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Reducing research time

  1. Jul 21, 2006 #1


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    Is it best for science that research has split arsed and become fractional,
    or should research consentrate on one theory at a time?
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  3. Jul 21, 2006 #2


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    in physics theory development the frontier has often been divided---call it multipronged.
    I believe if you look at how things were in the period 1900 to 1950, there were different talented people working on a variety of theory developments, not always with any clear connection.

    So, for better or worse, I would not say 'BECOME' fractional----theory always has been more or less multi-tasking.

    it is somewhat darwinian----many of the efforts die----as if nature were trying out lots of theories and only the "fittest" survive.

    Many of the great names of the 1900-1950 period spent years working on pet theories that didn't pan out----and they would squabble shoot down each other's fond hopes too. But sometimes something that proves a dead-end will nevertheless provide some mathematical ideas that someone else will put to a different purpose on something that turns out better.

    I think you just have to train the young people to think for themselves and to have physical intuition and mathematical taste and LET THEM FOLLOW THEIR EDUCATED INSTINCTS-----if that year they all choose to work on the same approach and the same program, fine-----if they branch out and try different approaches and go after solving different problems, also fine.

    there is no substitute for the educated intuition of someone who is free to choose and gamble their career on what they believe in. and who has been educated to be aware of the options----not just taught one thing.

    we had better not try to tell these people "what is good for them".
    we are paying them to have hunches, and intellectual independence, and to gamble their careers on what they think will pay off. Nobody knows the roads better than the one making the journey

    if we dont give them freedom to take their own direction then we don't get our full money's worth on their education
  4. Jul 21, 2006 #3


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    Yes, and even as early as the first half of the nineteenth century the research frontier had broken into specialites, so much so that when somebody did work in a specialty which was not his "home", it could very well be ignored - "not invented here!"

    The present day actually sees more interchange between fields than was common in those old days. Even the acrimony over string theory could not occur if the different fields were not communicating. More and more, BTW, I see that acrimony as just a traditional primate thing, a p****ing contest if you will.
  5. Jul 21, 2006 #4


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    I see two very different controversies which easily get confused.

    A. one the one hand there are the arguments around string theory and its prospects or lack thereof.

    B. on the other hand there is Smolin's proposal to change funding for young researchers, especially postdocs, to be more in favor of support for the individual, based on merit, and less tied to a specific program.

    Even if Smolin himself did nothing but String, he could still be advocating a reform of the way research is supported in the US, simply as a matter of principle, or good research policy.
    I think favoring more a more diverse strategy with more options for the independent minded young researcher is something that one can be interested in as a matter of principle.

    I think I would like that even if it had no immediate obvious effect on the research map. Even if the great majority continued to do the same kind of research, it would still be worthwhile to give them more freedom of choice and have jobs and support less tied to a specific approach to the quantum spacetime and matter problem.

    to some extent one can discuss issue B on principle without quarreling about String or LQG.
    For example, as Smolin observes there is in the US only a single non-string QG research group (Penn State) with more than a single faculty member. Looks like "monculture" in the fundamental theory department. :smile:

    (this is not the case worldwide---there is more diversity abroad---but it is pretty stark in US)

    so AFAIK in the US, any place you look besides Penn State, if there is non-string QG research going on, then there is at most one faculty guy in the department doing it. he may or may not have grad students, but tendency is not to give postdoc positions where there is only one faculty member involved.

    That looks to me like something one would want to see remedied REGARDLESS of one's private opinion about the relative prospects of string and various non-string QG.
    Last edited: Jul 21, 2006
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