by PhilipJ on 9 August 2006
For a more serious answer, I think we have to look no further than Derek’s own second paragraph:
There have been any number of scientists perfectly placed to make great discoveries who failed to realize the importance of what they were (or should be) doing. An equal number have had some idea of what the stakes were, but got bogged down in one sort of mistake or another and never reached the heights they could have.
There they are. Everywhere. Scientists are regular people, and even when brilliant, they don’t always reach the right conclusions. There are countless examples: Linus Pauling, who had little trouble predicting the secondary structure of almost all proteins, was unable to predict the structure for DNA. Einstein spent his last years searching for a Theory of Everything, and got nowhere close. Pythagoras couldn’t believe that the square root of two was irrational.
Brilliant scientists are everywhere, but solutions to complicated problems are rare to come across, no matter how smart you are. There is more to problem solving than pure intellect, and it’s been a topic of conversation on science blogs a lot in recent days: science is hard.