Linus Pauling: The Man Who Thought of Everything

20150824_TNA45ValiunasPauling1400wcolorAlgis Valiunas at The New Atlantis:

As Hager’s description of Pauling’s guiding insight suggests, genuine scientific understanding can be visceral, the rightness of a line of thought confirmed by some transcendent sensation. What Hager does not mention is that the natural resistance of established authority to an intellectual usurper can rage within as well. In science, tradition packs more authority than one might expect from the lovely modern fable that attributes unrelenting progress to vocational purity unequalled by any other profession: scientists, we are told, are endlessly open to the latest ideas, consumed by the need for the truth, undisturbed by the roiling petty ambitions that infect politicians and poets and all such lesser beings.

Patrick Coffey in Cathedrals of Science shows how the rare scientist who is “willing to be distracted from one line of research to pursue an unexpected observation,” and who thereby opens a new line of research, can be met with disbelief shot through with enmity and contempt. Svante Arrhenius, a doctoral student in the early 1880s at Sweden’s Uppsala University, was seeking entry to the guild of chemists devoted at the time to the unending project of synthesizing every possible compound, the work propelled by the synthesis of splendid dyes for the textile industry, which “changed the way the Western world dressed and decorated,” and which made certain industrialists and their technological swamis very rich. The prevailing rigmarole failed to interest Arrhenius, who was thinking about “something on the borderline between chemistry and physics that would extend chemical theory.”

more here.