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Posted by Nicholas on November 28, 2002 18:45:54 UTC

"Does the entire scientific community choose sides and the last man standing wins? "

That's accurate. This is not like, and should not be compared to, a trial. Good scientific theories (like relativity) will prove themselves by successfully predicting phenomena, so information is constantly coming in. In a trial, all of the information should have already been collected and the lawyers don't have a chance to "predict" future findings or events. A new theory is basically presumed to be wrong until it can prove otherwise.

There is another thing that's different about science, not everybody gets equal participation. A theory put forth by a professor at a top institution will be given more attention than one by a complete novice. If we spent our time disproving every whacky theory that the public came up with, we'd have no time to do our jobs. Thus, the only way that a complete amateur can contribute to science is by coming up with a theory that very precisely predicts several new observations.

Perhaps you have a problem with the way this is done, but I don't see a better way to do it. If you do, please explain and I will be glad to argue with you. However, don't be condescending or smug when you're talking to a professional about their livelihood. It is extremely rude.

"When you say its been maximized does that mean it has been modified over time to its present state? How has it changed? "

There are many changes that have occurred over the past 500 years or so. In my opinion, the most important ones regard our perspective. It used to be that scientists would try to come up with theories that made humans as important as possible. Theories that stated otherwise were assumed to be wrong. Copernicus was one of the first major challengers of this. Other ways in which it has changed include:

1) Improved peer review process. Journals are now more available to scientists from all around the world. You can even post papers without peer review to an online archive.

2) Improved opportunities for students. As an undergraduate, I actually wrote and published two papers and had my name on at least five. This was unheard of 50 years ago. Graduate students are also getting more credit for their work.

3) More institutions participating. It used to be that only a few major institutions were serious contributors, but now the smaller ones are participating more. This mixes things up pretty well.

4) The fields are not as dominated by "rich white guys". They are still the majority, but many of the sciences are experiencing significant increases in the number of women, minorities, and lower-class members. Of course, the barriers that these groups face are usually much more significant at the lower levels of education (grade school and high school), so you can't really blame it on the scientific community.

5) Faster travel has allowed for more meetings and colloquia.

These are just the first that come to mind. Nothing is perfect and I'm sure more changes will be made.


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