Study: Elite scientists can hold back science

"All this suggest there's a "goliath's shadow" effect. People are either prevented from or afraid of challenging a leading thinker in a field. That or scientific subfields are like grown-up versions of high school cafeteria tables. New people just can't sit there until the queen bee dies." 

Vox, Brian Resnick

Now consider this:
In military theory, most dominant documents are field manuals that don't die. They get revised after a decade or two, but usually only incrementally. The few dominant authors who publish independently (the likes of Jomini, von Clausewitz, Fuller, Mahan, Corbett) die, but in many cases they reach the greatest fame only after their death (CvC being the most obvious example) and many of them keep being famous and dominant after more than a century. In some cases it's the death of the originator that unleashes the teaching because the acolytes are then free to interpret vague ideas themselves and claim that it's still the real thing (examples Boyd, CvC).

Military theory "may" have a systemic innovation problem.


1 comment:

  1. The comparison between miltary and hard science is not useful IMHO:

    In hard science the published material reflects to a very high extend the lived reality, despite some of the observations described in the vox article.

    In contrast, the written word of (German) military manuals was more often than not ignored. What we saw on the battlefield was seldom what was described in the manuals, or from another angle, manuals were usually not up-to-date and good officers knew this. As a consequence, the actual influence of "stars" was much lower than in hard science.

    CvC was a non-factor until 1866/71 and only resurrected by the elder Moltke by accident, he was more influential as dead man than as living. :-)
    In contrast, in science you usually have to live to be powerful. :-)

    In hard science you do not have individuals that dominate their fields to the same extend as miltary theorists, because you have in contrast to warfare much much more opportunities to test opinions in a controlled environment with carefully planned experiments and bury many unsound ideas very fast.