Nature Vol. 494 (2013) 430
Dean Keith Simonton’s contention that scientific genius is extinct (Nature 493, 602; 2013) invites comparison with Lord Kelvin’s famous speech to the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1900, in which he remarked, “There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now. All that remains is more and more precise measurement.” The discoveries of quantum mechanics and relativity soon made nonsense of this hubristic claim.
Simonton suggests that these were the last new fields, and that disciplines founded since are simply hybrids of existing ones. But science does not proceed in the way followed by the journalist in Charles Dickens’s The Pickwick Papers (1836), who, when asked to write on Chinese metaphysics, combined the information he read “for metaphysics under the letter M, and for China under the letter C” from theEncyclopaedia Britannica.
Information theory, for example, founded by Claude Shannon in 1948, is surely a field in its own right — albeit with applications to many different fields. Other emergent fields include network theory and the science of complex systems, which are providing insight into systems from organisms to societies and ecosystems. Opportunities for scientific genius and surprising discoveries are nowhere near exhausted.