Quick. Name at least three geniuses in the history of science - three people whose ideas changed the world.
If you tried you probably came up with names like Einstein, Newton, Darwin, Edison, Galileo, etc. Robert Roy Britt at Live Science notes that among the things these world-changing thinkers share in common is that they were essentially loners:
Major breakthroughs in science have historically been the province of individuals, not institutes. Galileo and Copernicus, Edison and Einstein, toiling away in lonely labs or pondering the cosmos in private studies.
But 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.
This is an interesting observation. Has the move toward large research teams, made necessary by the need for funding, stifled individual genius? Or has the accumulation of knowledge made it much more difficult for great discoveries to be made because there are fewer left and those that are still out there are much more difficult to elucidate?
Britt discusses these questions in an interesting essay here. I wonder if genius isn't still flourishing but because the great thinkers are usually part of a research team they tend to be relatively anonymous compared to past giants like Einstein and Newton who worked alone.
Anyway, read Britt's essay at the link.RLC