Steve Hsu asks: “Is the age of the talented amateur over in science?”
Hsu here in particular means a specialist from one field a contribution in another but this question could be expanded to mean a non-scientists doing scientific research (such as the gentleman scientist, which would include the majority of figures from the Scientific Revolution in Europe) or scientists doing research outside the official channels of government or corporate funding.
For instance, Dmitri Konstantinovich Belyaev’s famous fox experiment in the Soviet Union is perhaps one of the most important experiments ever performed in evolution, as it sheds much light upon the domestication of animals and human evolution. And this experiment was performed under the radar of the Soviet government, since the official scientific doctrine of the Soviets was Lysenkoism (not Darwinism). (Lysenkoism meshes better with Marxist egalitarianism than does Darwinism.)
In the United States today, similar politically correct constraints are put upon research. For instance, the landmark Minnesota twin study — which has perhaps shed more light upon the nature vs nurture debate than any other single study — received funding from the Pioneer Fund since hardly any major institutions would fund the study. And even today the study is largely ignored as its findings shatter many egalitarian blank-slate illusions.
Giving the constraints in the West today (but apparently not in the East), I wonder whether we Westerners need the amateur scientist now more than ever?