Sunday, August 9, 2020

Synthesists

I just re-read this Heinlein essay and I'm not convinced anything is going on with the creation of this new field of science. Certainly not in any institutional way

The greatest crisis facing us is not Russia, not the Atom bomb, not corruption in government, not encroaching hunger, not the morals of young. It is a crisis in the organization and accessibility of human knowledge. We own an enormous "encyclopedia" -- which isn't even arranged alphabetically. Our "file cards" are spilled on the floor, nor were they ever in order. The answers we want may be buried somewhere in the heap, but it might take a lifetime to locate two already known facts, place them side by side and derive a third fact, the one we urgently need. Call it the Crisis of the Librarian. We need a new "specialist" who is not a specialist, but a synthesist. We need a new science to be the perfect secretary to all other sciences. But we are not likely to get either one in a hurry and we have a powerful log of grief before us in the meantime. Today the forerunners of synthesists are already at work in many places. Their titles may be anything; their degrees may be in anything -- or they may have no degrees. Today they are called "operations researchers", or sometimes "systems development engineers", or other interim tags. But they are all interdisciplinary people, generalists, not specialists -- the new Renaissance Man. The very explosion of data which forced most scholars to specialize very narrowly created the necessity which evoked this new non-specialist. So far, this "unspecialty" is in its infancy; its methodology is inchoate, the results are sometimes trivial, and no one knows how to train to become such a man. But the results are often spectacularly brilliant, too -- this new man may yet save all of us.-- R.A.Heinlein in "Where To?" 1950/1965
Not really sure if there's been any movement on this except for the many "Meta-studies" that have been published recently combining lots of experimenters' results. I suppose it could be in the realm of the creative amateur: feature magazine writers, Usenet, websites, etc. [this was from 2004]

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