[U]nlike artists or musicians, we do have competitors. Only van Gogh can paint like van Gogh and the uniqueness of Beethoven’s music is immediately recognizable. Their contributions are irreplaceable. But individual scientists are not irreplaceable. There are many, many examples of important discoveries being made simultaneously by several individuals or groups working independently. The social scientists have all manner of explanations for this “phenomenon” but the bottom line is this: If I am not the first to discover, almost certainly someone else will be. No wonder we are so desperate to publish. Add to that the perception of relatively short productive life span for those that work in certain fields like mathematics and theoretical physics. Wolfgang Pauli’s admonishment: “So young, and already so unknown” comes to mind in this context. Musicians and writers are thought to achieve greater depth in their work as they go through life, while we scientists lose our creativity and simply wear out.
Wut? (I’m sure I don’t know; you can read the rest at this Nature blog. . . )