[ExI] Discontent with the path physics is taking

Kelly Anderson kellycoinguy at gmail.com
Sat Aug 20 15:17:02 UTC 2011

2011/8/19 Sophia Rose <sen.otaku at googlemail.com>:
> Even if science is a cultural product, there are lots of subcultures within
> all countries that have scientific research. What effect do you feel these
> subcultures have on the pursuit of science in general, or Physics in
> specific?

I suspect that there is a great cultural difference between the folks
in CERN and Beijing. I don't know any specifics, but the Chinese mind
set is very different than the Western mind set, and I can't imagine
that this doesn't impact Physics and other sciences.

One example is that at least some Chinese scientists believe that the
impact of CO2 on global warming has been exaggerated by western

One article stated: "Several Chinese scientists who have gone over the
IPCC report believe that the IPCC may have overstated the link between
global temperature and CO2 in the atmosphere."

I don't want to start another flame war on global warming, nor will I
comment on the validity or lack there of of these particular Chinese
scientists, I'm just pointing out that the different mind set impacts
science in a culturally specific way.

> I know that it is a general trend in dominant culture to grab the limelight
> for one's self (I think that is easily drawn from the Reality Star trend).
> So we are saying that this is the motivation behind this race for String
> Theory? The desire to be the next Einstein/Newton/Maxwell?

I think so. The Grand Unification Theory is put out there in the
public mind as the only important goal of Physics. I know that can't
be the case, but in the mass media it's the only thing they talk about
until something has been reduced to practice and is ready to sell.

> And if so, how is that different from past trends? What was the previous
> motivation for scientific discoveries? Is it possible, or even desirable to
> return to that?

Well, most scientists in the 17th century were independently wealthy
amateurs. The first paid scientists emerged around the time of the
industrial revolution (1820ish) and soon the day of the amateur was
over. Certainly by the time of Edison (1870ish), it was lights out for
the amateur scientist. The last good amateur scientists I can think of
were the Wright brothers. (I welcome counter examples, if you have
them.) Even the Wright brothers were chasing the all mighty dollar.

I suspect that most scientists today are partially motivated by
curiosity, but not to the point that it impelled DaVinci... there's
too much money in it for that kind of pure joy to be very common
today. On the other hand, money itself doesn't have to ruin science.
The pursuit of fame may ruin some scientists, but I hope that isn't a
huge trend.

There is also the impact of who is paying the bill, and for what
reasons. There are really good research departments at Microsoft, Bell
Labs, IBM, etc. But even in those pure research labs, they are
constrained to working on things that might benefit the company
eventually. Government and University research is probably the most
out there science, but they still have to chase grants and publish.
Chasing grants and publishing are both moderating influences that keep
science away from the darkest edges of knowledge.

Which of these trends are most damaging is anyone's guess.


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