The trouble seems to be that it is no man’s business to understand the general patterns and reactions of science as the economist understands the business world. Given some knowledge of economics, a national business policy can be formulated, decrees can be promulgated, recessions have some chance of being controlled, the electorate can be educated. I do not know, indeed, whether one might in fact understand the crises of modern science so well as to have the power to do anything about them. I must, however, suggest that the petty illnesses of science — its superabundance of literature, its manpower shortages, its increasing specialization, its tendency to deteriorate in quality — all these things are but symptoms of a general disease. That disease is partly understood by the historian, and might be understood better if it were any man’s professional province to do so. Even if we could not control the crisis that is almost upon us, there would at least be some satisfaction in understanding what is hitting us. (p. 193)
Science Since Babylon (1961), by Derek John DeSolla Price
Comment: Another important work from the classics I read in graduate school. I find it ironic that the challenges for the practice of science explicitly articulated here — “its superabundance of literature, its manpower shortages, its increasing specialization, its tendency to deteriorate in quality” — are even more prominent now, fifty years later, than they were in 1961 when Price described them as a disease.
You see, I have the advantage of having found out how hard it is to really get to know something, how careful you have to be about checking the experiments, how easy it is to make mistakes and fool yourself. I know what it means to know something, and therefore I see how they get their information and I can’t believe that they know it, they haven’t done the work necessary, haven’t done the checks necessary, haven’t done the care necessary. (p. 22)
The Pleasure of Finding Things Out, by Richard Feynman.
Comment: It is always entertaining to read Feynman, and his insights into the practice of science, its dynamics, strengths and weaknesses, are valuable to consider even when you disagree with him. If you disagree with him, can you refute him, and if so, based on what evidence? The issues he raises here, about making mistakes and fooling yourself, are especially critical for each innovator to consider in this time of rapid change when innovations arise, crest, and vanish before we have time to evaluate their unknown risks and hidden costs.
The Pleasure of Finding Things Out, Richard Feynman Interview (1981) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FXiOg5-l3fk