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Nat Geo Writer: Science Is Running Out of "Great" Things To Discover

samzenpus posted about 4 months ago | from the nothing-new-under-the-sun dept.

Science 292

Hugh Pickens DOT Com (2995471) writes "John Horgan writes in National Geographic that scientists have become victims of their own success and that 'further research may yield no more great revelations or revolutions, but only incremental, diminishing returns.' The latest evidence is a 'Correspondence' published in the journal Nature that points out that it is taking longer and longer for scientists to receive Nobel Prizes for their work. The trend is strongest in physics. Prior to 1940, only 11 percent of physics prizes were awarded for work more than 20 years old but since 1985, the percentage has risen to 60 percent. If these trends continue, the Nature authors note, by the end of this century no one will live long enough to win a Nobel Prize, which cannot be awarded posthumously and suggest that the Nobel time lag 'seems to confirm the common feeling of an increasing time needed to achieve new discoveries in basic natural sciences—a somewhat worrisome trend.' One explanation for the time lag might be the nature of scientific discoveries in general—as we learn more it takes more time for new discoveries to prove themselves.

Researchers recently announced that observations of gravitational waves provide evidence of inflation, a dramatic theory of cosmic creation. But there are so many different versions of 'inflation' theory that it can 'predict' practically any observation, meaning that it doesn't really predict anything at all. String theory suffers from the same problem. As for multiverse theories, all those hypothetical universes out there are unobservable by definition so it's hard to imagine a better reason to think we may be running out of new things to discover than the fascination of physicists with these highly speculative ideas. According to Keith Simonton of the University of California, 'the core disciplines have accumulated not so much anomalies as mere loose ends that will be tidied up one way or another.'"

cancel ×

292 comments

Good? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46720395)

First - I think there are still plenty of great discoveries to be made, they are just really fucking hard to figure out.

Second, so what if we do figure everything out? That is a GOOD thing.. mission accomplished right?

Re:Good? (4, Insightful)

narcc (412956) | about 4 months ago | (#46720981)

That's right, Max, there's nothing big left to discover. It's better that you don't study physics. We've got it pretty much all sorted.

It's not like you'll revolutionize everything and get a unit named after you or something.

(More seriously: Doesn't the author understand science? That's not how it works.)

Level of public funding ? (5, Interesting)

makapuf (412290) | about 4 months ago | (#46720399)

Well, I think this might have to do with the level of basic science funding (of course I don"t have any figures to back that). Also, this reminds me of chemists after organic chemistry / atomic physics discoveries saying that basically, science was done. Just in time for quantum physics to be discovered ...

So, that's great : saying this just means that we're on the verge of a big event in science !

Re:Level of public funding ? (1)

makapuf (412290) | about 4 months ago | (#46720433)

replying to myself :

this reminds me of chemists after organic chemistry / atomic physics discoveries saying that basically, science was done.

well, TFA has it ...

Before the arrival of quantum mechanics and Einstein's theory of relativity, two theories physicists have not yet been able to reconcile, 19th-century scientists predicted that all major discoveries had been made, Sherrilyn Roush, an associate professor of philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley, pointed out.

Way to get a free RTFA ...

Re:Level of public funding ? (5, Insightful)

blue trane (110704) | about 4 months ago | (#46721079)

"The more important fundamental laws and facts of physical science have all been discovered, and these are so firmly established that the possibility of their ever being supplanted in consequence of new discoveries is exceedingly remote."

Michelson, 1903

Re:Level of public funding ? (2, Interesting)

artor3 (1344997) | about 4 months ago | (#46720681)

Science funding as a percentage of GDP has actually been remarkably consistent at around 2.5% going back several decades. Note that that is total funding. The split between industry and public funding used to be fairly even, but in the last 20 years the balance has shifted sharply towards industry. And industry, of course, prefers to spend on things that will be profitable in the next few years. So we see great advancements in consumer electronics, medicine, etc., but not so much in basic understanding of the universe.

That's not necessarily a bad thing. Science is worthless if we don't use it in practical applications. But if we're looking for reasons why less basic research is getting done, this could play a role.

Re:Level of public funding ? (5, Insightful)

crgrace (220738) | about 4 months ago | (#46720807)

That's not necessarily a bad thing. Science is worthless if we don't use it in practical applications. But if we're looking for reasons why less basic research is getting done, this could play a role.

I think it's a bad thing. Most of our great advancements in consumer electronics, medicine, and computing are based on mining basic research (that was mostly publicly funded). When that mine is played out where will the raw material for new advances come from?

Re:Level of public funding ? (4, Insightful)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about 4 months ago | (#46720853)

Science funding as a percentage of GDP has actually been remarkably consistent at around 2.5% going back several decades.

Prior to WWII, when the major discoveries in 20th Century physics were made, science funding was far lower. The theory of relativity was developed with this much funding: $0.

The low hanging fruit are gone. The days are past when a Swiss patent examiner could make world changing discoveries in his spare time.

Re:Level of public funding ? (3, Interesting)

schnell (163007) | about 4 months ago | (#46720725)

I think this might have to do with the level of basic science funding (of course I don"t have any figures to back that)

That's not John Horgan's point. He is, by the way, a very controversial figure in science journalism (in a good way). Back in 1997, he wrote a fascinating book called The End of Science [amazon.com] , the thesis of which was pretty much the same as this article. It examined a number of different sciences and reviewed the accumulated evidence that there were no more major league breakthroughs (a la relativity, quantum mechanics, the unraveling of the DNA double helix) to be found, and scientists henceforward would largely be fleshing out and clarifying the implications of the big discoveries of the past.

Scientists of all stripes, of course, immediately decried the book - if that belief gained traction it would kill the climate for future funding as well as killing most interest among future scientists from entering the field. But regardless of your perspective, it was a great book since it raised some interesting questions for discussion, and it's very very worth reading if you have any interest in science.

Long story short, Horgan's thesis isn't "oh noes we aren't funding basic research," it's more along the lines of "there is just nothing as huge to discover left, no matter how much money you pour onto it. That doesn't mean science isn't useful but you have to adjust your expectations not to expect any more great revolutions like have happened regularly from the 17th century through the 20th centuries." Many Slashdotters will reject that argument out of hand, but Horgan has done his homework enough that it's a compelling read and worth considering his point even if you disagree with it.

Re:Level of public funding ? (3, Insightful)

flaming error (1041742) | about 4 months ago | (#46720959)

"He is ...a very controversial figure in science journalism (in a good way)"

Good why? Does he have a gift for explaining new scientific discoveries to laypeople? Does he somehow further the state of the art?

Sounds to me like what he does for a living is tell people that scientific progress is ending. I see no compelling evidence from him supporting that point, and I see nothing good coming from pushing that idea.

Many Americans don't even accept evolution or global warming yet. Pretending that where we are is the furthest we'll ever get is not constructive and not correct.

If this is all he's got, I wouldn't even call him a science journalist. He's more like an op-ed columnist/author.

Re:Level of public funding ? (1)

Mr. Slippery (47854) | about 4 months ago | (#46721127)

Many Americans don't even accept evolution or global warming yet.

No germane to the point.

Pretending that where we are is the furthest we'll ever get is not constructive and not correct.

A curve which approaches a line asymptotically will make its big progress early (taking t as the horizontal axis) and small gains afterward. It will still get closer, but not in a way that makes a big change. It's a reasonable hypothesis that science will approach the maximum possible knowledge of the world in the same fashion.

There is a limit on how much human beings will ever be able to observe, and how much human beings will be ever to able to calculate. (If we blow it and ruin our spaceship and die off in the next century or two, which is quite possible, we may be close to that limit already.) If science is not approaching this maximum possible knowledge, it's a failure; if it is approaching this maximum possible knowledge, then there is less and less left to possibly know. The amount of possible knowledge is not infinite.

Re:Level of public funding ? (3, Interesting)

Ol Olsoc (1175323) | about 4 months ago | (#46721397)

Many Americans don't even accept evolution or global warming yet.

No germane to the point.

Frnkly, I believe it is exactly the point. The People who refuse to accept sicnece that is inconvenient, or just a handy hate-target to their beliefs have already discovered just as much as they want or will ever accept.

The power of willful ignorance is a core value of much of the world's population. And they fully believe we already know all we need or should know. Added to that is a more benign, but no less correct version of "We knows it all!" John Morgan makes of arguing from personal incredulity.

A curve which approaches a line asymptotically will make its big progress early (taking t as the horizontal axis) and small gains afterward. It will still get closer, but not in a way that makes a big change. It's a reasonable hypothesis that science will approach the maximum possible knowledge of the world in the same fashion.

Th old traveling halfway to a destination with each step argument. Nice, but only possible to see in retrospect - and that would be after millennia had passed with nothing new discovered.

The amount of possible knowledge is not infinite.

But it takes a lot of hubris when we declare that we already know almost everything. For those who would say that, I demand the proof.

Prove to the world that mankind knows all but the final bits of all possible knowledge.

Re:Level of public funding ? (1)

jonsmirl (114798) | about 4 months ago | (#46721071)

Long story short, Horgan's thesis isn't "oh noes we aren't funding basic research," it's more along the lines of "there is just nothing as huge to discover left, no matter how much money you pour onto it.

Anyone here think that the computer science revolution is anywhere close to being finished? In my opinion it probably has another hundred years left in it. I also think we are just scratching the surface in biochemistry. It is scary to think of where that field will be in a hundred years. Physics can go figure out dark matter and dark energy. That's sure to stir things up. Maybe figure out sustainable fusion while their at it.

Re:Level of public funding ? (1)

blue trane (110704) | about 4 months ago | (#46721097)

Wasn't Dark Energy discovered after that book? Something that occupies some 70% of the universe?

Re:Level of public funding ? (5, Interesting)

SEE (7681) | about 4 months ago | (#46721187)

Right now, our current observations combined with general relativity say 96% of the universe is unaccounted-for by anything resembling a solid theory in quantum mechanics. Or, conversely, our current observations combined with quantum mechanics says general relativity is so wrong that it only can be made to work by assuming a mass-energy budget 25 times greater than that of the actual universe. So how can there not be anything huge to discover?

Granted, the stuff might be beyond our ability to discover, but we pretty blatantly don't know what's actually going on.

Re:Level of public funding ? (1)

im_thatoneguy (819432) | about 4 months ago | (#46720963)

Basic science has gross increased. It's only decreased as a fraction of GDP. We're putting plenty of money into basic research--we just could be putting a lot more in.

Re:Level of public funding ? (0)

roman_mir (125474) | about 4 months ago | (#46721167)

Level of public science funding should be precisely 0 (that would be zero, as in nothing at all). The Internet would have existed regardless, individual people must not be forced to become slaves to the collective even to publicly fund science or health or education or food or anything, not even little cute orphans should be publicly funded, there is 0 authorisation for any of this and there should be 0 authorisation for any of this and if YOU want to fund something, that's what you have YOUR OWN bank account and you can set up a charity to donate to your particular cause.

Re:Level of public funding ? (1)

ridley4 (1535661) | about 4 months ago | (#46721243)

I hope you never drove on public roads, went to public schools, visited public parks, flushed your toilet into a public sewer, or filled said toilet with water from the public water supply. And if you want public health, safety standards, transportation, sanitation, or anything resembling civilization, that's something you should pay for with your own bank account! There's zero authorization to make me a slave to your common, collective good that benefits everyone, because... because...

Re:Level of public funding ? (1)

khallow (566160) | about 4 months ago | (#46721255)

Well, I think this might have to do with the level of basic science funding

Conversely, I think it's the high level of public funding which has slowed scientific research by both pulling researchers away from more worthy pursuits, wrecking the status of donating to private non profit research, and by introducing a large degree of unaccountability into the field.

Until warp drive is invented... (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46720403)

Hundreds of years ago, there was a "diminishing return." The Rennaisance led to a bunch of discoveries, followed by a period of "plateau." Then a hundred years ago there was massive explosion in discovery and theory. To think we've discovered it all is naive, like proclaiming after Newton that there is nothing left in Physics to discover. It might take a while before the next Einstein but it will probably happen again.

Re:Until warp drive is invented... (3, Insightful)

plover (150551) | about 4 months ago | (#46720571)

What happened was the advent of computing, which made solutions to unattainably hard problems attainable. That was rapidly followed by the advent of global communications, allowing people to collaborate like never before. Cheap energy has turned the average person's daily tasks of searching for food and warmth into a side task, allowing more people than ever to get a high quality education, and enter a research field. All kinds of work has gone into discovery at an unprecedented rate.

We don't know for sure what the next advance will be, but it will be built on a lot of the new tools we've just created.

Graphene, Quantum Computing, AI, Nanotechnology... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46720633)

Mix and serve warm!

Re:Until warp drive is invented... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46721353)

I think you have that reversed. Global communications came first.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T... [wikipedia.org]

Then the physics upheaval of the late 19th century to the 1920s. This, coupled with the oil-driven explosion of mobility and physical power, eventually brought us to WWII. Which then allowed the mid-late 20th century positive-feedback loop of computing, jet power and chemical engineering (Green revolution) . Then tons of math brought us the tools to use the computer power that our manufacturing technology allows us to build.

And here we are. We *know* a lot more than before, and that includes knowing about limits too.

So, barring a "ultraviolet catastrophe" type physics breakthrough like we had in 1890-1930, what you see now is pretty much *it*.

No space-based solar power, no space colonies, no nanotechnological assemblers, no warp drives or transporters.

And that's called growing up as a species. We have a lot of work ahead of us in vastly improving our living arrangements and our socio-political models, right here, right now, for people living right here. For the last half century engineers have been able to build better toys and that is gradually stopping.

Re:Until warp drive is invented... (2)

sploxx (622853) | about 4 months ago | (#46720679)

First of all, science is trying to better understand the world, by making models predicting something. It isn't engineering.

In that sense, I think science is always a refinement of the understand of reality. Of course, there is now quantum mechanics and there is relativity. But if you go back in time before that, most of the basic ideas in (mechanical) engineering are pretty much settled since Newton got hit by the apple. And if there are humans in a 1000 years, they will still be ruled to a large extent by gravity!

I think we are approaching at least a phase where experiments and 'engineering' (and here I call everything except fundamental physics 'engineering') has to catch up with our knowledge of physics. In the sense of testing and exploiting what we learned about reality so far. The LHC and Icecube, examples for machines for doing fundamental (particle) physics, are already km-scale. Maybe we need to be able to see more subtle effects and maybe on scales that are either inaccessible or not easily accessible to us to make new 'great' discoveries? If so, I think, yes, science is indeed running out of 'great' discoveries. But maybe because we will need (I guess a VERY long time) to catch up with our engineering first.

Heinrich Hertz - 1875 (5, Interesting)

YrWrstNtmr (564987) | about 4 months ago | (#46720429)

"Sometimes I really regret that I did not live in those times when there was still so much that was new; to be sure enough much is yet unknown, but I do not think that it will be possible to discover anything easily nowadays that would lead us to revise our entire outlook as radically as was possible in the days when telescopes and microscopes were still new."

Lord Kelvin (4, Informative)

YrWrstNtmr (564987) | about 4 months ago | (#46720437)

"There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now. All that remains is more and more precise measurement"

Neuroscience/AI? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46720451)

How about breakthroughs in understanding how consciousness emerges, or the achievement of strong AI/the singularity?

Also, all inventions are invented (4, Informative)

Actually, I do RTFA (1058596) | about 4 months ago | (#46720453)

The famous line from the head of the US patent office in 1902:

In my opinion, all previous advances in the various lines of invention will appear totally insignificant when compared with those which the present century will witness. I almost wish that I might live my life over again to see the wonders which are at the threshold

Or the slightly less famous line from the head of the US patent office in 1843:

The advancement of the arts, from year to year, taxes our credulity and seems to presage the arrival of that period when human improvement must end.

Re:Also, all inventions are invented (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46720523)

And a more current quote:

Disregard innovation, acquire patents.

I've heard this one before ... (5, Informative)

cold fjord (826450) | about 4 months ago | (#46720455)

"Everything that can be invented has been invented." - Attributed to C. H. Duell, Commissioner of US patent office, 1899.
"I think there is a world market for maybe five computers." - Attributed to Thomas Watson, IBM, 1943
"There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home." - Ken Olsen, DEC, 1977

They might as well start preparing an entry for him in the book of silly predictions.

There is still plenty of physics to figure out. The same with biological systems. Plenty of math to work out too.

Re:I've heard this one before ... (1)

honestmonkey (819408) | about 4 months ago | (#46720517)

Yeah, I'll second you. This is bullshit and has always been bullshit and will probably always be bullshit. You'd think the guy might have read some of this before. Is he an idiot or just a fool?

Re:I've heard this one before ... (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about 4 months ago | (#46720591)

There is the question of when we run out of work to be done that humans are capable of. I would be most surprised indeed to see the crystallization of a lovely fundamental theory of everything that ties up all the loose ends; but considerably less surprised to see the supply of "With a dash of brilliance and some exploited grad students, you can have this problem beaten and written up before you die." scale problems dwindle considerably. Depending on what team physics does, they also might end up spending a long time writing neat equations predicting what a particle collider of roughly the same diameter as the kuiper belt would find if it were funded; but not looking at particularly good odds of getting one. In something like math, it seems quite likely that the number of concise, elegant, proofs is overwhelmingly tinier than the number of inhumanly large ones. I'm not even sure we'd have any reason to suspect that the supply of possible proofs is bounded; but I imagine that people will still be disappointed when the discovery of a new proof short enough to grasp within one mathematician's lifetime is a major event and the mathematical journals are cluttered with 50,000 page machine generated results.

Re:I've heard this one before ... (1)

AchilleTalon (540925) | about 4 months ago | (#46720701)

Well, businessmen are not actually a good measure of anything. So, quoting Watson doesn't mean anything and doesn't prove anything neither. You cannot extract a law from these quotes.

Re:I've heard this one before ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46721169)

640k ought to be enough for anybody

Miltiverse (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46720463)

They could discover a miltiverse. But there's not much else out there.

Should be called: Please disprove my claim. (2)

lmasaya (188239) | about 4 months ago | (#46720467)

This claim is an over-generalization. Nobel prize does not cover all fields of science. Actually, very few. There is no way to predict that someone will not come along and actually make a finding that does not require huge labs or previous work. Almost sounds like a troll to me.

this again... (5, Insightful)

dala1 (1842368) | about 4 months ago | (#46720471)

How many times has this been said before, and proven wrong?

"The more important fundamental laws and facts of physical science have all been discovered, and these are now so firmly established that the possibility of their ever being supplanted in consequence of new discoveries is exceedingly remote.... Our future discoveries must be looked for in the sixth place of decimals."
- Albert Michelson,1894

Doubtful (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46720477)

Haven't we seen this happen several times over the course of science? People saying "we're almost done" and "there's nothing interesting left to study" just before we figure out there's a whole new quantum realm to reality? Maybe this kind of whinging will inspire the next great frontier.

Well, (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46720485)

This is the biggest nerd-troll article I've seen on /. in a while...

Well (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46720489)

Where is my quantum computer??!

Re:Well (1)

JustOK (667959) | about 4 months ago | (#46720581)

It's 60 m/s

Don't Stop Yet (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46720495)

When we have faster than light travel and anti-gravity, then we can get a bit complacent. Until then, keep working at it.

paradigm (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46720499)

Cliche: the next new paradigm waits for the crisis of stagnation for a reason for becoming.

Clinical Genome Sequencing (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46720511)

I can't speak for physics and the definition of "great" discoveries is subjective.

But the cost of sequencing a human genome has now fallen to $1,500 (e.g. 30X coverage by Macrogen in Korea). Within the next decade, clinical genome sequencing is going to become routine. There have been a small handful of truly major revolutions in the history of medicine (aseptic surgery, vaccines, antibiotics) and clinical genome sequencing will be such a revolution.

And this is will not just be a medical revolution but also a revolution in our understanding of basic biology. Within a couple decades we're going to have millions of individuals where we know both genotype and phenotype: all their mutations and all their medical conditions. It's likely that within the next couple decades we'll be able to figure out the basic function of all the non-trival proteins in the human proteome.

the field of physics may, or may not, be stuck - but biology is about to explode.

Personalized Medicine in the far future... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46720703)

A hospital's quantum computer analyzes each patient's genome and complete medical and test history, and evaluates trillions of potential drug compounds and treatment options to identify the best fit. Nanobots and molecular assembler machines produce the drug compounds on site.

Re:Clinical Genome Sequencing (1)

Mr. Slippery (47854) | about 4 months ago | (#46721147)

There have been a small handful of truly major revolutions in the history of medicine (aseptic surgery, vaccines, antibiotics) and clinical genome sequencing will be such a revolution.

Clinical medicine is useful and all, but not great basic science.

I think he's right... (3, Funny)

XxtraLarGe (551297) | about 4 months ago | (#46720533)

After all, the only thing left to discover after Nanotechnology & Nuclear Fusion is Future Technology. Then what?

Re:I think he's right... (1, Flamebait)

UnknownSoldier (67820) | about 4 months ago | (#46720601)

There are many things that Science doesn't have a clue about:

* The 2 missing fundamental forces
* White Holes
* Actual Intelligence (not that joke that passes for Artificial Ignorance)
* Bi-Location
* Teleportation
* FTL
* Mineral Consciousness
* Plant Consciousness
* Animal Consciousness
* Time Travel
* The true purpose of dreams
* The Soul
* What happens before life
* What happens after death

At least these stupid troll articles will finally end in 2024 when we no longer have to worry about this crap.

Re:I think he's right... (1)

dtolman (688781) | about 4 months ago | (#46720643)

Sounds like someone needs a Nerve Stapling. Would you mind looking over at the poster on the wall of Chairman Sheng-ji Yang for a second?

Re:I think he's right... (3)

JeffAtl (1737988) | about 4 months ago | (#46720687)

What are the 2 missing fundamental forces?

Re:I think he's right... (1)

Boronx (228853) | about 4 months ago | (#46721031)

The fun force and the mental force.

Re:I think he's right... (1)

dtolman (688781) | about 4 months ago | (#46720719)

Silly - there is plenty of things to discover - but you only get a peak at it after your rocket lands on Alpha Centauri!

Re:I think he's right... (1)

XxtraLarGe (551297) | about 4 months ago | (#46720731)

Silly - there is plenty of things to discover - but you only get a peak at it after your rocket lands on Alpha Centauri!

Glad somebody caught the reference. I was worried there for a moment somebody would take me seriously! ;-)

Science hasn't conquered Sockpuppets (0)

The Cat (19816) | about 4 months ago | (#46720535)

Maybe science can come up with a way to stop unemployed fatasses in their pajamas from loading up ten or fifteen sockpuppet accounts so they can mod themselves up while modding down anyone they disagree with.

Meh, not this guy again. (5, Informative)

Gavin Scott (15916) | about 4 months ago | (#46720537)

Horgan has been going on about stuff like this for years. He wrote a book in 1997 called "The End of Science" which I read and thought was completely ridiculous. My recollection (possibly faulty as it's been quite a few years) is that he came across as very anti-science and wandered off into religion later in that book. It feels to me as though he WANTS science to fail at some point.

I don't know why he seems hell-bent on convincing everyone that we're going to run out of things to discover, but I just don't buy it.

Even if we manage to get to the "bottom" of Physics some day that's cool and all but it's hardly the end of much. The biology of even simple cells is fantastically complex and there's lifetimes worth of discovery left there. Also even if some day we we know most or all of the "rules", the possible applications of these simple rules are virtually infinite, so no scientists or technologists or explorers are likely to be unemployed any time soon.

Every time humanity thinks it knows everything, someone thinks up a clever new idea for measuring things and boom, a whole new world of complexity opens up. There might be an end to the turtles at some point, but I'm not worried :)

G.

Re:Meh, not this guy again. (3, Insightful)

Wycliffe (116160) | about 4 months ago | (#46721299)

Agree wholeheartedly. We "might" be saturated in physics but I doubt even that.
We are no where close to being saturated in biology. We don't understand a single
cell, we have yet to create a life from non-living matter, we are no where close on
actually creating any type of artificial life and/or artificial intelligence. We have
barely scratched the surface of the brain or conscienceness or dna. When we have
artificial intelligence, can repair the spine, can repair the brain, understand what
causes retardation and autism and can fix it, can cure cancer, can pick and chose
dna attributes for children, cure aging, reverse aging, regrow limbs, etc... then we'll talk.

I can see many other ways (1)

CmdrEdem (2229572) | about 4 months ago | (#46720543)

Instead of saying that science is running out of interesting stuff to find out I could say that scientists are simply too concerned in publishing meaningless articles to stride forward and find the "great" stuff.

Or that we hit a point in our natural science studies that does not offer that many opportunities for major applications.

Other way to look at this is that with so much information available scientists can exchange more information and many people works in smaller fractions of the same problem and help each other in a more predictable way. There is no huge, instantaneous development, or said development takes time to become really meaningful on that area.

But in the end here is my opinion: Here in /. I find, every week, things that are truly amazing scientific developments. Maybe the writer is just numb due to so many incredible discoveries.

Welcome to 1894: (4, Insightful)

Hartree (191324) | about 4 months ago | (#46720559)

This hoohah even managed to drag me and my BS detector back from Soylent.

(I'm blatantly stealing this quote from one Robert A. Nelson, but it sums up my point quite well.)

In 1894, Albert A. Michelson remarked that in physics there were no more fundamental discoveries to be made. Quoting Lord Kelvin, he continued, âoeAn eminent physicist remarked that the future truths of physical science are to be looked for in the sixth place of decimals.â

A few short years later, physics was grappling with two tiny details called quantum mechanics and special relativity.

I just got back from a talk outlining the unbelievable complexity involved in the assembly of fleeting RNA and protein complexes that are crucial in translating DNA to protein in our cells. What they are doing and how they do it is not at all well understood, regardless that our lives and that of all cellular/multicellular life depend critically on it.

Three weeks ago BICEP2 gave fair evidence of beyond standard model physics (How else can you characterize amplified quantum fluctuations in the field of gravity?). This is something that only happens at many many orders of magnitude greater energy than we've ever observed before.

And you propose to tell me that science is mostly finished but for tidying up "minor details"?

That's spelled "horseshit" where I come from.

Where to begin (1)

FuzzMaster (596994) | about 4 months ago | (#46720567)

There are so many things left for us yet to discover and so many questions about our universe that are still unanswered. I can hardly believe that this is getting media exposure. But then again, it seems that just about anything [slashdot.org] can get exposure on the Internet these days.

Nah (1)

the eric conspiracy (20178) | about 4 months ago | (#46720585)

One thing I do think there is a possibility of is that further advances will be more difficult. We'll need to build bigger telescopes, higher powered accelerators, etc. at increasing costs.

Hopefully though increasing economic productivity will be able to pay for this.

Lifetime achievement (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46720587)

Best get working on life extension then. Bring on the black swans.

Out of easy experiments? (4, Insightful)

joe_frisch (1366229) | about 4 months ago | (#46720589)

We are not out of physics - still lots of big mysteries: Dark matter, dark energy, unification, quantum gravity etc. It is possible though that we are running out of small scale experiments and future ones will on average become more expensive and take longer. Bigger accelerators. Bigger telescopes etc.

I hope this isn't true and that people can become more clever, but it might be.

Laughs* (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46720595)

No... just no.

Astronomy (exoplanets,etc ) and Cosmology say Hi! (3, Insightful)

dtolman (688781) | about 4 months ago | (#46720611)

Considering that less than 20 years ago there were no known extrasolar planets, no one had ever even thought up of the Holographic universe theory, or debated the existence (and implications) of a firewall around blackholes, not to mention the so dark we still can't find it Dark Matter... I mean - we haven't even made enough discoveries to start making theories yet with Exoplanets (gaseous Super Earths are brand new in the past year, I believe), and cosmology has huge areas to explore and craft experiments around that are literally brand new.

I think we're going to be just fine in the theory and spectacular discovery department.

Re:Astronomy (exoplanets,etc ) and Cosmology say H (1)

Voyager529 (1363959) | about 4 months ago | (#46720923)

I think that's where "law of diminishing returns" comes into play. The things you're discussing are wonderful and fascinating and have plenty of implications in science. However, researching exoplanets is only possible with orbiting telescopes or the VLA or Arecebo...the kinds of things that can find stuff, but "bigger than that" will be required to find the next thing.

The first telescopes used a pair of lenses, then mirrors, then finely-created mirrors, then a high quantity of parabolic radio dishes, then really really really big mirrors - launched into orbit. Two lenses were (roughly) affordable by the common man. Mirrors, also affordable by the common man who had a tax return. Then a wealthy hobbyist or dedicated scientist, then a research lab, then a country.

The difference between "how much it costs for the stuff to find new stuff" and "how much new stuff that really expensive stuff will be found" are the questions at hand. We live in an infinite universe, so there's an infinite number of discoveries to be made. It just starts to cost impractical amounts of money after a while.

(and yes, I'm aware that my history of the telescope is grossly oversimplified and incredibly glazed over. This is a Slashdot post, not a thesis.)

Re:Astronomy (exoplanets,etc ) and Cosmology say H (1)

PvtVoid (1252388) | about 4 months ago | (#46721007)

The first telescopes used a pair of lenses, then mirrors, then finely-created mirrors, then a high quantity of parabolic radio dishes, then really really really big mirrors - launched into orbit. Two lenses were (roughly) affordable by the common man. Mirrors, also affordable by the common man who had a tax return. Then a wealthy hobbyist or dedicated scientist, then a research lab, then a country.

The difference between "how much it costs for the stuff to find new stuff" and "how much new stuff that really expensive stuff will be found" are the questions at hand. We live in an infinite universe, so there's an infinite number of discoveries to be made. It just starts to cost impractical amounts of money after a while.

Her'es a picture of the telescope used for the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, which has mapped a substantial fraction of the observable universe:

http://www.hextek.com/wp-conte... [hextek.com]

A two-meter instrument. Much of the innovation in modern cosmology is coming from data processing, not just building bigger and bigger mirrors. People are actually pretty clever, and can work around boundaries in surprising ways.

Re:Astronomy (exoplanets,etc ) and Cosmology say H (1)

blue trane (110704) | about 4 months ago | (#46721189)

The true business of mankind is knowledge. Using economics to subvert that is making economics into a God that we must serve, instead of using it as a tool to serve us.

Re:Astronomy (exoplanets,etc ) and Cosmology say H (1)

ShieldW0lf (601553) | about 4 months ago | (#46721017)

Considering that less than 20 years ago there were no known extrasolar planets, no one had ever even thought up of the Holographic universe theory, or debated the existence (and implications) of a firewall around blackholes, not to mention the so dark we still can't find it Dark Matter... I mean - we haven't even made enough discoveries to start making theories yet with Exoplanets (gaseous Super Earths are brand new in the past year, I believe), and cosmology has huge areas to explore and craft experiments around that are literally brand new.

I think we're going to be just fine in the theory and spectacular discovery department.

The fact that science is focused on such esoteric stuff that is so far removed from relevance to the human condition was a big part of his point.

These things are interesting, but it doesn't really matter too much if we discover them or not, in the grand scheme of things.

Like I've said before, people who think science is the right tool for every problem domain are not as smart as they think they are.

Re:Astronomy (exoplanets,etc ) and Cosmology say H (1)

PvtVoid (1252388) | about 4 months ago | (#46721041)

people who think science is the right tool for every problem domain are not as smart as they think they are.

Very true. Science only has an advantage when reality is involved.

Re:Astronomy (exoplanets,etc ) and Cosmology say H (1)

blue trane (110704) | about 4 months ago | (#46721199)

What relevance did relativity have, when it was discovered? And yet it's used today for GPS. Who saw that, in 1905?

Time to re-read Thomas Kuhn (1)

PensivePeter (1104071) | about 4 months ago | (#46720635)

In his "Structure of Scientific Revolutions", Thomas Kuhn argues that our abilities are limited by the current "template" of thinking - before you have the language of formal logic, for example, you can't argue that something seems "logical" or deducible from the facts available. Science progresses so far within a particular paradigm and then leaps forward with another - Newtonian mechanics, relativity, string theory. Maybe we are due for a new "episodic spasm" into a new paradigm?

bollocks (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46720657)

Save the banana
Better way to fight disease/ provide vaccinations
Cure cancer
Cure AIDS
Cure other uncurable diseases, there are hundreds or thousands
Much faster space travel
Terraforming
Food/water for all people of the world
More efficient ways to generate renewable energy

It took me 2 minutes to write this. I'm sure there's enough to keep humanity busy for at least another hundred years.

Re:bollocks (1)

ShieldW0lf (601553) | about 4 months ago | (#46721035)

Save the banana
Better way to fight disease/ provide vaccinations
Cure cancer
Cure AIDS
Cure other uncurable diseases, there are hundreds or thousands
Much faster space travel
Terraforming
Food/water for all people of the world
More efficient ways to generate renewable energy

It took me 2 minutes to write this. I'm sure there's enough to keep humanity busy for at least another hundred years.

These are all problems that may be solved with technology, not science. Design, not discovery.

What do you expect (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46720695)

from a people that are waiting to hear what they have already decided.

No mysteries solvable within a lifetime (1)

erice (13380) | about 4 months ago | (#46720727)

If you take the Nobel prize evidence as having fundamental meaning (and I'm not sure it does), what it seems to suggest is not that we have only loose ends to tie up. It is pretty obvious that there are still big mysteries left to solve. However, it may be the the remaining mysteries just too difficult to solve within a human lifetime. If the easy problems are solved first and the remaining puzzles become progressively more difficult then, without some sort of intelligence expansion, the inevitable result is that problems can no longer be solved by any sort of directed action. Rather, generations work on a problem until someone randomly stumbles on a solution. Eventually, solutions can not be recognized or understood, even when found and progress stops. The universe might still have mysteries but none remain that we have the capacity to solve.

Re:No mysteries solvable within a lifetime (4, Insightful)

crgrace (220738) | about 4 months ago | (#46720973)

I think you can demolish his argument that Nobel lag is indicative of science slowing down much more easily than that.

Think of the Nobel prize as an asynchronous FIFO. Every time a Nobel-worth discovery is made it gets put in the FIFO. Each year the Nobel committee awards a prize and removes one prize from the FIFO.

What if science is speeding up? Then more discoveries will be put into the FIFO than Nobel prizes can empty. So the FIFO gets longer and the length of time between discovery and prize gets longer.

What if science is slowing down? Than the consumption rate is larger than the generation rate and the FIFO empties. Eventually a scientist would win a prize the same here the discovery is made.

I don't understand this guy's logic. It seems to me more parsimonious that there are so many great discoveries for the Nobel committee to choose from that they are starting to queue up.

So, I think his data indicate science is speeding up.

Re:No mysteries solvable within a lifetime (1)

ShieldW0lf (601553) | about 4 months ago | (#46721049)

This!!

"scientists have become victims of their own .." (1)

hackus (159037) | about 4 months ago | (#46720745)

"scientists have become victims of their own success."

Translation: We have dull and feeble people working in areas of science because we have an educational system which is dogmatic and proudly proclaims it know everything and nothing of interest remains.

While in reality, the real people, scientists who would be our best and brightest are probably sitting in a hut in Africa somewhere because the institutions of economic, political and educational power don't like competition.

What complete crap.

he invented the term ``ironic science'' (1)

extraqwert (983362) | about 4 months ago | (#46720751)

I think ``ironic science'' is a useful concept. However, this particular article is a bit strange. The title has ``Science running out...'' but in the body of the article he almost solely talks about physics. How about molecular biology? No hope for great discoveries? And pure mathematics? Maybe, he does not think mathematics is a science...
As for physics, it does indeed appear to be in crisis. It seems that physics is running out of fundamental problems which can be approached within its traditional methodology. But at the same time, this methodology is extremely valuable. Perhaps the right solution is to go towards becoming a ``multidisciplinary environment''. That is, to inject the methodology of physics into other fields of science. For example, many ideas of modern mathematics were inspired by string theory. This is a manifestation of the usefulness of the physicist's way of thinking.
It would be a pity if physics dies, or even worse goes into that undead state which Horgan calls ``ironic science''.

NatGeo: look at who owns it.... (2)

recharged95 (782975) | about 4 months ago | (#46720769)

It's not there are less things to discover, but the reason NatGeo exists. As a Fox property, it need to help the bottom line: hence, sensational science is what they are looking for.

In this world of 10sec blog explanations of DNA formation, 1min youtube videos describing string theory and watered down Odyssey's (I'm talking to you Cosmos, Seth and Neil). There are more science discoveries out there... only if reporters take a little more time than glancing at their smart phone to write up the next science story based on some VC's press release of some cool silicon valley startup using science.

Re:NatGeo: look at who owns it.... (1)

Livius (318358) | about 4 months ago | (#46721391)

1min youtube videos describing string theory

But 2-minute videos explaining the Schrödinger's cat paradox from the cat's perspective.

Punctuated upheaval (1)

physicsphairy (720718) | about 4 months ago | (#46720803)

In my opinion this is a bit like sitting in your backyard with a telescope opining that there are no new planets left to discover in the solar system while people are out paving the way to actually visit them.

The work being done right now is monumental. Science is progressing faster than it ever has been. But great and fundamental insights are obviously going to be clustered around paradigm shifts. Newton gave us classical mechanics in the 17th century. It took another two hundred years before quantum mechanics displaced it. And then there was lots of room for different scientists to establish the ground rules and get their names in textbooks. But keep in mind that the discovery of quantum mechanics was not the result of people constantly hunting for a way to overthrow Newton. Scientists explored all Newton had to offer, eventually found places where he came up short, and trying to extend Newton is what eventually lead to the knowledge which justified quantum mechanics.

Nobel prizes are awarded for major effects on a field. When there's been a lot of branching off you try to look back to one of the initial branches and credit that with spawning the others. That's obviously going to favor older work as time goes on (keep in mind how nascent our recent understanding is). But that's a bit like crediting Adam and Eve. It's a pretty simplististic way of establishing a hierarchy of importance.

Re:Punctuated upheaval (1)

crgrace (220738) | about 4 months ago | (#46720931)

In my opinion this is a bit like sitting in your backyard with a telescope opining that there are no new planets left to discover in the solar system while people are out paving the way to actually visit them.

We don't yet understand if there are simple underlying principles in biology as there are in physics. Biology is so much more complex that physics and we are still in the 19th century...

At some point someone is going to discover the biological equivalent of quantum mechanics and then the world will change again.

It could be that this discovery could be a way to harness computation to really get a handle on complexity or it could be the discovery of the underlying principles.

I can't wait to find out.

Don't Confuse Difficulty with Dearth (1)

Mr_Wisenheimer (3534031) | about 4 months ago | (#46720815)

What we know about the universe is a tiny drop in a potentially infinite ocean of ignorance. The fact that scientists, like everyone else, have picked the lowest-hanging fruit bare does not mean that they have made a dent in the boundless orchard of knowledge of the natural world.

Is some genius working in a patent office or holed up in a dormitory at Cambridge, without the aid of even a scientific calculator going to discover anything as fantastic as relativistic mechanics or Newtonian mechanics? Probably not. A lot of big science requires teams of really smart people, trillions of man hour equivalents of supercomputer time, and perhaps, one day, particle accelerators the length of Pluto's orbit. But all that knowledge is still out there for the taking. When we only have a vague idea of what dark matter or dark energy might be, when we really do not understand the brain on a biochemical level, when we really have no understanding about they WHY of quantum physics or how to reconcile it with gravity, there is certainly a lot of big questions left unanswered, and those are just the questions we know to ask.

Kelvin (1)

mcswell (1102107) | about 4 months ago | (#46720827)

There's a comment that's been attributed to Lord Kelvin in 1900 (although there's apparently a good chance it may be apocryphal): "There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now. All that remains is more and more precise measurement." That was just prior to Einstein's 1905 publications.

Philipp von Jolly said it best (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46720843)

"Don't go into physics, Mr Planck. In this field, almost everything is already discovered, and all that remains is to fill a few holes."

Fuck that noise (2)

PvtVoid (1252388) | about 4 months ago | (#46720851)

Like we know everything. Or even anything much at all. In terms of understanding the nature of the world. we have only scratched the barest surface. Immense depths lay undiscovered.

Let's go!

what about Neuroscience and structural biology? (1)

crgrace (220738) | about 4 months ago | (#46720867)

I looked at the article and the author is focused on advances in physics, where he may actually have a point.

He doesn't seem to be aware of some of the stuff being done in neuroscience, nanotechnology, and structural biology, to name a few.

We've come so far in getting more insight into the biological and electrical nature of the brain in just a few years and the idea of a connectome (that we can actually map in principle) is a huge breakthrough that will lead to fantastic new technologies.

When one field plateaus, another explodes. Look up epigenetics and CRISPRs and prepare to blow your mind. To say we are near the end of science is crazy.

Also, this author doesn't seem to know about Occam's Razor. There are many explanations for why Nobel Prizes are taking longer to get awarded than any concept of science slowing down.

It matters who you let in the schools (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46720885)

Not everyone is qualified to be a scientist and those that aren't are typically much much better at socializing and jumping through the hoops politically to attain the grant money that is available for scientific research. When you consider everyone equal when people are so obviously not it shouldn't be a surprise when the works of society fail from science to economics to simple quality of life. Every biased medical study, global warming paper or other hot-button study done with a heavy basis in political discourse is a mark against science both in usurping the name of science thereby discrediting it in the process and in misallocation of scientific resources.

or we are less intelligent... (1)

Latinhypercube (935707) | about 4 months ago | (#46720907)

Or we are growing less intelligent or less curious... More content with our media and day to day malaise. Couple of outstanding areas still worth checking pursuing...like what is Gravity, is there other life in the Universe ?, can we prevent death ?, you know 'small' things like that...

A little over a hundred years ago... (1)

sillivalley (411349) | about 4 months ago | (#46720993)

Students were advised not to go into Physics as a career, as there were only two unsolved problems in Classical Physics -- that of the photoelectric effect, and the advance of the perihelion of Mercury.

Einstein addressed both problems in 1905, and changed the world.

What will the current set of "little problems" and inconsistencies in Physics lead to?

I think Feynman may have said it best... (1)

rusty0101 (565565) | about 4 months ago | (#46721023)

...in his first lecture on physics. "The really interesting things in physics are where we thought we understood how things work, yet something new and not part of the known rules happens." He used chess as an analogy with the observation of how pawns rooks, bishops, knights queens and kings all move, and you watch for a while, think you have a good grasp of what's happening, and all of a sudden a pawn disappears from a square, and nothing replaces it, and you learn about 'en passant.' (sp?) You watch for a while, and all of a sudden a pawn reaches the far side of the board and is replaced with another piece and behaves according to that pieces rules. Or suddenly the rook and a king both move during a move.

We're pretty much at the level of understanding how most of the pieces of physics move under most circumstances, and have only the faintest of understanding of some of the special cases. (though a few of the others we understand reasonably well.)

The thing is, some of the special cases may provide some extremely useful solutions to what seem at the moment to be insurmountable problems. Whether they make it possible to implement warp drives, or macro scale teleportation, we don't know, because we don't know what those rules are yet. Though it's almost a trivial prediction to state that it's likely that whatever such rules are found to be usable, we'll probably find a way to make use of the rule in the form of a weapon.

Deja Vu (2)

meerling (1487879) | about 4 months ago | (#46721133)

About every decade somebody makes the same basic prediction/declaration.
This has been going on for more than a century and a half.
(It could be a lot longer, but it's not like I've seen a lot of pointless stupid statements that were quickly proven wrong in most historical documentations.)

Loose Ends (1)

MildlyTangy (3408549) | about 4 months ago | (#46721141)

From what I can remember, in the early 1900's, physics only had a few loose ends to go before 'everything' was discovered and known.

Then Einstein explained the photoelectric effect, and the rest, they say, is history.

For all we know, one of these 'loose ends' may end up rewriting physics as we know it. Again.

It aint over until the fat lady sings.

"Physics" is not science (1)

yurik (160101) | about 4 months ago | (#46721153)

"Physics" is a fairly artificial concept of separation of knowledge - after all, knowledge is just one. Our brains, on the other hand, are too tiny to fit all of it in. We started learning about surroundings "midway", e.g. F=ma - basic physical phenomenon, and from there started moving towards the very small (quarks), very large (galaxies), and much more complex - chemistry, biology. I think the discoveries tend to go in waves, and when there is an imbalance of knowledge, the area at the bottom shoots up. For example - enough data accumulated and enough mathematical tools were developed to boost physics and chemistry, which helped with computers, which in turn boosted biology. Next step - exact predictions of social sciences, terraforming, ... Time to travel far far away.

P.S. Even though I couldn't find who was the original author, my physics teacher once told me that when governor visited Franklin's lab, and was shown all the electrical research, he wondered what was the purpose... to which Franklin replied "Physicists will tinker with it for a bit, and later you will start taxing it". It might have been someone else of course, but does not change the point - something gets discovered, and later it becomes ubiquitous in our everyday life.

Reminds me of the Blackbody Catastrophe (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46721303)

I once sat in a lecture of a physical chemist who stated "all the easy problems have been solved" regarding advancement as a whole in science. He missed the entire boat.

Yes, to an extent, science extends itself on building on the work of others. But breakthroughs come from questioning authority. It's the graduate students with nothing to lose who push the envelope. Once you have your title, all you want is to maintain.

translation (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46721335)

The relevant institutions are becoming obsolete. Time for disruptive technology.

Nobel Prize is a measurement??? (1)

Tony Isaac (1301187) | about 4 months ago | (#46721347)

The author argues that it's taking longer for physicists to receive Nobel Prizes. Maybe it's the Nobel Prize process that's slowing down! Maybe the Nobel Prize committee no longer knows what they are looking for! Maybe the Nobel Prize committee is hamstrung by political correctness. Whatever the reason, how does the length of time it takes to award a Nobel Prize, have anything to do with the actual progress of science???

Plenty of great things to discover (1)

Osgeld (1900440) | about 4 months ago | (#46721363)

but the low hanging fruit is getting pretty thin, so if your in it to win a trophy and not actually DO great things, then this is a GOOD thing

Yeah, right. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46721401)

Science does seem to be in a bit of a rut, because (a) its own successes have raised the bar significantly, (b) there are fewer good scientists due to withering funds, and (c) science in general has taken quite a beating from invisible-man-in-the-sky enthusiasts.

But science is far from running out of questions to answer. Here's an excerpt from an essay I have been writing:

"Why should there be any such thing as [space, time, energy, and matter] at all? Any of it? Why is there space, let alone such incomprehensibly vast expanses of it? Why is there time, almost a billion human generations of it, and perhaps trillions more hence? Why is there energy, in amounts against which our present crisis in fossil fuels pales in comparison? Why is there matter, of which our entire galaxy is but an insignificant speck? No theory of physical reality is complete if it does not explain why our world includes each and every one of these eminently puzzling things, as well as why there is so incredibly much of each of them."

Unless someone out there - anyone - can answer those questions, I'll keep working on my essay and my theories. As always, with no funding, practicality, or popularity whatsoever.

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