The famous Darwinist Jerry Coyne refers on his blog to
an episode of The Life Scientific, which is a series of interviews done with leading scientists by the BBC radio.
Yesterday another installment did air and it can be viewed here. It featured Steve Jones a Welsh geneticist. The episode is quite interesting because he talks about how he got into science and also about his current research.
One little remark of Steve Jones caught my attention. He says that ‘Science is the refuge of the mediocre’. He said this because all scientists and even the mediocre ones will ultimately add some knowledge to the immense pile of knowledge that lies around. In contrary to art or music, the achievements of ‘mediocre’ scientists always count. This is really a unique perspective on science for me.
It is a fact that most mediocre scientists do add some knowledge, but mediocre scientists can also be of great danger to the quality of science.
Last year I attended a seminar on the evolution of parasitic wasps. The scientist presenting his research had thought of some very sophisticated hypothesis to explain the co-evolution of parasitic wasps and their hosts.
Much of the critique that was made in the discussion afterwards was concerned with the models he developed. The models that explained the evolution of the wasps and predation were very intricate, but the results could be explained by a simpler mechanism.
From what I understood (I am not an entomologist so let’s be clear that I am not an authority in this field) this simpler mechanism had been used in various other example of the co-evolution of wasps and their hosts. This illustrates the danger that lies in mediocre scientists. Bad science done by mediocre scientists has caused to many problems. We all know the examples.
And there really should be no problem when such scientists are functioning in a sound scientific climate. In a proper academic climate such errors in scientific thinking will be eliminated. But that is certainly not the case in all universities and institutes.
But what if it just goes in the huge mountain of knowledge? It will stay there and that will cause confusion among the better and excellent scientists..