Scientific Advancement

It seems to me….

Scientific research is one of the most exciting and rewarding of occupations.” ~ Frederick Sanger[1].

Over the past century humankind has reined in famine, plague, and war[2] transforming them from incomprehensible and uncontrollable forces of nature into manageable challenges. More people now die from eating too much than from eating too little; more people die from old age than from infectious diseases; and more people commit suicide than are killed by soldiers, terrorists, and criminals combined. The average American is much more likely to die from overindulging at McDonalds than from being blown-up by terrorists.

Unfortunately, in spite of amazing technological advances, there hasn’t been any corresponding advance in basic human fundamental quality. That said, history has shown that scientific progress cannot be held back. Paraphrasing Victor Hugo[3], nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come; if feasible but not developed in one location, it will be elsewhere. This is not judgmental as to basic right or wrong – but does possibly underscore the importance of a liberal education. Disciplines that study the human culture (including literature, philosophy, the classics, film studies, art history, music, religion, etc.) provide the tools to reimagine and transform the world.

In some cases, measurement corroborates theory and, in other cases, it contradicts theory. Once other possible sources of measurement error are discarded, scientists may be forced to alter theory to explain measurement. This is the essence of scientific principle: corroboration of theory with measurement, duplication of results by others to confirm observations, and revision of theory to explain measurement[4].

Science describes facts (the empirical realm) answering the question of “what”, theory answers “why” things work the way they do. Religion consists of “beliefs” that are unprovable but attempt to provide answers to questions of meaning and morality. There should not be any conflict between science and religion as each attempts to provide answers and guidance in totally different areas.

Correlation is not the same as causation. Simply because two quantities vary together, they may – or may not – be dependent upon one another. As large quantities of data become increasingly available, it is becoming significantly easier to find spurious totally unrelated relationships[5].

Scientific advances, though frequently seeming to spring suddenly from research labs, actually are the normal end result of long and costly processes by multi-discipline teams. The era of discovery based primarily on experience and intuition is maturing and innovation increasingly utilizes supercomputing and quantum mechanics.

There are relatively few truly original or unique ideas; innovation is primarily dependent upon previous development or recombinant applications built upon that development. This is in many ways similar to general subject knowledge where each discovery or development merely serves in the accumulation of known facts, analogous to an expanding balloon, creating awareness of yet more that still remains unknown. The primary constraints to innovation, whether scientific knowledge or technological development, becomes the number of people available to work in basic research.

Linus Pauling [6]observed that “If you want to have good ideas you must have many ideas”. It always will remain unknown from where the next general purpose development will originate and, surprisingly, it is not always from the most educated or intelligent. Everyone is capable of creativity; most ideas are lost by the failure to write them down, to enact on them, or by failure to appreciate their potential value.

Digitization of data has enabled new ways of acquiring information which in turn has increased the rate of related innovation. Digitized data is “non-rival”: the cost of replication is essentially zero, the cost of additional copies is free, and the data remains available regardless of how frequently it is used. The primary impact of digitization is that it has allowed access to much of the data that until now remained inaccessible.

Digital “bits”, zeros and ones, are therefore much more efficient than those made of physical atoms or molecules, and never can be consumed. The original copy of any data might be expensive to create but subsequent copies are essentially free. But even the initial cost of creation is changing as an increasing amount of data is transferred M2M (machine to machine). The amount of M2M generated data will substantially increase as a result of IoT (Internet of Things) adoption.

Every existing invention or development becomes a building block for subsequent innovative recombinant development in a non-ending chain of creativity. The primary constraint on productivity growth has therefore become the availability of innovators. The solution: increased emphasis on STEM education and training.

That’s what I think, what about you?

[1] Frederick Sanger OM CH CBE FAA was a British biochemist who won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry twice, one of only two people to have done so in the same category, the fourth person overall with two Nobel Prizes, and the third person overall with two Nobel Prizes in the sciences.

[2] Harari, Yuval Noah. Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, Harper,

[3] Victor Marie Hugo was a French poet, novelist, and dramatist of the Romantic movement and considered one of the greatest and best-known French writers.

[4] Cerf, Vinton. Sometimes It Takes Some Time, Communications of the ACM, May 2014, p7.

[5] Vigen, Tyler. Spurious Correlations, Hatchett Books,, 2015.

[6] Linus Carl Pauling was an American chemist, biochemist, peace activist, author, and educator.

About lewbornmann

Lewis J. Bornmann has his doctorate in Computer Science. He became a volunteer for the American Red Cross following his retirement from teaching Computer Science, Mathematics, and Information Systems, at Mesa State College in Grand Junction, CO. He previously was on the staff at the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, Stanford University, and several other universities. Dr. Bornmann has provided emergency assistance in areas devastated by hurricanes, floods, and wildfires. He has responded to emergencies on local Disaster Action Teams (DAT), assisted with Services to Armed Forces (SAF), and taught Disaster Services classes and Health & Safety classes. He and his wife, Barb, are certified operators of the American Red Cross Emergency Communications Response Vehicle (ECRV), a self-contained unit capable of providing satellite-based communications and technology-related assistance at disaster sites. He served on the governing board of a large international professional organization (ACM), was chair of a committee overseeing several hundred worldwide volunteer chapters, helped organize large international conferences, served on numerous technical committees, and presented technical papers at numerous symposiums and conferences. He has numerous Who’s Who citations for his technical and professional contributions and many years of management experience with major corporations including General Electric, Boeing, and as an independent contractor. He was a principal contributor on numerous large technology-related development projects, including having written the Systems Concepts for NASA’s largest supercomputing system at the Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley. With over 40 years of experience in scientific and commercial computer systems management and development, he worked on a wide variety of computer-related systems from small single embedded microprocessor based applications to some of the largest distributed heterogeneous supercomputing systems ever planned.
This entry was posted in Art, Big Data, Causation, Classics, Correlation, Digitization, Education, Empirical, Film, humanities, Innovation, Innovation, Internet of Things, IoT, Linus Pauling, Literature, McDonalds, Measurement, Music, Philosophy, Religion, Religion, Research, research, Science, STEM, Technology, Theory, Victor Hugo, Writers and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.