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Math Science

The End of Individual Genius? 364

An anonymous reader writes "A recent study suggests the downfall of individual researchers, who are being rapidly replaced by enormous research groups. Quoting: '... in recent decades — especially since the Soviet success in launching the Sputnik satellite in 1957 — the trend has been to create massive institutions that foster more collaboration and garner big chunks of funding. And it is harder now to achieve scientific greatness. A study of Nobel Prize winners in 2005 found that the accumulation of knowledge over time has forced great minds to toil longer before they can make breakthroughs. The age at which thinkers produce significant innovations increased about six years during the 20th century.'"
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The End of Individual Genius?

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  • In elemental news (Score:4, Insightful)

    by smittyoneeach ( 243267 ) * on Sunday December 14, 2008 @09:33AM (#26110333) Homepage Journal
    The molecule claims to trump the atom.
  • by geekmux ( 1040042 ) on Sunday December 14, 2008 @09:38AM (#26110349)
    None of us are as dumb as all of us.
  • good! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by thermian ( 1267986 ) on Sunday December 14, 2008 @09:43AM (#26110377)

    It may sound romantic that a lone genius comes along and changes everything, but its not a good thing in practice, nor, for the most part, is it even true.

    There have been great people that came along and made breakthroughs, but always this was the result of their building work of others.
    The myth of the lone scientist is just that, a myth. Newton, to pick an example of the 'great man working alone' wasn't the only one working in his field, he just 'rewrote' a lot of history to make this seem the case. We don't even use his version of calculus, but everyone still credits him.

    Einstein too extended the work of many others. He did a lot of thinking on his own, but everything he did was an extension of the work of others. I'm not saying he wasn't smart, he was, but how much faster would his work have arrived had he been working in a group the whole time?

    This trend of working in groups can do naught but good.

  • Work is play (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Samschnooks ( 1415697 ) on Sunday December 14, 2008 @09:46AM (#26110385)

    ...the ingredients of a great and productive mind: cognitive abilities, educational opportunities, interest, and plain old hard work.

    When you really love to do something, work and play become the same thing. Many of the great scientists didn't have to force themselves to do the work.

  • Re:good! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by liquidpele ( 663430 ) on Sunday December 14, 2008 @09:49AM (#26110397) Journal
    I think another aspect is that type of breakthrough. If the breakthrough is more of a theory or proof, it's much easier to do as a single person and, say, developing the silicon transistor. I think as scientific ideas stabilize, you'll see more and more research being to do more complicated things that an individual would be hard pressed to do alone.
  • Re:good! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by loonycyborg ( 1262242 ) on Sunday December 14, 2008 @09:52AM (#26110403)

    There have been great people that came along and made breakthroughs, but always this was the result of their building work of others.

    You're confusing things here. Working alone doesn't preclude you from building on other people's work, while working in group often does due to NIH etc.

  • by Eudial ( 590661 ) on Sunday December 14, 2008 @10:00AM (#26110459)

    groups tend to be smarter than any individual member.
    The trouble is that they also give us the 1929, 1987, and whenever the last stock Market crash was.

    In my experience, groups tend to be dumber than any individual member. Being accused of groupthink [] is not a compliment.

  • Re:good! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 14, 2008 @10:10AM (#26110511)

    >There have been great people that came along and made breakthroughs, but always this was the result of their building work of others.

    Of course, but the others weren't a moving target. Depending on how you define "working in a group", you could make all of humanity being one group and obviously everyone works in a group, then.

    Point is, when you "work alone", you don't have to argue with others and get them to understand your viewpoint about the theory. If you try to understand their viewpoint, it isn't "A" today but "B" tomorrow (and if it is, you ignore them until they decided it themselves - something you usually can't do in a "official" small group you are part of).

    >Einstein too extended the work of many others. He did a lot of thinking on his own, but everything he did was an extension of the work of others.

    >I'm not saying he wasn't smart, he was, but how much faster would his work have arrived had he been working in a group the whole time?

    Much much slower.

    No, really. I'm all for working in groups but working out fields in theoretical physics is something you wouldn't be able to do in a group in any reasonable time frame. Apart from the social problems (whose idea was "it"?), too many cooks spoil the soup and you end up with frankentheory, if anything.

    In Experimental Physics, I'm all for it. A million monkeys on a million typewriters......

  • by YourExperiment ( 1081089 ) on Sunday December 14, 2008 @10:12AM (#26110515)
    It's possible that this is due in part to the sheer amount of bureaucracy that goes on in academia these days. Perhaps these collaborative papers are written by one genius, backed up by one or more people who know how to secure the funding and generally get things done.
  • bureaucracy (Score:4, Insightful)

    by owlnation ( 858981 ) on Sunday December 14, 2008 @10:17AM (#26110531)
    Working in groups is fine as long as there's relative freedom to work. The problem with institutionalized anything is that there's always more bureaucracy to suck up time away from creative progress. While status reports and performance reviews might be less in the academic world (I don't know if they are or not) than in the corporate world, I'm sure they are still a time-wasting headache.

    I'm fairly sure the human race would be significantly more advanced if someone could travel back in time and assassinate Bismark. Both private and public sectors would be dramatically more productive if they didn't have to report progress, make funding proposals to the same extent, and handle human resources nonsense. This is the only reason why two guys in a garage can start a massive software company, and that same company stagnates and treads water after 8-10 years of existence.

    Bureaucracy, middle managers, and human resources are the single biggest drain on human advancement.
  • by JDevers ( 83155 ) on Sunday December 14, 2008 @10:20AM (#26110545)

    I can certainly back this up, from my experience the first author on a paper does 80% of the work, the next few work in the same lab and contributed in some minor way and the last few are the people you put on the grant application to have any chance of getting money.

  • by Morgaine ( 4316 ) on Sunday December 14, 2008 @10:21AM (#26110551)

    In my view, TFA has got it very wrong because the writer has romanticized a fictitious "lone scientist" into existence. In reality, so-called "lone scientists" never work or think alone at all, and they never have. Instead, scientific thinking always takes place within an international sea of ideas.

    Throughout all of history, scientific progress has always occurred within a framework of communication between thinking people, and those thought processes arise out of education in the relevant subjects followed by extremely extensive reading and discussing of ideas with others. New scientific insight has never popped out of nothing by some sort of magic. Novel ideas arise only by alternative analysis of other people's published or communicated thoughts.

    Instead of the lone scientist being at a disadvantage now versus large organized groups, the opposite may even be true because of the Internet. Never before have lone individuals had so much up-to-date information at their disposal (including research data), and never before have they had the means to communicate with others so easily. This suggests that the lone scientist has a lot going for him or her today, at least in part.

    Science contains two parts however, a theoretical one and an experimental one, and there is no doubt that the experimental side of science benefits hugely from good funding. However, you need the germ of a new idea before you can turn it into a theory let alone test it, and new ideas don't spring up directly through funding --- it's a more complex relationship.

    Large research groups certainly provide a good environment for high-bandwidth scientific discussion among peers in a scientific discipline, but even those scientists will be communicating with others worldwide, particularly through conferences and publications, and so they're still adding to the international sea of ideas which is the real bedrock of science. Things haven't really changed much.

  • by StupendousMan ( 69768 ) on Sunday December 14, 2008 @10:21AM (#26110553) Homepage

    ... but "the age at which researchers have built up large research teams to carry out projects for which they (for the most part) acquire funding."

    In other words, eighty years ago, a 30-year old physicist and a technician or two could build a device to study the absorption of X-rays by various elements. The resulting publications might win a Nobel Prize.

    These days, a 30-year old physicist is working as a post-doc in someone else's lab. He won't by the leading author on the grant proposal to design a new detector for CERN -- some 50-year old with an established track record will be. That 50-year old guy will probably still be alive when the detector is finally built and goes into action. He MIGHT still be alive when the Nobel Prize committee gets around to considering the results of the research.

    If you think this is lamentable, ask yourself about bridges. How many people design and build large highway bridges BY THEMSELVES these days? None. Do you long for the days, millenia ago, when a single man, or perhaps a man and his brothers, might construct a bridge to span the local creek?

    Practical architecture has become too big for one man to do all by himself. The items of interest just cannot be built by a single person in a human lifetime. The same is true in SOME spheres of the sciences, but not all.

  • Re:good! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 14, 2008 @10:24AM (#26110563)

    "I think as scientific ideas stabilize"

    This idea of stabilizing could actually be more like the old saying "Familiarity breeds contempt". As more people become familiar with the subject, new advances don't seem as important as the earlier advances, (even though the new advances could actually be very important in advancing the field).

    Also its much easier to look back in hindsight, to see existing advances were historically important. We can't do that with new advances (yet). Only in hindsight can many people see some advance were important.

    These (as the title says) "Individual Geniuses" are the few who can see something new is going to be fundamentally important (which is why they research it). Most people don't have that kind of foresight (or more to the point, don't have such deep knowledge of a field, to give them that kind of foresight). Most people need hindsight to see something was important.

    Mahatma Gandhi once said, "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win."

    The majority of the people start by ignoring the importance of breathroughs. I find it facinating reading up on the history of technology and science from centuries ago. What Mahatma Gandhi said was so true (and still is so true). This same pattern of human behavior repeats throughout the history of human progress.

  • Re:good! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by kumanopuusan ( 698669 ) <goughnourc AT gmail DOT com> on Sunday December 14, 2008 @10:26AM (#26110573)

    Don't bother to mod me up, but the parent should be modded down. Newton is the perfect example of an individual genius, and he changed the world drastically, irrevocably and all by himself. "Everyone still credits" Newton because the calculus wasn't even his biggest accomplishment. He invented classical mechanics by himself. There is no dispute about it.

    The greatest minds in the rest of the world were decades behind him, so it's hard to imagine what group he should have been working with. It wasn't just the case with Newton either. Gauss discovered non-Euclidean geometry 30 years before it was published anywhere else.

    Before you claim that Newton and Gauss were lying, consider that they didn't have any reason to. Without claiming credit for calculus, Newton would still be the most influential physicist of all time, and there was no peer to Gauss.

    I'll admit that for all the rest of us, working in groups will help immensely, but let's not shackle the few truly exceptional people that exist to the mediocre. The solution here is for us not to pretend we're geniuses. Just because it's encouraging to pretend that Newton is just like the rest of us, doesn't mean we should be so dishonest as to pretend it's true.

  • Apples and Oranges (Score:5, Insightful)

    by vadeskoc ( 1374195 ) on Sunday December 14, 2008 @10:27AM (#26110583)
    It's kind of weird the article compares Einstein - a theoretician - with large experimental / engineering enterprises such as Sputnik or CERN. Theoretical and experimental physics are two very different beasts (that don't always even get along), and to my knowledge, there aren't any grand collaborations in theoretical physics (still done on a small / individual scale).
  • I call BS (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ChienAndalu ( 1293930 ) on Sunday December 14, 2008 @10:35AM (#26110611)

    I don't agree at all. Of course there are more research groups than before, and more excellent research is done in groups, that doesn't mean that there aren't any extraordinary individuals.

    I also think their definition of genius is a little bit narrow. I think "Einstein" just became a meme for "genius" and the others just haven't made an impression in the public mind.

    Just try to make a graph with the number of geniuses per century. Leonardo da Vinci in the late 15th century for example, Galileo late 16th, Newton late 17th century. In the 20th century we have Einstein, Bohr, Planck, Goedel, James Watson and Francis Crick (ok these are two), Feynman just died 20 years ago!

    To me, the genius density is increasing. Just because you can't think of an Einstein living today (and you can argue about that, too), doesn't mean that there won't be one in the next 50 years.

  • by Gothmolly ( 148874 ) on Sunday December 14, 2008 @10:36AM (#26110617)

    Years of stealthy replacement of educators, first at the college level, then the high school level have beaten the very idea out of people. Now that THOSE people are having kids, there's nobody who really remembers individual genius as something normal, and so the anti-reason, anti-individual Left has almost won. Don't stick out, fit in. Don't complain, accept. Don't succeed if others fail. Don't win if someone loses. Don't excel if someone falls behind. Don't live for yourself, live for others. When nobody will stick up for the 5 year old kid who instinctively knows that this is crap, then that kid is pretty much doomed.

  • by antifoidulus ( 807088 ) on Sunday December 14, 2008 @10:37AM (#26110621) Homepage Journal
    large groups to do science is simply the cost and complexity of experiments. Nowadays very few groundbreaking experiments can be done in your garage, you need access to expensive machines(and often lots of energy) in order to conduct your research. And since they probably won't hand the keys to the LHC(once its repaired) to some upstart grad student with a new theory, it becomes necessary to spend vast amounts of time "proving" yourself while building the necessary connections to see your experiment come to fruition.

    I think this study is partially flawed because they only look at Nobel prize winners, which exclude fields like Mathematics(where no labs are necessary in many cases). If mathematicians are getting older then I would be more inclined to believe their conclusion.
  • Re:good! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by theaveng ( 1243528 ) on Sunday December 14, 2008 @10:39AM (#26110633)

    "That's soooo depressing."
    - Marvin the Paranoid Android

    I don't want to be just a robot that serves the computers. If my life is that unimportant than I might as well turn Amish and become a farmer.

  • by boombaard ( 1001577 ) on Sunday December 14, 2008 @10:40AM (#26110643) Journal
    You seem to be leaving little room for ideas that aren't generally accepted by the field you're working in.
    How likely would it have been that those guys would've been allowed to reformulate their contemporary thinking in the way they thought best if they'd have been forced to justify everything immediately to their colleagues? All this may work fine in periods of evolutionary growth of a theory (or complex of theories), but it seems rather less workable if and when people get stuck. (this is not to say that both these things can't be looked into by different researchers simultaneously, one still working and adding to the old paradigm while the other might be reformulating it, but the point you're making sort of ignores the aspect of office politics.)
    "string theory" might be one such example.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 14, 2008 @10:50AM (#26110687)

    If I have seen farther than others, it is because I was standing on the shoulders of giants.
    Albert Einstein

  • by Software Geek ( 1097883 ) on Sunday December 14, 2008 @10:50AM (#26110691)

    In my experience, even though groups are dumber than any individual member, individuals are smarter when they are in groups.

    Individuals rarely challenge their own assumptions. Just having someone to listen to your ideas and ask a few pointed questions can save a huge amount of time wasted in unproductive directions.

    It is when a group keeps steering you back to the same bad assumptions that it makes you dumber.

  • by aliquis ( 678370 ) <> on Sunday December 14, 2008 @11:07AM (#26110761) Homepage

    The smart girls most likely hang around at the same place as the smart boys, don't ask me why you never meet one of them.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 14, 2008 @11:09AM (#26110771)

    The large groups are a consequence of funding. People have a "logarithmic" perception of money where large sums do not seem as large as they really are (just listen to politicians talking about money). Large groups get more money per person then small groups, sometimes more then an order of magnitude larger. Just divide the price of a "big science" project by the number of scientists working on it, and then ask any typical science professor on a typical university how much money they get, per person,
    on their group.

    So if you want money create/join a large group!

    Innovation is still tied to bright individuals. Von Braun and company took one decade to put a man on the Moon. Just watch the difficulties NASA has to go back there, or even just get off the ground.
    However as "big science" has big money, it can hire public relations people that convince the politicians and journalists they are doing great innovations.

  • by Daniel Dvorkin ( 106857 ) * on Sunday December 14, 2008 @11:15AM (#26110795) Homepage Journal

    Years of stealthy replacement of educators, first at the college level, then the high school level have beaten the very idea out of people.

    I think you have no idea how much tougher the educational system used to be on people who stood out from the crowd. "Don't stick out, fit in. Don't complain, accept," indeed. Do you think being a genius as a schoolkid was easy for Newton?

  • Re:good! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 14, 2008 @11:35AM (#26110889)

    IMHO it would be more depressing if humans were still wasting time doing computationally intensive/iterative calculations by hand, like solving statically indeterminate rigid beam structures like bridges. There are some tasks that computers are VERY well suited for, and this is one of them. It still takes a human to look at the results and make the determination that they are valid, relevant and reasonably accurate. FEA is another good example of this. Sure, the computer can generate a very pretty picture of von Mises stress distribution over a body, but it can't tell you whether or not it's accurate. Humans have creativity and judgment, computers have computational power; we need to remember our strengths, and use computers for theirs.

  • by drerwk ( 695572 ) on Sunday December 14, 2008 @11:39AM (#26110897) Homepage
    Newton and Leibniz may well have invented calculus independently. And I'd like to know which version you use, because Newton introduced the product rule, the chain rule, the notion of higher derivatives, Taylor series, and analyticity. [] We don't use his notation, but that is a small difference.

    You do a real injustice to suggest that math was "his field", as he invented calculus to help him invent classical mechanics. He invented F=ma. Not until Einstien 200 years latter was that improved upon significantly. He invented color theory. Which led him to construct the Newtonian telescope to remove the chromatic aberration his color theory implied.
    And, thanks to his use of Newtons's rings to measure the quality of the mirrors he was grinding to build his telescope, they were the best telescopes available in the day.

    If he was not a Genius, then there have never been any.
  • Re:good! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by timeOday ( 582209 ) on Sunday December 14, 2008 @11:40AM (#26110901)
    Newton and Gauss don't prove the value of lone-wolf researchers in modern times, which I take to be the point of the story. These days, many, many more people have access to information and the material means to spend a good chunk of time thinking. That makes it much, much harder to stand head and shoulders above the crowd. The easy discoveries have been made - nobody is going to be immortalized for discovering that distance = acceleration * time^2 these days. Einstein himself called Newton lucky because "there is only one Universe to discover and he did it."
  • Re:good! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by m_cuffa ( 632043 ) on Sunday December 14, 2008 @11:41AM (#26110911)

    Newton was truly exceptional and head and shoulders above most if not all scientists of his age, but he did not work alone. He worked closely and/or drew on the work of Halley, Huygens, Leibniz, to name but a few, and his work built on the earlier work of Kepler and Brahe. The romanticized notion of the lone scientist toiling away in his lab is really a myth. Science has always been collaborative.

    "If I have seen further it is only by standing on the shoulders of Giants."
    - Isaac Newton

    "To explain all nature is too difficult a task for any one man or even for any one age. 'Tis much better to do a little with certainty, & leave the rest for others that come after you, than to explain all things by conjecture without making sure of any thing."
    - Isaac Newton

  • by Gerzel ( 240421 ) <(moc.liamg) (ta) (terrefyllorb)> on Sunday December 14, 2008 @11:57AM (#26110997) Journal

    Please. It has pretty much always been like this. The more brains you have on a project generally means the faster it gets done(note I did say Generally).

    Even many of our great inventors are often given credit as individuals when really they were working as heads of larger teams. Edison comes to mind. And while we contribute relativity to Einstein it was large teams of people that actually got nuclear power working and confirmed his ideas. Darwin nearly got scooped by another man for natural selection(or natural preservation as he(Darwin) would have preferred), even if the other guy hadn't done his work nearly as throughly.

    In the end while there are often genius individuals none of them work in a vacuum and there are often many people around them working towards similar ends.

  • by mkiwi ( 585287 ) on Sunday December 14, 2008 @12:11PM (#26111063)

    This title is misleading. There are many types of genius outside of math and physics.
    Artists, authors, composers, financial gurus, etc. can all be geniuses. To limit the definition of genius to a scientist is to discard most the minds who have greatly contributed to our society.

    I'm not saying the submitter did this out of malice, but there is definitely a negative "stereotype" in the scientific community about intelligent people who do non-science-related work.

  • Re:Ha! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by fictionpuss ( 1136565 ) on Sunday December 14, 2008 @12:20PM (#26111107)

    Thinking of a cool idea is not even almost in the same league as inventing it. Example: The flying car.

    But don't blame a lack of support from others, because that's just lame. You could always, you know, take a dead-end job in a patent office or something giving you the time to develop your ideas into something that will gain you recognition rather than derision.

  • Re:good! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by krull ( 48492 ) on Sunday December 14, 2008 @12:43PM (#26111239)

    Well, the large majority of proofs in mathematics these days are still done by hand.

    There are certain types of proofs where computers are being used more and more (and have made great strides), but most published math theory papers have proofs by hand...

    This isn't to say computers play no role -- they are very useful for simplifying messy algebraic expressions...

    Perhaps this isn't true for proofs in CS though?

  • by presidenteloco ( 659168 ) on Sunday December 14, 2008 @12:45PM (#26111251)

    or perish, in the scientific academic world.

    So since it takes, not six years, but six years LONGER, to
    come up with anything truly significant, it must mean that
    A) Most scientific papers are full of nought but
    drivel, detritus, and dutifully determined data, and
    B) Significant breakthroughs will be hard to come by,
    as most scientists toil wasting their time publishing
    the drivel in order to be well accepted in their exclusive
    communities. The geniuses will be driven mad by the
    death of their career and loss of income as they try to
    concentrate, for years, on teasing out a single significant
    insight, at the sacrifice of the many papers and
    conference cocktail parties.
    A bit sad really. It's a good thing that the google
    AI machine will be making the significant insights
    from now on.

  • by ShieldW0lf ( 601553 ) on Sunday December 14, 2008 @12:51PM (#26111297) Journal

    When the education system institutionalizes you for 30 years and tells you what the world looks like, how the hell are you supposed to actually see it when you're finally released?

    Geniuses need to see the world for themselves.

  • by online-shopper ( 159186 ) on Sunday December 14, 2008 @12:52PM (#26111311)

    Godwin for the win!
    Nazi germany did to some degree.

    In all seriousness humans have always practiced selection in breeding. Just not always in the way you apparently think they should.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 14, 2008 @01:00PM (#26111357)

    When the education system institutionalizes you for 30 years and tells you what the world looks like, how the hell are you supposed to actually see it when you're finally released?

    Geniuses need to see the world for themselves.

    And then they realize they don't know enough about their field to actually make breakthroughs. ShieldW0lf is a loony. :-(

  • Taxes (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Normal Dan ( 1053064 ) on Sunday December 14, 2008 @01:47PM (#26111683)
    I blame high taxes. The more one has to work, the less time they have for research. It's hard to get ahead when success is punished. I have several "brilliant" ideas. All of which require time and money. I make good money but much of it has been taken away from me. I could have had enough to retire by now if it weren't for taxes. Unfortunately, I need to keep working. My ideas are all going to waste because I have no time for research.
  • by hedwards ( 940851 ) on Sunday December 14, 2008 @02:04PM (#26111783)

    Indeed, while Eugenics fell out of favor due to the even more extreme practice of genocide. The reality is that people are going to choose somebody that they're attracted to over somebody that's not.

    It always mystifies me that the assumption is that looks don't correspond with other important qualities. What's more attractive tends to be defined based upon things which are advantageous, intelligence, fertility and ability to raise future offspring. It really shouldn't be a surprise that so many attractive people are also both popular and intelligent.

    It's bad for the species to encourage people to date down. People do try to date up for a reason, calling it superficial is kind of ill advised. As often as not, the person being mocked is being less superficial than the one doing the mocking.

  • by marco.antonio.costa ( 937534 ) on Sunday December 14, 2008 @03:08PM (#26112181)

    Thinking 'generally' might lead you to false conclusions. In my opinion the optimal 'head count' varies from venture to venture, there is no general panacea. More people can help, more people can get in the way.

    Large groups of people confirmed Einstein's ideas, granted. What confirmed ideas or reactors would there be today if not for that one unique man? Zip.

    Nikola Tesla comes to my mind when you speak of Edison, incidentally, which was truly a scientific and creative genius while Edison, while far from a simpleton, don't get me wrong, was more of a gifted entrepreneur and obstinate tinkerer.

    Anyway, if individual genius is dead it is because we are killing it. Society seems to me to be heading more and more in path of collectivism and thus less and less incentive for individual achievement. Damn shame if you ask me. :(

  • by Mutatis Mutandis ( 921530 ) on Sunday December 14, 2008 @03:53PM (#26112447)

    The more brains you have on a project generally means the faster it gets done(note I did say Generally).

    This is the concept that an IT consultant once described as "using nine women to produce a baby in one month." Beyond a certain critical mass, generally not higher than about seven people, adding more people slows down R&D work. Larger groups can work effectively only if they divide themselves into smaller teams working on well-defined parts of the job.

    Even armies have figured this out -- modern armies may be huge and complex organizations, but the smallest tactical unit is a squad of about ten people, much like the Roman contubernium.

    Indeed Einstein did not work in complete isolation: Much of the mathematical framework for the theory of relativity was explored by Poincare and Lorentz. And he corresponded about his ideas with others. Nevertheless, theoretical physics at this level is a highly individual activity, because ultimately it is all about thinking and testing concepts in a mathematical framework.

  • Re:good! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by syousef ( 465911 ) on Sunday December 14, 2008 @03:54PM (#26112459) Journal

    And in fact most discoveries these days are really done by computers, not by humans.

    Also humans don't build houses. It's the tools that do it. People say the construction crew built it, but really it was the hammers, saws and nail guns that did it.

    Also my accountant doesn't do anything. I should be paying his calculator directly.

    Yeah it sounds stupid when you credit the tool, doesn't it? Computers are just tools.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 14, 2008 @04:08PM (#26112551)

    Then you and she are guilty of academic dishonesty. To be an author of a paper, you not only have to have made a significant contribution to it, but also understand the entire work and take responsibility for its verification.

  • by RiotingPacifist ( 1228016 ) on Sunday December 14, 2008 @04:29PM (#26112715)

    Erm which of Einstein's ideas specifically do you think nobody else could have come up with?
    He posed that the speed of light was constant because, others had ALREADY failed to measured the speed of earth through the aether. While assuming that the speed of light is constant in all frames of reference was a jump, it was just a matter of time until somebody applied Lorentz transformations to produce special relativity, even if they did it without the physical insight.

    And i cant think of anything he did post 1905 that wasn't in collaboration with others.

  • by HuguesT ( 84078 ) on Sunday December 14, 2008 @05:40PM (#26113237)

    In the general public's eye perhaps, but to physicists he is far from the only one. Quite a few came close, especially the people working in QM: Heisenberg, Pauli, Dirac, de Broglie, the Curies, Landau, more recently Feynman, Gell-Mann, Weinberg and many others.

    Physics has become enormously more complicated now than at the turn of the 20th century. To contribute now requires long years of study to catch up with recent science and enormous budgets to run experiments.

    Coming up with a paradigm-shifting theory like relativity was now requires understanding and undoing literally piles upon piles of theory. It's easy to get lost, and most likely no one will understand you.

  • Actually attractiveness seems, to a large extent, to be correlated with cultural notions of what appears healthy or high-status. Europeans of the Renaissance often found chubby women attractive (it indicated a longer lifespan than exposed ribs, yes?), and old Semitic cultures considered a woman's hair so unbearably sexy it had to be covered for modesty (such a custom is still found in Judaism and Islam as a religious practice for the exact same reason). In modern Anglo-Saxon-derived cultures thin is in and hair is a mundane side concern relative to "T and A". I'm sure corresponding examples could be found for males.

    Evolution invented a species capable of transmitting information memetically (ie: culture) because doing so allows populations to adapt an order of magnitude faster than transmitting adaptations genetically.

    So "dating down" isn't bad for the species, because whatever a person thinks is attractive is their own personal projection of what's best for the species according to their genetic and memetic heritage, and evolution will select and pressure among the genes and memes in the eventual production of offspring.

    In other news, I need to get back to studying for final exams.

  • by Werthless5 ( 1116649 ) on Sunday December 14, 2008 @05:46PM (#26113291)

    If they had bother to read, say, a single scientific journal from the past 50 years, there would be a realization; not only do great scientific minds still appear, but they appear more regularly now than ever before.

    Einstein, Feynman, Bohr, Curie, Oppenheimer, Fermi, Heisenburg, Hawking, Planck, and many more who made outstanding individual contributions were ALL 20th century scientists! And there are dozens more like them, making BRILLIANT contributions to science. These are geniuses.

    The article is ignoring how history is written; you don't write it as it is being experienced. Often someone isn't recognized for genius for 20 years after they've made some incredible discovery, theory, etc. 20 years from now we'll have a new list of geniuses for the 21st century.

  • by atraintocry ( 1183485 ) on Monday December 15, 2008 @12:49AM (#26116559)


    You learn as much as you can, from as many places you can.

    You never let anyone tell you who you are.

    Putting those two things together does not mean limiting your intake of knowledge to the things that only reaffirm existing views. It means you don't fear new ideas and new *sources* of ideas. Because you know yourself well enough that you can be sure nobody's capable of brainwashing you.

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