predetermined simulation playing out or do we have free will.

    We are a species that just recently wandered in off the Sahara. We know a lot about a little. Our knowledge is like Swiss cheese, full of holes, gaps, and inconsistencies. There are things we observe but can't explain and things we can explain but can't observe. Go watch this video from Fenyman...

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PsgBtOVzHKI [youtube.com]

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by ganv (881057)
      Your list is a bit problematic. We have excellent theories of quantum electrodynamics that are compatible with special relativity and effectively answer 1,2 7 and 9. 3 is good: there would be a nobel prize for anyone who creates a successful theory of quantum gravity. 4 is like asking 'does bigfoot exist'. We have very good reasons to think the answer is no. 5 wouldn't get you a nobel prize becomes the first publication was last summer. 6 has a definite answer 'yes and no: top quarks decay, electron
      • What technology will you build after answering them?

        We have made quite a few novel technologies from exploiting the electromagnetic fields, but gravity eludes us. Imagine if we could use our electromagnetic technologies to play with gravity fields. We could generate gravity and build amazing trash compactors and possibly even fusion generators, in addition to a whole new realm of practical jokes. Just imagine the practical jokes you could play with a gravity field generator, Additionally, we could possibl

  • Some things never change. Stupid gimboids complaining that everything has been invented and lamenting that all the groundbreaking science has been done is probably one of the few immutable things one can count on (like taxes).

  • by Dodgy G33za (1669772) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @10:18PM (#42804401)
    • Although there seems to be some overlap between the era of scientists answering really tough questions, and the era of journalists asking really dumb questions.
  • Some fields where there is growth and potential for breakthrough will include the field of statistics proper and fields that rely heavily on it. The revolution in information technology has enabled growth in the field of statistics because it has allowed the investigation of theoretical questions that could not be tested before cheap and powerful computational facility came before. CART and Random Forest algorithms, for example, were made possible by the IT revolution. Fields like genetics (obviously) and

  • "Everything that can be invented has been invented."

    A misquote that sums it up nicely.

  • For example, some people say physicist Ed Witten is greater than Einstein or Newton. In any case, there are probably more super geniuses working on science than ever. Maybe there are fewer breakthroughs from genius, precisely because science has become professionalized and there are already many geniuses working on the big problems. In such an environment, the huge breakthroughs and paradigm shifts just aren't left waiting around to be found.

    I'm sure there will be breakthroughs and paradigm shifts in the

  • by gman003 (1693318) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @11:06PM (#42804743)

    Groundbreaking science is not happening right now, but it is necessary for future expansions of science.

    Right now, I feel like we're in the period between the Michelson-Morley experiment and Einstein's Special Relativity. We're 99% sure of everything we know, but there's a last 1% that doesn't quite add up. Little oddities, like nobody having a good idea as to why inertial mass and gravitational mass are the same. And once some actual genius figures out the key, "breaks the ground" as it were, that 1% will bloom into entire new fields of science. To keep up the relativity metaphor, nobody in the 1890s had any concept of quantum physics, which is now a massive field with sub-branches that you can get a doctorate in.

    Soon - probably within a few decades - someone will discover something groundbreaking, which in turn will trigger off more new discoveries. Science tends to work like that - once a critical mass of knowledge is reached in an area, it grows explosively until we near the limits of the field. Electricity is a great example. Dozens, even hundreds, of groundbreaking scientists and engineers, making their mark in electric science in a very short period of time. There were similar bursts for aeronautics, computer science, nearly any field.

    As for what this groundbreaking new field of science will be? No idea. The sci-fi nerd in me would like it to be some sort of hyperspace, to let us explore the stars in reasonable timespans, but that's no likelier than any other thing.

    • by mlts (1038732)

      What is the breakthrough we are twiddling our thumbs for will be something to do with energy, be it a way to do fission on the cheap, or even better, a way of doing fusion. Even cold fusion still hasn't been written off, although it has been moved into the "woo-woo" camp next to "free energy" and perpetual motion machines.

      Lets say there is a breakthrough that allows a cold fusion reactor to be made, and scalable from something that could power a watch for 100 years to terawatt reactors.

      This would completel

  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @11:33PM (#42804899) Journal
    Not only every breakthrough that could be made has already been made, it gets worse for the liberal arts. All the Great American Novels that could be written has already been written. Same with great poems, great opera, great screen plays and great musicals. Nothing more to invent. That is all folks. The last guy to leave please turn off the switch.
  • by HockeyPuck (141947) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @11:54PM (#42805053)

    You realize that discoveries like his only come very rarely as he discussed new areas of science. How many other physicists out there were around Einstein's time?

    I'll mention an invention that is "ground breaking" and done in my lifetime.

    100Gb Ethernet.

    Growing up, I had access to a 300baud modem. That's 300 tones per second. So if one "tone" equated to a bit, then this modem could send 300 bits per second.

    100Gb is 107,374,182,400 bits.

    or the equivalent of 357,913,942 300baud modems or more modems than the population of the United States (~313m).

    Someone had to discover the technologies and methods required to be able to transmit multiple signals at 12.5Gb/sec, and how to transmit multiple wavelengths down the same copper cable or optical fibre without interference...

    Hard drive technology? When I graduated from college, the disk arrays I worked on had 9, 18 and 36GB drives in them. So a TB was a lot of storage. Now with advances in hard drive technology like GMR [wikipedia.org] we have multi Terabyte hard drives in our laptops.

    Go back and read the newspapers on microfiche of when Einstein made his discoveries. I doubt people were throwing parades in his honor.

    Broaden your scope into what areas you're looking at for "discoveries".
    Other well known "inventors":

    Werner VonBraun / Robert Goddard
    Jonas Salk - discovered the cure for Polio
    Stephen Hawking...
    Edward Jenner -- Discovered vaccinations...

  • by fluffy99 (870997) on Wednesday February 06, 2013 @12:21AM (#42805207)

    It bugs the crap outta me when people start equating flying cars to breaking science. Science is the fundamental stuff like the physics or biology. Engineering is the practical application of science and building things. 10-gig ethernet is the application of existing scientific principles. Now a flying car could be a scientific breakthrough if it involves a new anti-gravity module but not if it's just a small plane.

    I forsee new breakthroughs in materials science as we are starting to understand material properties in new ways (the science) and learning how to manufacture new materials with unique properties (the engineering side of the equation).

  • by nick_davison (217681) on Wednesday February 06, 2013 @12:47AM (#42805305)

    There's still plenty we don't know, but so much of it is highly specialized that many breakthroughs are understood by only a handful.

    Spare a thought for poor Charles Darwin. He published Origin Of The Species in 1859 and, over a century and a half later, only 39% of Americans fully believe it [digitaljournal.com].

    At least Samuel Pierpoint Langley, Svante Arrhenius and Arvid Högbom have managed to convince 63% [mnn.com] that global climate change is real and they've only been going since the 1890s.

    Still, could be worse: Galileo was imprisoned for the remainder of his life and his writing banned in 1618. The establishment (Catholic Church) didn't lift that interdiction on heliocentrism until 1822. Darwin's got another half century before he reaches Galileo's 204 years.

  • by tsotha (720379) on Wednesday February 06, 2013 @01:01AM (#42805373)

    You could have said the same in Einstein's day. You could have said there was no way to measure the speed of light. That we'll never know much about particles we can't see with our strongest optical microscopes. That the atmosphere places fundamental limitations on out ability to observe the stars, and that we'll never be able to detect exoplanets until we build a horking huge telescope that's physically impossible to construct.

    Geniuses don't come along very often. It may just be that we haven't seen a true scientific genius in a few generations. Or that people who are capable of earth-shattering discoveries were lured away from science and into investment banking.

  • by quax (19371) on Wednesday February 06, 2013 @01:06AM (#42805401)

    Two days ago the entry on a physicist, who I thought came accross something pretty profound, was deemed not noteworthy by Wikipedia. I was originally prompted to create a biographical stub on him because they have articles on two rugby players by the same name. But it seems Wikipedia has more in common with highschool than I realized: The jocks get more attention.

    Anyhow, this dude from down under found a pretty astounding approach to the correspondence principle [wikipedia.org] (i.e. how QM gives rise) to classical mechanics in a mathematical framework originally developed by Steven Weinberg. Something the latter astoundingly overlooked. The talkback page on this math can be found here [wikipedia.org]. The article itself meanwhile has been deleted. Please note: Not because the math is wrong, but because the citation record has been deemed to be too low by the editors.

    There's a blog post [wavewatching.net] with links to his recovered papers (most follow up papers on this were actually lost for a while a never published). So if you have a physics background you can form your own opinion.

    To me this is a pretty good example of how really interesting findings can simply be washed away in the avalanche of mediocre papers that get produced every day.

  • Hardly... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by shaitand (626655) on Wednesday February 06, 2013 @01:49AM (#42805627) Journal
    It is hard to have your creativity crushed, correctly, for years and not let it stifle your drive to test the walls of the box. In today's world of mature sciences nobody could make a great leap without knowing a great deal that couldn't be leaped over and where their attempts to leap failed. The people who can do it will be rarer still than in the past and in a time and place to succeed in that leap even more rarely but it will still happen eventually.

    I actually think that aside from the base knowledge needed complexity and everyone having thought of everything has nothing to do with it. Great leaps are always simple seeming after discovered and even simpler in the minds of the men who discover them.

    Einstein was such a man in a world that appeared to be filled with mature science to those of the day. It all began with a mind who could visualize things others found vastly complex as simple abstractions. Was he the first with the primitive ideas that were the core of his model? Maybe, maybe not. But he was the first who had enough grounding in physics and mathematics to turn those abstractions into the universal language and to get someone to listen to him long enough to see if he had.

    Today the model employed by science as a whole would not tolerate such abstractions from someone who wasn't like Einstein with the credentials and proofs to back them up. Someone with high school physics understanding and/or armchair physics learning could know enough to come up with valid models but unless they have a family member or childhood friend who does have the right background nothing could ever come of it.

    Those who have the advanced physics, mathematics, or other prerequisites make up a small minority of the population. Those who can see simplicity in complexity make up and even smaller portion of the population. Those who can do both and are either stupid or arrogant enough not to dismiss the possibilities that are so obvious to them as not having already been tried are very very rare indeed. But they will come. Probably several in a fairly short period of time.

    Mark my worlds most of the things we think are impossible today will be possible later. FTL travel? It won't be found by someone trying to travel FTL but by someone who doesn't see the universe in terms of space and travel at all. Twenty or even a hundred years later people will be amazed at how advanced they are, making progressive discoveries that stem from that man's simple perspective. Almost none of them will intuitive see things in that simple way though. They will be smarter men capable of harassing and riding all the complexity of utilizing the model without that simple understanding. Fundamental advancements require thinking in a fundamental way.

    How about Tesla? I dare say we have more data and analysis of electricity and magnetism than he did. Probably a much more detailed and complex understanding of even Tesla's own inventions. In fact we tend to think we know all about it. Yet, I have no doubt that were the man alive today he would be doing things that are fundamental progressions of his intuitive mental model on these topics but revealed fundamental and groundbreaking new ideas to everyone else. He could probably explain the entire topic fully in three sentences and nobody would get it. They would just think he was simplifying great complexity for minds simpler than his own.
  • by Bensam123 (1340765) on Wednesday February 06, 2013 @05:25AM (#42806399)
    I've often wondered similar things. While science is still being done and many people are arguing that, the level of accomplishments haven't yielded nearly the same results for the average individual compared to what happened in the last century or further. I blame this on society and mainly on capitalism, which only looks to fuel profitable endeavors and people are only looking for the cheapest means to stay alive, or how to make the most money in life.

    Space, deep sea, nuclear... general exploration and development as a country has ground to a halt. Instead we're focusing on wars in countries we have no reason of fighting for and patents... then exploiting them. Our country may not be dying, but it's march forward has definitely slowed down. Everyone is out to make as much money as possible. Exploration and being adventurous is no longer part of American lifestyle. It's all about being safe and living as long as humanely possible.

    No one takes big risks anymore, it's all about small calculated decisions (mainly decided by a machine), which we bet on which will show income. Even the space industry has somehow ended up in the hands of the private sector, which may seem great, but wont work in our favor down the line when everyone depends on them for their services and the government can't take over because that would be unAmerican.

    Our country is totally mismanaged. Our society is bombarded constantly by capitalist propaganda (buy this and you'll be happy, take this and you'll be healthy) and shows designed to placate the mind. Our education system is starting to break down as the less intelligent take over and see fit to destroy something because it doesn't provide instant, easily quantifiable results.

    Capitalism may have founded this country, but we've gotten to a point where we've outgrown it. Perhaps not completely... but we have to a point where it's started to hinder development outside of how to shake the most pennies out of the average citizen. This is a time when we actually need a leader to step up and push big businesses out of the picture and actually plot a direction for the country. Sadly, we haven't seen a president like that in many years... or a country that's willing to accept him.

"Go to Heaven for the climate, Hell for the company." -- Mark Twain

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