Monday, March 28, 2011

The Gentleman Scientist

In another era, the concept of "science" was not something closed off to the common man; rather, it was as commonplace a hobby as gardening or philately. Scientific discoveries of immense value were frequently made by home enthusiasts.

Nowadays, one of the few remaining areas of science still considered wide open to so-called "amateurs" is astronomy. But even then, any discovery that doesn't jibe with what the "experts" have already decreed will be suppressed or ignored. Just about every other field of science has been encircled with barbed wire by career "scientists" - and, of course, the universities, government agencies, and corporations who fund them.

But in days of old, from colonial times to the Victorian age, a man didn't need a fancy college degree or the blessing of academia. If he built a science lab in his carriage house and declared himself to be a scientist, then dammit, he was, and nobody laughed when he said so.

"Gentlemen Scientists", they were nobly called. Even many early members of the Royal Society were Gentlemen Scientists. One was Antoine Lavoisier, the father of modern chemistry. Benjamin Franklin, who was a pioneer in electrical research, was another.

There are still a few Gentlemen Scientists out there, toiling in the night pursuing their vision like an artist slaving away in his garret, shaking up consensus reality until it coughs up the elusive truths he seeks. Others are somewhat independent but still rooted in the status quo, such as J. Craig Venter and James Lovelock. These men are not so much Gentlemen Scientists per se (though scientists and gentlemen they may be) but simply independent mavericks within the existing system of Big Science.

If there are any fellow Gentlemen Scientists out there, we'd love to hear from you.

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