Do we need more amateur scientists?

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?

5 thoughts on “Do we need more amateur scientists?

  1. The mandated political correctness in American science departments is completely contrary to the spirit of science!

  2. It all depends on what Hsu means by “talented amateur?”

    Since the modern scientist is spiritless then he is left to either ideological slavishness or hedonistic self-interest without objective purpose. Most modern scientists can manage to do both.

    All the big questions have been answered by science.

    Something from nothing.

    Mechanically modified.

    Hurled towards the Singularity.

    Conceptual blank.

    “[T]alented amateur” in this time and place should be defined as “scientist with spirit.”

    So the question answers itself.

  3. Yes.

    We also need more practical technologists.

    We need to re-skill the populace.

    It used to be that 90% of the people knew something about craft skills or agricultural skills.

    Now perhaps 5% have such knowledge.

    We need to give people real intellectual challenges.

    John Robb has already begun a practical approach – get people to build their own “resilient communities” and the skills will come naturally.

  4. ***And even today the study is largely ignored as its findings shatter many egalitarian blank-slate illusions.***

    Indeed, as the remarkably candid Marty Nemko admits:

    ” The more I read evaluations of “model” programs designed to change children’s environments, the more I became convinced that while environment may matter, genetics matter more. I reviewed the evaluations of Head Start, Title I, the Kansas City experiments of spending massive amounts per child, experiments with having students from Chicago housing projects attend top prep schools, and media-touted “miracle” programs like Marva Collins’ schools, Central Park East, and more recently, Ed Trust, and KIPP. When I dug beneath the self-promoting schools’ marketing efforts and a media eager to show that education matters, I became ever more certain of the relative power of genetics over education.

    Beyond studying those programs’ evaluation data, I visited a number of such programs. I’ve come to believe that a model program is one you haven’t visited. My most startling memory is when my wife Dr. Barbara Nemko (Napa County Supt. of Schools and recent regional Supt. of the Year) and I visited Central Park East School, the subject of two glowing features on 60 Minutes, touting Central Park East’s test scores as proof that education can close the racial achievement gap. We spoke with the principal, who, after we gained his trust, literally cried and said that the temporary blip in scores came from an impossible-to-sustain monumental effort that faded not long after the cameras left and that, now, the school’s achievement scores are right back to the average of the other public schools in Harlem.

    I was very dispirited by all this. After all, I had devoted my life to changing people, hoping that environment mattered a lot…”


    Try to get a grant by leading off your request with anything other than:

    “Given the fact of global warming and the obvious dangers to the planet caused by man made increases in greenhouse gases, I want to study the affects of ENSO, The Pacific and Atlantic Decadal Oscillations on Hadley Cells, blah, blah blah

    Much of the exposing of this climate drivel has precisely been from amateur scientists sick of the Al Gore climate B.S.

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