Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Scientific Elitism

Darwin's 'bulldog', Thomas Huxley, was a chief
proponent of Darwinistic ideas and tried to
suppress the influence of creationism in academia.  

 As a benefit of attending a largely Christian university trying to establish itself in the world of research academies, I have had the opportunity to take part in a Science and Religion seminar.  It was a great review of some the topics and issues in the debate and it was held in such a way that no agendas were diguisingly (or blatantly) given as 'truth'.  It was a great open forum (with some great lunches provided by the faculty dining center)!  

A few times during this seminar the issue of elitism among the scientific communities was raised.  This began in Europe shortly after Darwinian ideas started to take hold.  Efforts by those in the X club and others so like-minded, wanted to maintain a hold on the academic community and weed out creationists and anti-evolutionaries. (note: here I use the term 'creationism' in the most general sense. It is the idea that the world/universe/whatever was created/guided/organized by some form of deity and is not strictly 'young earth' creationism.)  In order to do so, they pushed the need for more advanced training to occur among 'professional' scientists in order to widen the gap between the two worlds.   Obviously there are some good results of this movement: higher quality research being chief among them.  There are some downsides too.

We have all been to conferences where 'that guy' gives the talk and has to battle his way through contentious comments or automatically dismissive audiences.  You can feel bad for the guy even if his ideas are just plain crazy or they never have the benefit of taking an actual class in quantum theory. This form of elitism shows the human side of scientists and can also be seen in the difficulty in getting published by peer-review (especially if the editor/reviewers just don't like you or your research).  

Last week, the BBC reported on the American Physical Society’s (APS) attempts to give a place for ‘crackpots’ to share their ideas.  In so doing, they indirectly admit to elitism and that there may be merit to proposals made by some mathematically-untrained conference presenters. 

The issue is that some who are considered crackpots just don’t have the language (i.e. mathematical background) to communicate their ideas effectively to the physics community.  They cite an example of a Nobel in Chemistry being awarded to a man who, for years, was ridiculed.  When he was finally able to share his ideas effectively, they were accepted and rewarded. 

The solution is to give a special disguised conference session to those with ‘crazy’ ideas.  Is it a “good” solution... I guess that we’ll have to wait to find out.
Here is a link to the article.


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