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How is the knowledge explosion of recent decades affecting the process of doing science? For example, one scientist who was quoted somewhere said that he spends up to 50% of his time just trying to keep up with the latest findings. What are the implications of this for science in general?

Some points to consider: Are we seeing diminishing returns for the amount of effort put in? Is the notion of scientific consensus obsolete, as we come across more and more fine-grained, qualified knowledge? Is scientific knowledge becoming too fragmented to be as widely applicable as it used to be?

  • What implications do you think this has for science? – virmaior Feb 25 '14 at 5:13
  • I do wonder if there's really an explosion of science, or there's simply an explosion of communication (computer network aided communication) that effects everything that's effected by communication. – obelia Feb 25 '14 at 7:42
  • There are more papers. Is there really more knowledge? Surely there's not any more wisdom. Just being philosophical :-) – user4894 Feb 25 '14 at 7:53
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If it were true that there were too much knowledge to keep up, one would expect that consensus would be replaced by lots of accidentally replicated work as people could no longer keep track of what was already done that was relevant. Fortunately, this wouldn't undermine the overall project, as one could then check for consensus.

In fact, it seems more likely that the opposite is happening: we are too good at checking (and trusting) previous results and not doing enough work to validate previous results. Rather than link to the typical depressing articles about this phenomenon, I'll just note that there is at least a hint of an effort to go the other way by explicitly replicating some of the most important results in at least a couple of areas.

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Are we seeing diminishing returns for the amount of effort put in?

Yes. This is actually a very logical conclusion. As we construct the building of knowledge, we have to climb higher to lay the next brick. Where it was possible for someone in the 19th century to discover something interesting while taking a bath or mixing iron filings and sulphur, in the 21st century we need to build complex machines or construct sophisticated computer models to learn anything new.

Is the notion of scientific consensus obsolete, as we come across more and more fine-grained, qualified knowledge?

Scientific consensus has always been detrimental to science. Not the concept itself, but the practical implication of it, namely the "old boys club" of like-minded scientists with one or other vested interest in preserving the status quo in a specific field. See for instance the life of Nikola Tesla, who was strong-armed by Thomas Edison.

Is scientific knowledge becoming too fragmented to be as widely applicable as it used to be?

I would rather call it specialised than fragmented, but that's probably not that important. But yes, modern science isn't as universally applicable as the science of our friend Tesla. While everyone reading this will have access to an alternating current power source, I don't think more than a handful of people will have any use for the data they gather at CERN.

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To be clear - real science is always obscure, what you see on the surface is popcorn. Mediocracy. Fueled by the economy's desire for innovation and human thirst for domination using technology.

Real scientists nowadays are no more than in ancient times. This number is constant due to sociological/mental/spiritual reasons.

1 NO. It does not take more efforts to produce good results. Do you know how many years it took Einstein or Newton to develop their theories? Their clean brain effort time is HUGE. Today, everybody who would have awareness and concentration to do similar mental efforts will be equally rewarded.

2 Consensus is NOT obsolete and never will be. Moreover consensus happens not just in space but also across time and generations. Simply because the one's who search now respect and learn from the one's who searched before them. In mediocre bureaucratic science consensus also finds place as a common helplessness and absence of creativity.

3 Scientific knowledge is never fragmented, if you think its fragmented you don't posses it. What you call fragmented are scientific applications which were always numerous. Even in times of Newton. Scientific applications do not bear scientific knowledge.

Last but not least science always dealt with huge amount of facts - that's how it was created in the first place. What "science" never dealt with is so big amount of 'scientists'.

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This answer might be not what you are particularly interested in as it’s more philosophical and sociological, but it is rather a crucial observation in its own right.

One important implication that immediately comes to my mind, as an advocate and practitioner of a transcendental holistic, unifying spirituality underpinned by a belief in existence of an inherent transcendentally unifying process in the universe, is that this relentless fragmentation and differentiation in scientific interests and pursuits, absent a unifying and integrating general philosophy that moderates and guides the general direction of academic research towards human well-being, will result in a similar division-pursuing society where everyone is occupied by a very specialized interest with no regards to the greater picture of the society and the universal principles that should govern it such as justice, unity, morality, harmony, etc. We are getting more and more individualistic and self-centered on the academic level just as the personal and tend to hardly care about the crucial and urgent challenges that humanity faces as a collective.

  • I have to say I agree with you. – Joebevo Feb 25 '14 at 5:19
  • -1 I don't think you made a good attempt at answering the question. – obelia Feb 25 '14 at 7:44
  • No need to fool our self's. Majority can not DO ANYTHING, we exist in routines. All changes are made but those who elevate. "Society is a perfect copy/paste machine". We just need to wait another elevator :D I already started to wait. – Asphir Dom Feb 25 '14 at 13:22

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