Explorers & Crusaders

I have no time to blog today (and no time for Map that Campus - next week I'll have a new Northwestern mystery campus for ya).

Here's an entry from last year.

i-5baaf5b1e3036715c956659dca6e66e0-shield.jpgYou can clearly divide scientists into two categories, those who build new models and those who prove old models. The explorers and the crusaders. Usually the former are seeking the truth, or something close to it, while the latter are trying to confirm their own theories as if the idea was more important than reality.

As you can guess, I do not have a high regard for the latter group. Unfortunately there are a lot of crusaders around. In some way we all are part of this second group to some extent, but inevitably it's always the first group, the explorers, who win in the end.

The problem is everyone denies being a crusader. So how to tell ...

a) Explorers are usually playing Russian roulette with their models. If the idea survives the toughest test, then it lives until the next day. If the idea dies, it dies. And then hopefully another superior model is born so that the explorers can torture it.

b) Explorers tends to be younger and less invested in the current dogmas. However, this is not always the case. Sometimes it's the "impressionable youths" that are indoctrinated while those with some experience understand the problems with existing dogma. It must be noted that crusaders do not always defend the majority view (see below).

c) Explorers are willing to perform "crazy" experiments and frame the problem in novel ways.

d) Crusaders are known as the exponent of an idea. If you call yourself the flat-earth society, and everyone calls you the flat-earth society, you're an crusader (albeit defending a minority stand point). Many enforcers are actually in the minority ... in fact in most cases. As a result crusaders sometimes suffer from inferiority complex and must get their point across at all costs.

f) If after reading this post you are insulted and feel attacked, then you are a crusader. Why? Crusaders defend their models as if a whole conspiracy of enemies is out to get them. Any whiff of the enemy and they morph into a werewolf.

Now even if you weren't insulted by my post and think that I was writing about the ID movement, I wasn't (although it certainly applies). This pathology is everywhere, and unfortunately it's spreading - into public debate on various issues, into our politics. It's always existed in science (if you're a scientist, I'm sure you know what I'm saying). Fortunately science rewards advances, and advances are always generated by explorers. So if you're still in doubt as to where you stand ask yourself, are you ready to kill your favorite idea in order to gain insight? Or are you obsessed with your enemies ideas (or think that your "enemies" are obsessed with your ideas)?

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Isn't that simplyfying it a bit? What about the people who neither build new models, nor prove old ones, but simply do all the tidying up and fidgety work that is left after the great scientists built a model?

By Uschi Symmons (not verified) on 06 Apr 2007 #permalink

Explorers come in many degrees---from Neil Armstrong to kids in their back yards. Even with the "fidgety work" there's plenty of room for crusading or exploring. Arthur Eddington argued for years that the fine structure constant had to have the exact value of 1/136 (then later switched to 1/137), despite the fact that experiments were putting it at just another messy number, like most of the fundamental constants. He also thought he knew the exact number of protons in the universe (136x2^256). Definitely a crusader (and a bit of a nutjob).