前幾天青年化學家陳思翰傳了一篇 Nature 期刊的文章給我看,引發了我很深的感慨。

這篇文章主要以 CD index 的分析來論證現在的期刊論文和專利越來越不具「破壞性」了。暫且不論這篇使用這種分析方式是否恰當,甚至不論量化的分析是否恰當,我想問的是:學術界建立的這種系統到底有沒有問題,又會走向何方?是不是所有建立的制度都會隨者不斷的完備而逐漸僵化,最後終至衰敗?


John James Waterston 這個名字馬上顯現在我的腦還裡。Waterston 在工程公司當學徒的時候順道在愛丁堡大學學習數學和物理,受教於物理學家 John Leslie,而因為他的興趣很廣泛,也同時修習了化學以及解剖學等課程。完成學業後他在英國的一家工程公司工作,工作內容是鐵道鋪設的勘測。他對科學研究非常有興趣,但他選擇的策略是像這樣進入一家和研究沒啥相關的工程公司工作,然後在業餘時間從事心儀的研究。然而,因為工作很繁忙,需要在英國趴趴走,導致他沒有太多時間可以鑽研學問,所以他做了三年就走了。





若非 Rayleigh 在當皇家學會的會長時從檔卷室意外發現 Waterston 的稿件並發現其重要性,Waterston 可能就真的永遠消失在歷史中了。Rayleigh 評論:

It is difficult to put oneself in imagination into the position of the reader of 1845, and one can understand that the circumstance of the memoir should have appeared speculative and that its mathematical style should have failed to attract. But it is startling to find a referee expressing the opinion that "the paper is nonsense, unfit even for reading before the Society." Another remarks "that the whole investigation is confessedly founded on a principle entirely hypothetical, from which it is the object to deduce a mathematical representation of the phenomena of elastic media. It exhibits much skill and many remarkable accordances with the general facts, as well as numerical values furnished by observation . . . The original principle itself involves an assumption which seems to me very difficult to admit, and by no means a satisfactory basis for a mathematical theory..." The history of this paper suggests that highly speculative investigations, especially by an unknown author, are best brought before the world through some other channel than a scientific society, which naturally hesitates to admit into its printed records matter of uncertain value. Perhaps one may go further and say that a young author who believes himself capable of great things would usually do well to secure the favourable recognition of the scientific world by work whose scope is limited, and whose value is easily judged, before embarking on greater flights. 

我認為 Nature 那篇文章所提到的問題其實跟學術界的結構有很大的關係。還有多少這種科學家呢?因為我又要去工作了,且待下回分解。


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