Do we know too much about the origins of the universe to allow for any new scientific breakthroughs? That's a theory being put forward by one British journalist, but do scientists agree?
The Guardian's Ehsan Masood argues in a recent article that the amount of information we already have about everything that surrounds us shapes the way that we consider the unknown:
Scientists and science commentators often say that if yesterday's science needed outstanding individuals such as Darwin and Einstein, tomorrow's theories will be shaped by the vast quantities of data pouring forth from networked computers and from the labours of big research teams working in areas such as particle physics, the human genome and astronomy... [Science writer John Horgan] claimed that the basic scaffolding of the natural world is now mostly understood – the big bang theory, the structure of DNA and evolution by natural selection and the periodic table of elements are not going to change. Yes, many refinements are needed in our understanding of how things work, but as we are closer to reality in so many fields, the chances of seeing revolutionary new thinking will be that much less. Will we never witness a scientific revolution again? And will tomorrow's theories be guided by big data rather than revolutionary ideas?
Then again, perhaps the problem isn't the amount of knowledge, but the way in which scientific knowledge is presented, he argues:
It takes a lot of courage to challenge conventionally accepted views, and it needs a certain amount of stamina to constantly battle those who want to protect the status quo. Mavericks do not do well in large organisations, which is what some scientific fields have become. Progress in science needs researchers who are not afraid – or who are encouraged and rewarded – to ask awkward and difficult questions of theory and of new data. It is easier to question mainstream views if you are independently wealthy, as many scientists in previous ages tended to be. But I wonder how many of us would do so if we were employed by the state and our career progression depended on the validation of our peers?
So what is the solution? Masood suggests that, while biology may be pretty much done, there's the potential for another scientific revolution in physics... if only we can change the way we think of physics and scientific exploration in general. Such a small thing to ask for...
Are we witnessing the end of science? [Guardian.co.uk]