Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Lone Scientist

One annoyance that crops up every once in a while is some woo started by some guy who cloistered himself and thought up some fully formed idea of how everything works. It's straight from Hollywood myth, which exaggerated some aspects of early scientists. There were some who closed themselves off to perform experiments with infant fields and produce dramatic, unambiguous results. The time that's been possible is likely over.

Everything we study these days covers increasingly subtle details about the world's workings, and/or require massive data collection efforts. For subtle details, you need other researchers watching over your shoulder in the form of peer review, looking out for errors. For mass data collection, you can't work in isolation, and other people looking over that data will examine it to make their own discoveries. Science is now a team effort.

The only reason woos have for fostering the cloistered mad scientist model is the genre savvy appeal: In the movies, the lone scientist is always right because he's the poor underdog. And everyone loves an underdog. But life is not a movie. There is are no Rules of Cool or Drama. There are no Mary Sues or Marty Stus. Treating a pet woo as such will only irritate us in the manner of Wesley Crusher.

TV Tropes links omitted to save people time. That, and it's a Saturday night. Connection's slow.

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