Breitwi esergutstr. 40 17, A-4O2 0 Li nz, Austria
Convinced of the nobility of its endeavor, an army of specialists is now diligently at work producing ideas, results, data. Within many institutions the feeling prevails that there is no other pursuit as worthy of a first-rate mind as scientific research. But who is the ensuing inundation of research reports and articles intended for? The only persons capable of understanding them are the specialists themselves and they don’t have sufficient time to systematically survey the literature even in their own fields. Therefore, oversights are common, and wasteful duplications of work occur. Furthermore, many valuable publications are only infrequently consulted, and merely gather dust in libraries and archives. There simply aren’t enough readers. After all, a scientist earns merits by doing original work – and not by knowing what others have done.
That leads to unfortunate consequences! lnstead of a worldwide network of scholars, we have a series of islets – a very ineffective deployment of our intellectual resources. A better one could be achieved by restructuring our academic institutions. That would, in my opinion, involve – affording equal prestige (and employment) to both specialists and generalists.
Members of the latter group could be engaged in teaching and writing (literature surveys of broader fields; high-level popular books, articles and lectures).
Generalists could join the islets together. They could, for example, read a broader range of literature and attend various conferences; they would then report new developments to the specialists at their own institutions – and also inform and instruct lay audiences. We shouldn’t forget that more widespread interest in the sciences would inevitably lead to better funding for them.
To sum it up – qualified generalists could overcome the current isolation of the individual disciplines by forming links from specialist to specialist and lrom specialist to student or layman. This they would do by finding out about research results and communicating and sometimes interpreting what they have learned. We need more – teachers and explainers – and not just scientists hell-bent on originality at whatever price.