Specialization vs. Generalization

In summary, the conversation discusses the importance of specialized knowledge in certain occupations, such as technicians and construction workers. However, in fields like science and engineering, there is a vast amount of information and it is not possible for one person to know everything. The internet and universities are helpful resources for obtaining information, but it is important to have literacy and understanding in order to make use of this information. It is also important to be cautious of biases and limitations when seeking advice from experts. The conversation highlights the need for specialized knowledge and expertise in various fields.
  • #1
EvilKermit
23
0
For some occupations, (for example: technicians, construction worker) it makes sense to have specialized knowledge. I agree for the most part it is important to specialize in a specific trade.

However, for research in science and engineering, it seems as if a whole lot of information must be known. A discovery in mathematics can be used in economics, engineering, physics, etc. However, how would these other people know about these discoveries? Engineers know a lot of mathematics, but they don't know everything in mathematics.

So how do scientist and engineers inquire information, and use it for their own research. There is only so much information one person, yet there is so much information out in the world.
 
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  • #2
That's why we have libraries and universities.

If you don't know something, you can look it up or find someone who does know it.
 
  • #3
Which brings up this question: If you can just look anything up, why learn anything?

Also, I'm sure there are some problems that your not even sure how to direct yourself to information.
 
  • #4
EvilKermit said:
Which brings up this question: If you can just look anything up, why learn anything?

Also, I'm sure there are some problems that your not even sure how to direct yourself to information.

There's a big difference between reading information on a topic and understanding it, then applying that knowledge to solve a problem.

CS
 
  • #5
EvilKermit said:
Which brings up this question: If you can just look anything up, why learn anything?

Because figuring out what keywords to type into google is sometimes non-trivial, and making sense of the information that you get is also non-trivial. For example, if I want to learn about the Chrysler/GM bankruptcy, the right keyword is "363 sale". You can google and find Article 5, Paragraph 2 of the Chinese Enterprise Bankruptcy Law, but what it *means* and what it has to do with 363 sales is something that isn't obvious, and a lot of the commentary is in Chinese.

Also being about to read the stuff that google comes up with is non-trivial. I can find pretty much anything you want about Banach spaces online. However, if I had you a paper on Banach spaces, you may not be able to read it. If I hand you a paper on Banach spaces written in Russian, you are even more in trouble.

The fact that you can look everything up, makes literacy *more* important.
 
  • #6
EvilKermit said:
So how do scientist and engineers inquire information, and use it for their own research. There is only so much information one person, yet there is so much information out in the world.

There's this thing called the internet that's useful for this sort of thing.
 
  • #7
EvilKermit said:
Which brings up this question: If you can just look anything up, why learn anything?

Also, I'm sure there are some problems that your not even sure how to direct yourself to information.

First of all, there *are* unsolved problems in the world that do not currently have answers.

Secondly, even if you have found an answer, you need to be able to understand it and apply it, as stewartcs said.

If you don't know how to direct yourself to the information you need, consult an expert. That's a major advantage of a university... they are filled with experts, most of whom are happy to point you in the right direction.
 
  • #8
TMFKAN64 said:
If you don't know how to direct yourself to the information you need, consult an expert. That's a major advantage of a university... they are filled with experts, most of whom are happy to point you in the right direction.

On the other hand, you have to be very careful with experts since they may often point you in the wrong direction. Because...

1) People are experts in something, and may know nothing at all about a field outside their area of expertise, and worse yet, may not know the limits of their field of expertise. One good example, is I've found that physics professors tend to be the worst people in the world to ask about careers in physics, since this is a topic that they just don't know much about.

2) Experts always have biases. For example, if you ask me whether or not I think Wall Street is good for the economy, my answer is *absolutely yes*. But is my advice influenced by the fact that they hand me reasonably large sums of money. Of course it does. Now I *try* very hard to tell you both sides, and point you to people that think differently (Paul Krugman for example). But this poses a problem, since I'm human and there is a limit to which I can try to correct for this, and also, if I point you to Paul Krugman, then you end up with conflicting opinions that you have to sort out.

This is particularly a problem if someone is biased by the mere fact of being an expert. If you know a lot about derivative securities, then the very fact that you *could* make a lot of money from that expertise will change your view of the world. Even if it's not money that is influencing them, it could be power, prestige, fame, or ego. One thing that is really hard for an expert to say is "I don't know" and sometimes that's the truth.

3) How do you know you really have an expert? Well maybe they have some sort of brand. But how do you know that brand is worth anything.

4) Experts can be expensive. (Although this is less of a problem in universities), and they often don't have that much time (which is a huge problem).

There are a lot of things that you can do to work around these sorts of problems, but it turns out that making use of experts does require quite a bit of expertise.
 
  • #9
EvilKermit said:
Engineers know a lot of mathematics

With all due respect, most engineers don't know mathematics. They are fluent in specific applications of specific fields.
 
  • #10
I think this thread brings up a really important topic.

In order to do research in a field, you have to be well-read in it. You have to regularly read the relevant journals, attend conferences, discuss issues and problems with others in the field. This is what puts you in a place where you have enough of an understanding to know what hasn't been solved yet, which problems are currently being worked on, and what new ideas are worth pursuing.

But that only makes you an expert in a single field.

How does a discovery in one field filter down into other fields where it would have a relevant application?

My answer would be that it takes both time and people willing to explore beyond the confines of their tradiational fields.

We live in an interesting time. There's so much research being done these days. Scientists are pushing the boundaries of every imaginable field. But in this rush to explore, there is a lot of potential for the gaps between different branches of science, or even between disciplines to increase. As a result, I think a lot of scientific work done in the near future will consist of inter-disciplinary breakthroughs, where people will make careers out of making connections between different fields.
 
  • #11
twofish-quant said:
There are a lot of things that you can do to work around these sorts of problems, but it turns out that making use of experts does require quite a bit of expertise.

I agree, and would even go further and say that making use of damn near *anything* requires quite a bit of expertise. Going back to the OP's questions, that's why you need to study, despite the abundant amount of information available.
 

Related to Specialization vs. Generalization

1. What is the difference between specialization and generalization?

Specialization refers to the process of focusing on a specific area or skill within a field of study, while generalization is the process of having a broad range of knowledge and skills across multiple areas within a field.

2. Which is better for a scientist, specializing or generalizing?

It depends on the specific field and career goals of the scientist. Some fields may require a deep level of specialization, while others may benefit more from a broader range of knowledge and skills.

3. Are there any disadvantages to specializing?

Yes, one potential disadvantage of specializing is that it may limit job opportunities and career growth, as specialized skills may only be applicable to a narrow range of positions. Additionally, if a specialized field becomes less in demand, it may be difficult to transition to a different area.

4. Can a scientist specialize in multiple areas?

Yes, it is possible for a scientist to specialize in multiple areas, but it may require a significant amount of time and effort to develop expertise in each area. It may also be more challenging to find job opportunities that require a combination of specialized skills.

5. Is it necessary for a scientist to specialize or generalize?

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. Some scientists may benefit from specializing, while others may thrive with a more generalist approach. It ultimately depends on the individual's career goals and the demands of their specific field.

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