There has always been a "peak" to most resources — we use them until they're too hard to get or until we're draining them faster than they can be renewed. But, NeuroDojo's Zen Faulkes asks, could there also be "peak science?" Is there a point at which we can no longer do more science, and have we already reached it? The notion that research has been "topped out" may seem "completely absurd" at first, Faulkes says, particularly coming from a biologist's point of view, where there are interesting and "worthwhile" questions being asked every day that are now more "potentially solvable" than at any other time in history. But, he adds, "perceptions can be dangerous. People used to say, 'There's plenty of fish in the sea' before fishery after fishery collapsed." There are signs that could cause concern, Faulkes says — the decline in support for public funding of science, the "disenfranchisement" of junior researchers, the continually mounting administrative hoops researchers are required to jump through in order to get permission and money to do their work, and the increasing need for bigger and more complex technology to answer all the questions being asked. Each of these is a problem in and of itself, but combined together, they can start to limit scientific output. There are areas of growth, like internet research and crowd-sourced science, but if basic research is to survive and continue to grow, Faulkes says, it's up to scientists to come up with "better ideas."
Over the Hill?
Mar 09, 2011