Monday, August 31, 2009

Doggerel #191: "Genius"

Welcome back to "Doggerel," where I ramble on about words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.

We've gotten along pretty far in scientific discovery, and we owe a lot of that to some wonderfully clever people whose brainpower helped them put two and two together to find the answer to a lot of weird mysteries we've had to deal with. They deserve major kudos for their contributions to our understanding of the world around us. They don't deserve to be propped up as saints, though.

There is more to being a scientist than being a "genius." Science requires hard work and a methodical approach. Simply having a higher IQ, brain cell count, or whatever measure of intelligence you choose doesn't make you right. Sure, being able to pick out patterns or perceive connections other people miss is handy in scientific research, but bragging about that ability won't get you published if you can't use it to find good evidence. Evidence is, after all, the ultimate authority in science.

Albert Einstein was a genius. He used that powerful brain of his to revolutionize physics and cosmology. But, despite what users of this doggerel would have you believe, smart people can do stupid things. Einstein backed the Steady State model of the universe and rejected quantum physics. He did so in spite of available evidence because it didn't fit his sense of aesthetics. Those who subscribe to the (false) messianic priesthood model of science are the sort who would cling to Einstein's word because it's Einstein's word. Real scientifically-minded people would accept or reject ideas based on available evidence, no matter who proposed them.

It doesn't matter if you're a genius. It doesn't matter if you won a Nobel Prize. It doesn't matter if you have a brain the size of a planet. If the evidence doesn't agree with you, we can dismiss your ideas. I don't need to be smarter than Einstein to disagree with him on quantum physics or the cosmological constant. I just need better evidence and/or the ability to spot logical fallacies in his position.

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