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Paul Nelson Diagnoses the Decline of “Groundbreaking Science”

Photo source: Governor Tom Wolf, via Flickr (cropped).

On a new episode of ID the Future, philosopher of science Paul Nelson talks with host Rob Crowther about a new paper in Nature making waves in the scientific community, “Papers and Patents Are Becoming Less Disruptive Over Time.” According to Michael Park and his fellow researchers, the rate of groundbreaking scientific discoveries is declining while the percentage of consolidating (or incremental) science is coming to dominate. Is the spirit of groundbreaking scientific discovery withering, and if so, why? Nelson notes a 1997 book by John Horgan, The End of Science. Nelson credits Horgan for seeing the trend a generation ahead of the Park paper, but Nelson breaks with Horgan on the diagnosis. Horgan posits that groundbreaking science is declining because we have already made most of the big breakthroughs there are to make. Nelson begs to differ. He suggests the problem lies elsewhere and likely is multifaceted. He offers analysis and a prescription for reinvigorating the scientific enterprise in the 21st century. Download the podcast or listen to it here.

Crowther and Nelson also discuss two other papers. For Nelson’s paper on disruption and consensus in science, “The Paradox of Consensus,” go here. For the Thomas Gold paper on the problem of the herd effect in science, go here.