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Nat Geo Writer: Science Is Running Out of "Great" Things To Discover 292

Posted by samzenpus
from the nothing-new-under-the-sun dept.
Hugh Pickens DOT Com (2995471) writes "John Horgan writes in National Geographic that scientists have become victims of their own success and that 'further research may yield no more great revelations or revolutions, but only incremental, diminishing returns.' The latest evidence is a 'Correspondence' published in the journal Nature that points out that it is taking longer and longer for scientists to receive Nobel Prizes for their work. The trend is strongest in physics. Prior to 1940, only 11 percent of physics prizes were awarded for work more than 20 years old but since 1985, the percentage has risen to 60 percent. If these trends continue, the Nature authors note, by the end of this century no one will live long enough to win a Nobel Prize, which cannot be awarded posthumously and suggest that the Nobel time lag 'seems to confirm the common feeling of an increasing time needed to achieve new discoveries in basic natural sciences—a somewhat worrisome trend.' One explanation for the time lag might be the nature of scientific discoveries in general—as we learn more it takes more time for new discoveries to prove themselves.

Researchers recently announced that observations of gravitational waves provide evidence of inflation, a dramatic theory of cosmic creation. But there are so many different versions of 'inflation' theory that it can 'predict' practically any observation, meaning that it doesn't really predict anything at all. String theory suffers from the same problem. As for multiverse theories, all those hypothetical universes out there are unobservable by definition so it's hard to imagine a better reason to think we may be running out of new things to discover than the fascination of physicists with these highly speculative ideas. According to Keith Simonton of the University of California, 'the core disciplines have accumulated not so much anomalies as mere loose ends that will be tidied up one way or another.'"
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Nat Geo Writer: Science Is Running Out of "Great" Things To Discover

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  • by makapuf (412290) on Thursday April 10, 2014 @07:53PM (#46720399)

    Well, I think this might have to do with the level of basic science funding (of course I don"t have any figures to back that). Also, this reminds me of chemists after organic chemistry / atomic physics discoveries saying that basically, science was done. Just in time for quantum physics to be discovered ...

    So, that's great : saying this just means that we're on the verge of a big event in science !

    • by makapuf (412290)

      replying to myself :

      this reminds me of chemists after organic chemistry / atomic physics discoveries saying that basically, science was done.

      well, TFA has it ...

      Before the arrival of quantum mechanics and Einstein's theory of relativity, two theories physicists have not yet been able to reconcile, 19th-century scientists predicted that all major discoveries had been made, Sherrilyn Roush, an associate professor of philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley, pointed out.

      Way to get a free RTFA ...

      • by blue trane (110704) on Thursday April 10, 2014 @09:18PM (#46721079) Homepage Journal

        "The more important fundamental laws and facts of physical science have all been discovered, and these are so firmly established that the possibility of their ever being supplanted in consequence of new discoveries is exceedingly remote."

        Michelson, 1903

        • "The more important fundamental laws and facts of physical science have all been discovered, and these are so firmly established that the possibility of their ever being supplanted in consequence of new discoveries is exceedingly remote."
          - Michelson, 1903

          The more dominant theories trying to describe the fundamental laws and facts of physical science have all been selected, and these are so firmly locked in that the possibility of their ever being supplanted in consequence of new discoveries is exceeding

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by artor3 (1344997)

      Science funding as a percentage of GDP has actually been remarkably consistent at around 2.5% going back several decades. Note that that is total funding. The split between industry and public funding used to be fairly even, but in the last 20 years the balance has shifted sharply towards industry. And industry, of course, prefers to spend on things that will be profitable in the next few years. So we see great advancements in consumer electronics, medicine, etc., but not so much in basic understanding

      • by crgrace (220738) on Thursday April 10, 2014 @08:44PM (#46720807)

        That's not necessarily a bad thing. Science is worthless if we don't use it in practical applications. But if we're looking for reasons why less basic research is getting done, this could play a role.

        I think it's a bad thing. Most of our great advancements in consumer electronics, medicine, and computing are based on mining basic research (that was mostly publicly funded). When that mine is played out where will the raw material for new advances come from?

        • by khallow (566160)

          When that mine is played out where will the raw material for new advances come from?

          From the research that was just done which is how it's always been done. A common thing that is ignored is that most basic research comes from problems that crop up in research, basic or applied.

      • by ShanghaiBill (739463) on Thursday April 10, 2014 @08:50PM (#46720853)

        Science funding as a percentage of GDP has actually been remarkably consistent at around 2.5% going back several decades.

        Prior to WWII, when the major discoveries in 20th Century physics were made, science funding was far lower. The theory of relativity was developed with this much funding: $0.

        The low hanging fruit are gone. The days are past when a Swiss patent examiner could make world changing discoveries in his spare time.

      • by Opportunist (166417) on Friday April 11, 2014 @01:36AM (#46722353)

        Actually, I do think it's a bad thing. You might know the old saying "applied research brings improvements, but basic research brings revolutions".

        My pet example of this is lasers. The theoretic foundation for lasers was done somewhere around 1920. Long, long before materials were ready for it. Only in the 1960s the first lasers came into existence, huge, expensive pieces of technology that relied on very expensive crystals to work. Only in the 1980s we started to be able to build cheaper lasers, and it took another ten years before they became mainstream in our consumer electronics.

        Today, many fields of work as well as leisure technology could not be imagined without that technology. Everyone here is using technology that either uses lasers directly (like BluRay players or the like), or that could not exist without lasers.

        But do you think any of the companies that have to rely on lasers today would have spent a cent on it in 1920 when the theory behind it was developed?

    • by schnell (163007) <me&schnell,net> on Thursday April 10, 2014 @08:33PM (#46720725) Homepage

      I think this might have to do with the level of basic science funding (of course I don"t have any figures to back that)

      That's not John Horgan's point. He is, by the way, a very controversial figure in science journalism (in a good way). Back in 1997, he wrote a fascinating book called The End of Science [amazon.com], the thesis of which was pretty much the same as this article. It examined a number of different sciences and reviewed the accumulated evidence that there were no more major league breakthroughs (a la relativity, quantum mechanics, the unraveling of the DNA double helix) to be found, and scientists henceforward would largely be fleshing out and clarifying the implications of the big discoveries of the past.

      Scientists of all stripes, of course, immediately decried the book - if that belief gained traction it would kill the climate for future funding as well as killing most interest among future scientists from entering the field. But regardless of your perspective, it was a great book since it raised some interesting questions for discussion, and it's very very worth reading if you have any interest in science.

      Long story short, Horgan's thesis isn't "oh noes we aren't funding basic research," it's more along the lines of "there is just nothing as huge to discover left, no matter how much money you pour onto it. That doesn't mean science isn't useful but you have to adjust your expectations not to expect any more great revolutions like have happened regularly from the 17th century through the 20th centuries." Many Slashdotters will reject that argument out of hand, but Horgan has done his homework enough that it's a compelling read and worth considering his point even if you disagree with it.

      • by flaming error (1041742) on Thursday April 10, 2014 @09:02PM (#46720959) Journal

        "He is ...a very controversial figure in science journalism (in a good way)"

        Good why? Does he have a gift for explaining new scientific discoveries to laypeople? Does he somehow further the state of the art?

        Sounds to me like what he does for a living is tell people that scientific progress is ending. I see no compelling evidence from him supporting that point, and I see nothing good coming from pushing that idea.

        Many Americans don't even accept evolution or global warming yet. Pretending that where we are is the furthest we'll ever get is not constructive and not correct.

        If this is all he's got, I wouldn't even call him a science journalist. He's more like an op-ed columnist/author.

        • by schnell (163007)

          If this is all he's got, I wouldn't even call him a science journalist. He's more like an op-ed columnist/author.

          John Horgan is not a Fox News flat-earth Jebusite shill, he's an actual science reporter. I don't know the guy personally, but having read his book [amazon.com] before, I know he respects and enjoys science. He just has a viewpoint that while "technology" (applied science) has a great runway of decades or centuries in front of it, pure basic research science may have run out of paradigm-shifting fundamental discoveries.

          Agree with it or not, I think Horgan is valuable to science (and hence controversial in a good way) be

      • by jonsmirl (114798)

        Long story short, Horgan's thesis isn't "oh noes we aren't funding basic research," it's more along the lines of "there is just nothing as huge to discover left, no matter how much money you pour onto it.

        Anyone here think that the computer science revolution is anywhere close to being finished? In my opinion it probably has another hundred years left in it. I also think we are just scratching the surface in biochemistry. It is scary to think of where that field will be in a hundred years. Physics can go figure out dark matter and dark energy. That's sure to stir things up. Maybe figure out sustainable fusion while their at it.

        • by schnell (163007)

          Anyone here think that the computer science revolution is anywhere close to being finished?

          Horgan differentiates between "science" and "technology" which is defined as "applied science." Horgan argues that "technology" will continue advancing at a torrid pace for a long time to come. Even things like sustainable fusion reactors would be "technology" rather than "science" since it's an application of the principles of fusion previously discovered. It's his thesis though that pure, fundamental "science" has run out of true game-changing, paradigm-shift type discoveries.

          Again, I am not supporting or

          • by Baloroth (2370816) on Thursday April 10, 2014 @10:44PM (#46721627)

            It's a fundamentally flawed hypothesis, because by definition we don't know what we haven't discovered yet. I might even go so far as to say the knowledge we haven't acquired is greater than the knowledge we have. This has been true historically, it is probably true now, and it might well remain true for... well, actually, forever, though it's impossible to know.

          • by skids (119237)

            Again, I am not supporting or disclaiming Horgan's thesis, but I am suggesting that it is an interesting topic worthy of discussion.

            It's a worn out thesis echoed many times over by the occasional erudite edlder for some physchological reasons that will perhaps never be fully understood, even by said erudite elders.

            If you want an interesting discussion along these lines, it's much more interesting to discuss how educational techinique could be improved to bring people up to speed faster, given the amount of knowlege needed to make an impact is arguably higher but we obviously haven't managed to figure out how to teach faster. Or how we

      • Wasn't Dark Energy discovered after that book? Something that occupies some 70% of the universe?

        • by Ol Olsoc (1175323)

          Wasn't Dark Energy discovered after that book? Something that occupies some 70% of the universe?

          "Dark Energy" is just a buzzword for "We have no idea what this stuff is, but it has to exist or else we gotta start over."

          The idea has been rumbling around for quite a few years now, so while you are not quite correct, you point out exactly why we don't know it all yet. Dark energy and it's ramifications will keep us busy for a long time yet.

      • by SEE (7681) on Thursday April 10, 2014 @09:28PM (#46721187) Homepage

        Right now, our current observations combined with general relativity say 96% of the universe is unaccounted-for by anything resembling a solid theory in quantum mechanics. Or, conversely, our current observations combined with quantum mechanics says general relativity is so wrong that it only can be made to work by assuming a mass-energy budget 25 times greater than that of the actual universe. So how can there not be anything huge to discover?

        Granted, the stuff might be beyond our ability to discover, but we pretty blatantly don't know what's actually going on.

    • Basic science has gross increased. It's only decreased as a fraction of GDP. We're putting plenty of money into basic research--we just could be putting a lot more in.

    • by khallow (566160)

      Well, I think this might have to do with the level of basic science funding

      Conversely, I think it's the high level of public funding which has slowed scientific research by both pulling researchers away from more worthy pursuits, wrecking the status of donating to private non profit research, and by introducing a large degree of unaccountability into the field.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 10, 2014 @07:54PM (#46720403)

    Hundreds of years ago, there was a "diminishing return." The Rennaisance led to a bunch of discoveries, followed by a period of "plateau." Then a hundred years ago there was massive explosion in discovery and theory. To think we've discovered it all is naive, like proclaiming after Newton that there is nothing left in Physics to discover. It might take a while before the next Einstein but it will probably happen again.

    • by plover (150551) on Thursday April 10, 2014 @08:10PM (#46720571) Homepage Journal

      What happened was the advent of computing, which made solutions to unattainably hard problems attainable. That was rapidly followed by the advent of global communications, allowing people to collaborate like never before. Cheap energy has turned the average person's daily tasks of searching for food and warmth into a side task, allowing more people than ever to get a high quality education, and enter a research field. All kinds of work has gone into discovery at an unprecedented rate.

      We don't know for sure what the next advance will be, but it will be built on a lot of the new tools we've just created.

    • by sploxx (622853)

      First of all, science is trying to better understand the world, by making models predicting something. It isn't engineering.

      In that sense, I think science is always a refinement of the understand of reality. Of course, there is now quantum mechanics and there is relativity. But if you go back in time before that, most of the basic ideas in (mechanical) engineering are pretty much settled since Newton got hit by the apple. And if there are humans in a 1000 years, they will still be ruled to a large extent by

      • by skids (119237)

        First of all, science is trying to better understand the world, by making models predicting something. It isn't engineering.

        Engineers don't just apply known science, they deal with the parts of the system that aren't obeying the textbook rules and find places to look for new phenomena in the process. To do so they analyse behavior and build models that predict the tolerances needed to get things working with a high degree of confidence. The difference is they don't go off on tangents because they have an objective, but engineers are often the initial discoverers of phenomena. It usually takes a pure scientist to then go in to

    • by fermion (181285)
      Galileo was circa 1600. This is where, arguably, modern physics begins. Observation, rejection of common beliefs such as giants, geocentric ideas, and inherent properties such as motion, heat, and such.

      Issac Newton was 1700. Not a huge step forward, but embedded physics in a mathematical base. He was able to do some things that Galileo could not because of the math.

      Between 1700 and 1900, there was much refinement, many extensions, and then the ultraviolet catastrophe among other things

      So 1900 saw

      • > Black Holes are infinities in real space.

        They're really not. Do try to read about them and follow the math, they're a logical consequence of dense matter general relativity.

  • by YrWrstNtmr (564987) on Thursday April 10, 2014 @07:56PM (#46720429)
    "Sometimes I really regret that I did not live in those times when there was still so much that was new; to be sure enough much is yet unknown, but I do not think that it will be possible to discover anything easily nowadays that would lead us to revise our entire outlook as radically as was possible in the days when telescopes and microscopes were still new."
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Nemyst (1383049)
      Note the "easily". Science nowadays is extremely complicated and requires years of study to even get to the level. While it's always possible to have another genius coming out of nowhere, it's a lot less likely than it used to be. You won't have a single person make a breakthrough in multiple, largely unrelated domains, like back in the Renaissance, either.
  • Lord Kelvin (Score:5, Informative)

    by YrWrstNtmr (564987) on Thursday April 10, 2014 @07:57PM (#46720437)
    "There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now. All that remains is more and more precise measurement"
  • by Actually, I do RTFA (1058596) on Thursday April 10, 2014 @07:59PM (#46720453)

    The famous line from the head of the US patent office in 1902:

    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 the slightly less famous line from the head of the US patent office in 1843:

    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.

  • by cold fjord (826450) on Thursday April 10, 2014 @07:59PM (#46720455)

    "Everything that can be invented has been invented." - Attributed to C. H. Duell, Commissioner of US patent office, 1899.
    "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers." - Attributed to Thomas Watson, IBM, 1943
    "There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home." - Ken Olsen, DEC, 1977

    They might as well start preparing an entry for him in the book of silly predictions.

    There is still plenty of physics to figure out. The same with biological systems. Plenty of math to work out too.

    • Yeah, I'll second you. This is bullshit and has always been bullshit and will probably always be bullshit. You'd think the guy might have read some of this before. Is he an idiot or just a fool?
    • There is the question of when we run out of work to be done that humans are capable of. I would be most surprised indeed to see the crystallization of a lovely fundamental theory of everything that ties up all the loose ends; but considerably less surprised to see the supply of "With a dash of brilliance and some exploited grad students, you can have this problem beaten and written up before you die." scale problems dwindle considerably. Depending on what team physics does, they also might end up spending a
    • Well, businessmen are not actually a good measure of anything. So, quoting Watson doesn't mean anything and doesn't prove anything neither. You cannot extract a law from these quotes.
    • by pla (258480)
      Personally, I find it just hilarious that TFA fails to recognize two points:

      First, that our inability to live long enough to win a prize that takes a 150 year career directly highlights a domain of science that we still have some pretty amazing leaps left to take.

      And second, that a NatGeo author of all people would dare to write about another discipline running out of material - How many indigenous tribes do you have left to exploit for stories, NG? And will you do the honorable thing and close up shop
  • This claim is an over-generalization. Nobel prize does not cover all fields of science. Actually, very few. There is no way to predict that someone will not come along and actually make a finding that does not require huge labs or previous work. Almost sounds like a troll to me.

  • this again... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dala1 (1842368) on Thursday April 10, 2014 @08:00PM (#46720471)

    How many times has this been said before, and proven wrong?

    "The more important fundamental laws and facts of physical science have all been discovered, and these are now so firmly established that the possibility of their ever being supplanted in consequence of new discoveries is exceedingly remote.... Our future discoveries must be looked for in the sixth place of decimals."
    - Albert Michelson,1894

    • by Biff Stu (654099)

      Of course when Michelson said this, there were just a couple of loose ends to be figured out...the "UV Catastrophe" associated with the discrepancy between the purely electromagnetic theory of blackbody radiation, and the strange threshold behavior associated with the photoelectric effect.

      Right now, we keep on building bigger and bigger colliders and can't really find anything beyond the Standard Model. It seems that the biggest advances these days are coming from Astrophysics rather than High Energy Physic

  • by XxtraLarGe (551297) on Thursday April 10, 2014 @08:06PM (#46720533) Journal
    After all, the only thing left to discover after Nanotechnology & Nuclear Fusion is Future Technology. Then what?
    • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

      by UnknownSoldier (67820)

      There are many things that Science doesn't have a clue about:

      * The 2 missing fundamental forces
      * White Holes
      * Actual Intelligence (not that joke that passes for Artificial Ignorance)
      * Bi-Location
      * Teleportation
      * FTL
      * Mineral Consciousness
      * Plant Consciousness
      * Animal Consciousness
      * Time Travel
      * The true purpose of dreams
      * The Soul
      * What happens before life
      * What happens after death

      At least these stupid troll articles will finally end in 2024 when we no longer have to worry about this crap.

    • by dtolman (688781)
      Silly - there is plenty of things to discover - but you only get a peak at it after your rocket lands on Alpha Centauri!
      • Silly - there is plenty of things to discover - but you only get a peak at it after your rocket lands on Alpha Centauri!

        Glad somebody caught the reference. I was worried there for a moment somebody would take me seriously! ;-)

  • by Gavin Scott (15916) on Thursday April 10, 2014 @08:06PM (#46720537)

    Horgan has been going on about stuff like this for years. He wrote a book in 1997 called "The End of Science" which I read and thought was completely ridiculous. My recollection (possibly faulty as it's been quite a few years) is that he came across as very anti-science and wandered off into religion later in that book. It feels to me as though he WANTS science to fail at some point.

    I don't know why he seems hell-bent on convincing everyone that we're going to run out of things to discover, but I just don't buy it.

    Even if we manage to get to the "bottom" of Physics some day that's cool and all but it's hardly the end of much. The biology of even simple cells is fantastically complex and there's lifetimes worth of discovery left there. Also even if some day we we know most or all of the "rules", the possible applications of these simple rules are virtually infinite, so no scientists or technologists or explorers are likely to be unemployed any time soon.

    Every time humanity thinks it knows everything, someone thinks up a clever new idea for measuring things and boom, a whole new world of complexity opens up. There might be an end to the turtles at some point, but I'm not worried :)

    G.

    • by Wycliffe (116160) on Thursday April 10, 2014 @09:41PM (#46721299) Homepage

      Agree wholeheartedly. We "might" be saturated in physics but I doubt even that.
      We are no where close to being saturated in biology. We don't understand a single
      cell, we have yet to create a life from non-living matter, we are no where close on
      actually creating any type of artificial life and/or artificial intelligence. We have
      barely scratched the surface of the brain or conscienceness or dna. When we have
      artificial intelligence, can repair the spine, can repair the brain, understand what
      causes retardation and autism and can fix it, can cure cancer, can pick and chose
      dna attributes for children, cure aging, reverse aging, regrow limbs, etc... then we'll talk.

    • by Polo (30659) *

      See... it's all been written. Everything he writes will be unoriginal and derivative. It's the end of writing.

  • Instead of saying that science is running out of interesting stuff to find out I could say that scientists are simply too concerned in publishing meaningless articles to stride forward and find the "great" stuff.

    Or that we hit a point in our natural science studies that does not offer that many opportunities for major applications.

    Other way to look at this is that with so much information available scientists can exchange more information and many people works in smaller fractions of the same problem and he

  • Welcome to 1894: (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Hartree (191324) on Thursday April 10, 2014 @08:09PM (#46720559)

    This hoohah even managed to drag me and my BS detector back from Soylent.

    (I'm blatantly stealing this quote from one Robert A. Nelson, but it sums up my point quite well.)

    In 1894, Albert A. Michelson remarked that in physics there were no more fundamental discoveries to be made. Quoting Lord Kelvin, he continued, âoeAn eminent physicist remarked that the future truths of physical science are to be looked for in the sixth place of decimals.â

    A few short years later, physics was grappling with two tiny details called quantum mechanics and special relativity.

    I just got back from a talk outlining the unbelievable complexity involved in the assembly of fleeting RNA and protein complexes that are crucial in translating DNA to protein in our cells. What they are doing and how they do it is not at all well understood, regardless that our lives and that of all cellular/multicellular life depend critically on it.

    Three weeks ago BICEP2 gave fair evidence of beyond standard model physics (How else can you characterize amplified quantum fluctuations in the field of gravity?). This is something that only happens at many many orders of magnitude greater energy than we've ever observed before.

    And you propose to tell me that science is mostly finished but for tidying up "minor details"?

    That's spelled "horseshit" where I come from.

  • One thing I do think there is a possibility of is that further advances will be more difficult. We'll need to build bigger telescopes, higher powered accelerators, etc. at increasing costs.

    Hopefully though increasing economic productivity will be able to pay for this.

  • by joe_frisch (1366229) on Thursday April 10, 2014 @08:12PM (#46720589)

    We are not out of physics - still lots of big mysteries: Dark matter, dark energy, unification, quantum gravity etc. It is possible though that we are running out of small scale experiments and future ones will on average become more expensive and take longer. Bigger accelerators. Bigger telescopes etc.

    I hope this isn't true and that people can become more clever, but it might be.

  • by dtolman (688781) <dtolman@yahoo.com> on Thursday April 10, 2014 @08:16PM (#46720611) Homepage

    Considering that less than 20 years ago there were no known extrasolar planets, no one had ever even thought up of the Holographic universe theory, or debated the existence (and implications) of a firewall around blackholes, not to mention the so dark we still can't find it Dark Matter... I mean - we haven't even made enough discoveries to start making theories yet with Exoplanets (gaseous Super Earths are brand new in the past year, I believe), and cosmology has huge areas to explore and craft experiments around that are literally brand new.

    I think we're going to be just fine in the theory and spectacular discovery department.

    • I think that's where "law of diminishing returns" comes into play. The things you're discussing are wonderful and fascinating and have plenty of implications in science. However, researching exoplanets is only possible with orbiting telescopes or the VLA or Arecebo...the kinds of things that can find stuff, but "bigger than that" will be required to find the next thing.

      The first telescopes used a pair of lenses, then mirrors, then finely-created mirrors, then a high quantity of parabolic radio dishes, then

      • by PvtVoid (1252388)

        The first telescopes used a pair of lenses, then mirrors, then finely-created mirrors, then a high quantity of parabolic radio dishes, then really really really big mirrors - launched into orbit. Two lenses were (roughly) affordable by the common man. Mirrors, also affordable by the common man who had a tax return. Then a wealthy hobbyist or dedicated scientist, then a research lab, then a country.

        The difference between "how much it costs for the stuff to find new stuff" and "how much new stuff that really expensive stuff will be found" are the questions at hand. We live in an infinite universe, so there's an infinite number of discoveries to be made. It just starts to cost impractical amounts of money after a while.

        Her'es a picture of the telescope used for the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, which has mapped a substantial fraction of the observable universe:

        http://www.hextek.com/wp-conte... [hextek.com]

        A two-meter instrument. Much of the innovation in modern cosmology is coming from data processing, not just building bigger and bigger mirrors. People are actually pretty clever, and can work around boundaries in surprising ways.

      • The true business of mankind is knowledge. Using economics to subvert that is making economics into a God that we must serve, instead of using it as a tool to serve us.

    • Considering that less than 20 years ago there were no known extrasolar planets, no one had ever even thought up of the Holographic universe theory, or debated the existence (and implications) of a firewall around blackholes, not to mention the so dark we still can't find it Dark Matter... I mean - we haven't even made enough discoveries to start making theories yet with Exoplanets (gaseous Super Earths are brand new in the past year, I believe), and cosmology has huge areas to explore and craft experiments around that are literally brand new.

      I think we're going to be just fine in the theory and spectacular discovery department.

      The fact that science is focused on such esoteric stuff that is so far removed from relevance to the human condition was a big part of his point.

      These things are interesting, but it doesn't really matter too much if we discover them or not, in the grand scheme of things.

      Like I've said before, people who think science is the right tool for every problem domain are not as smart as they think they are.

      • by PvtVoid (1252388)

        people who think science is the right tool for every problem domain are not as smart as they think they are.

        Very true. Science only has an advantage when reality is involved.

      • What relevance did relativity have, when it was discovered? And yet it's used today for GPS. Who saw that, in 1905?

  • If you take the Nobel prize evidence as having fundamental meaning (and I'm not sure it does), what it seems to suggest is not that we have only loose ends to tie up. It is pretty obvious that there are still big mysteries left to solve. However, it may be the the remaining mysteries just too difficult to solve within a human lifetime. If the easy problems are solved first and the remaining puzzles become progressively more difficult then, without some sort of intelligence expansion, the inevitable resul

    • by crgrace (220738) on Thursday April 10, 2014 @09:05PM (#46720973)

      I think you can demolish his argument that Nobel lag is indicative of science slowing down much more easily than that.

      Think of the Nobel prize as an asynchronous FIFO. Every time a Nobel-worth discovery is made it gets put in the FIFO. Each year the Nobel committee awards a prize and removes one prize from the FIFO.

      What if science is speeding up? Then more discoveries will be put into the FIFO than Nobel prizes can empty. So the FIFO gets longer and the length of time between discovery and prize gets longer.

      What if science is slowing down? Than the consumption rate is larger than the generation rate and the FIFO empties. Eventually a scientist would win a prize the same here the discovery is made.

      I don't understand this guy's logic. It seems to me more parsimonious that there are so many great discoveries for the Nobel committee to choose from that they are starting to queue up.

      So, I think his data indicate science is speeding up.

    • This!!

  • "scientists have become victims of their own success."

    Translation: We have dull and feeble people working in areas of science because we have an educational system which is dogmatic and proudly proclaims it know everything and nothing of interest remains.

    While in reality, the real people, scientists who would be our best and brightest are probably sitting in a hut in Africa somewhere because the institutions of economic, political and educational power don't like competition.

    What complete crap.

  • by recharged95 (782975) on Thursday April 10, 2014 @08:40PM (#46720769) Journal

    It's not there are less things to discover, but the reason NatGeo exists. As a Fox property, it need to help the bottom line: hence, sensational science is what they are looking for.

    In this world of 10sec blog explanations of DNA formation, 1min youtube videos describing string theory and watered down Odyssey's (I'm talking to you Cosmos, Seth and Neil). There are more science discoveries out there... only if reporters take a little more time than glancing at their smart phone to write up the next science story based on some VC's press release of some cool silicon valley startup using science.

    • by Livius (318358)

      1min youtube videos describing string theory

      But 2-minute videos explaining the Schrödinger's cat paradox from the cat's perspective.

  • In my opinion this is a bit like sitting in your backyard with a telescope opining that there are no new planets left to discover in the solar system while people are out paving the way to actually visit them.

    The work being done right now is monumental. Science is progressing faster than it ever has been. But great and fundamental insights are obviously going to be clustered around paradigm shifts. Newton gave us classical mechanics in the 17th century. It took another two hundred years before quantum m

    • by crgrace (220738)

      In my opinion this is a bit like sitting in your backyard with a telescope opining that there are no new planets left to discover in the solar system while people are out paving the way to actually visit them.

      We don't yet understand if there are simple underlying principles in biology as there are in physics. Biology is so much more complex that physics and we are still in the 19th century...

      At some point someone is going to discover the biological equivalent of quantum mechanics and then the world will change again.

      It could be that this discovery could be a way to harness computation to really get a handle on complexity or it could be the discovery of the underlying principles.

      I can't wait to find out.

  • What we know about the universe is a tiny drop in a potentially infinite ocean of ignorance. The fact that scientists, like everyone else, have picked the lowest-hanging fruit bare does not mean that they have made a dent in the boundless orchard of knowledge of the natural world.

    Is some genius working in a patent office or holed up in a dormitory at Cambridge, without the aid of even a scientific calculator going to discover anything as fantastic as relativistic mechanics or Newtonian mechanics? Probably

  • by PvtVoid (1252388) on Thursday April 10, 2014 @08:50PM (#46720851)
    Like we know everything. Or even anything much at all. In terms of understanding the nature of the world. we have only scratched the barest surface. Immense depths lay undiscovered.

    Let's go!
  • I looked at the article and the author is focused on advances in physics, where he may actually have a point.

    He doesn't seem to be aware of some of the stuff being done in neuroscience, nanotechnology, and structural biology, to name a few.

    We've come so far in getting more insight into the biological and electrical nature of the brain in just a few years and the idea of a connectome (that we can actually map in principle) is a huge breakthrough that will lead to fantastic new technologies.

    When one field pla

  • Students were advised not to go into Physics as a career, as there were only two unsolved problems in Classical Physics -- that of the photoelectric effect, and the advance of the perihelion of Mercury.

    Einstein addressed both problems in 1905, and changed the world.

    What will the current set of "little problems" and inconsistencies in Physics lead to?
  • ...in his first lecture on physics. "The really interesting things in physics are where we thought we understood how things work, yet something new and not part of the known rules happens." He used chess as an analogy with the observation of how pawns rooks, bishops, knights queens and kings all move, and you watch for a while, think you have a good grasp of what's happening, and all of a sudden a pawn disappears from a square, and nothing replaces it, and you learn about 'en passant.' (sp?) You watch for

  • by meerling (1487879) on Thursday April 10, 2014 @09:23PM (#46721133)
    About every decade somebody makes the same basic prediction/declaration.
    This has been going on for more than a century and a half.
    (It could be a lot longer, but it's not like I've seen a lot of pointless stupid statements that were quickly proven wrong in most historical documentations.)
  • "Physics" is a fairly artificial concept of separation of knowledge - after all, knowledge is just one. Our brains, on the other hand, are too tiny to fit all of it in. We started learning about surroundings "midway", e.g. F=ma - basic physical phenomenon, and from there started moving towards the very small (quarks), very large (galaxies), and much more complex - chemistry, biology. I think the discoveries tend to go in waves, and when there is an imbalance of knowledge, the area at the bottom shoots up. F

  • The author argues that it's taking longer for physicists to receive Nobel Prizes. Maybe it's the Nobel Prize process that's slowing down! Maybe the Nobel Prize committee no longer knows what they are looking for! Maybe the Nobel Prize committee is hamstrung by political correctness. Whatever the reason, how does the length of time it takes to award a Nobel Prize, have anything to do with the actual progress of science???

  • but the low hanging fruit is getting pretty thin, so if your in it to win a trophy and not actually DO great things, then this is a GOOD thing

  • I say the notion that there is little left for science to discover or invent is a bunch of hogwash. Perhaps we have been moving at such a rapid pace in recent decades that it has just become more difficult to envision a future different from the present. Thus we have a hard time seeing what direction future advances may come from and how they will impact our lives. If we take a humble perspective on the science behind us it is more clear that we really have no idea what is in store for us, and there is no r
  • Science Is Running Out of "Great" Things To Discover.

    National Geographic is running out of "great" things to discover.

  • Oh? Scientists are taking longer and longer to get Nobel Prizes, meanwhile our President got one just for being elected! Never mind the more competent and capable black fellow who Obama got redistricted out of office to begin his ascent... maybe Gerrymandering is a feat worth a "Nobel" prize? Ah, wait, now I remember, these prizes are just political bullshit, who gives a fuck about them? I don't.

    Neurology is unlocking the mystery of the mind and Cybernetics provides models for the creation of new mental latices so that minds may escape their bodies. Information theory gives us insight into the quantification of cognition and its unification with mathematics. Philosophy may soon have epistemology verifiable through quantum physics and ethics based on rigorously provable physics equations. The theory of expansion says there are multiverses and we haven't even colonized the moon let alone been to the nearest planet in person not to mention the nearest star or galaxy... and these fuckers want to claim science is winding down? Sounds like some Grade A+ Christian Fundamentalist Pandering to me: "Science is almost dead! See, it didn't have all the answers. Yaaaay God!"

    Hell, I can barely keep up with feeding my distributed neural network experiments ever more precessing power due to the exponential increase in cheap computation complexity. For the first time on this planet a species stands poised to intelligently design and manufacture the biogenesis of a completely new form of life, and some idiots are saying we've reached the end of the road in science? Fuck that. If PCs continue their progress then by 2050 the machine intelligences in my server racks alone will have many times more computation power than a human head does, to say nothing of the Internet as a whole. We just began 3D printing new organs and regenerating existing organs too. We're making ARTIFICIAL EYES and we can even cure deafness. We've got artificial brain implants restoring and repairing the functionality of minds, we even have the first ever telepathy by way of copying the thoughts and memories of one mouse into another. We may not only colonize the asteroid belt, but even create self assembling minds the size of small planets with electromagnetic brain waves so powerful they can shape reality itself concentrating energy matter at a whim, like the most powerful coherent beams on Earth crudely do now. Science killed the old gods, deprecating the term by defining new ones like Alien Intelligence. Now we are closer than ever to creating god-like beings or becoming like gods ourselves, at the very least immortal, and yet science is "running out" of great things to discover? Really?

    I could go on about discoveries and achievements to be made in every field from education to material science, from grief counseling to artificial flavoring, from textiles to construction there is not a single area of research that doesn't stand to make revolutionary advances for humanity in everything from self healing metals and glass to houses that think to transforming electro-chemically powered clothing to vegetables and meats that grow in your fridge to environmentally friendly cellularly engineered organically grown building construction or even just candy that repairs and prevents cavities.

    It would take a really small minded and ignorant fool to claim science is running out of achievements or advancements. Try peering out from under a rock some time. With each new technology the door opens to even more progress. Just compare the last century to the century before that to refute the bullshit claim; Try it with millenniums to get a real grasp on progress. Machines have developed capabilities in a few short decades that took organic life billions of years to emerge. All observational evidence proves such nonsensical statements as in TFA ill-informed at best, and an indication of brain damage at worse.

    The article is sensationalists anti-science garbage. Nature will grant the same fate to troglodytes as trilobites. If you lack adequate awareness, you become a fossil. Adapt or become extinct.

  • It's not that there's not more to discover, it's that the cost and effort for major discoveries has gone up. This is especially true in high-energy physics, where each generation of accelerators is far more expensive than the previous one. On the other hand, there's been lots of discovery in low-energy physics in recent decades. Exploring physics around absolute zero has been very productive and not hugely expensive. Semiconductor device physics continues to make progress. Lots of low-energy effects once

  • You don't know what a great discovery is until it has been discovered.

    Some discoveries are done purely by accident.

  • by StripedCow (776465) on Friday April 11, 2014 @07:22AM (#46723711)

    Patents are slowing down innovation.

There is no distinction between any AI program and some existent game.

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