[personal profile] marieldraconis
When it's time for an idea to be discovered--when the cultural surroundings strongly support knowledge and those who study it, usually, although occasionally when we've just made enough discoveries that this next one is logical--it seems common that several people come up with it simultaneously.
I'm thinking of Darwin and the theory of evolution--which Alfred Wallace was getting close to at the same time (my source, Science of Discworld, argued that Darwin was not quite sure he wanted to publish something so revolutionary, but when Wallace sent him his own paper, with all the same ideas except for a mechanism, Darwin realized he had to publish, and did so jointly with Wallace).
I'm thinking of calculus--invented by Isaac Newton, and also by Gottfried Leibniz, almost simultaneously (how simultaneously is unclear because Newton wasn't very organized in his notes).
I'm finally thinking of the race to discover the structure of DNA--a book I read (can't remember which one right now) even argued that Linus Pauling might have gotten there first, if he'd been able to make a flight to London to talk to one of the other teams working on it. The anecdote still strikes me, weeks after reading, because the book said that Pauling couldn't make the appointment because he was having trouble getting a visa, thanks McCarthy.

And then that leads me in a different direction--how many first discoveries are we missing the chance at, if we close our borders and build our walls high? The pace of knowledge in the last two decades strongly indicates that we're at one of those times when cultural surroundings beg for discovery. But if we won't let our people talk to (the London teams studying the structure of DNA), then guess who gets the Nobel Prize, the glory, and the patents, and who gets left behind. Especially important to the current administration should be the patents--because brain drain also means money lost to other countries who get first rights to sell the innovations.



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