Max Planck, arguably the most brilliant scientist of the last century — without Plank’s sponsorship, Einstein would probably not have gained the early prominence he did — was modest enough to put scientists in their place. They were quite as protective of outdated ideas, he maintained, as anybody else. .
So Planck adumbrated a meta-theory about science. He said that “science only proceeds one funeral at a time”. In other words, scientists are always prone to follow the herd, and of a predominant idea or theory. Quite often it needs the strongest proponents of old theory to die before the new one can make any progress.
Mention of this was quite the most interesting item in last week’s Economist. The brief item also mentions the researches of Prof Pierre Azoulay of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He has spent ten years following through the history of new theories as they’ve emerged between 1975 and 2003.
Prof Azoulay has found 452 instances of when a new theory met with long delays before acceptance. This was because the relevant research scientists died early and didn’t have the chance of growing older and thus more influential in promoting their theories– they had to be re-invented or re-discovered by others.
Yes, to Max Planck’s invention of quantum physics — the greatest theory of the last century, probably the greatest in science — but yes also to his meta-theory. It was tested and fond proven