Medical Researcher 'Discovers' Integration
A certain Dr. M.M. Tai published a paper entitled "A mathematical model for the determination of total area under glucose tolerance and other metabolic curves". This paper's stated objective is to "develop a mathematical model for the determination of total areas under curves from various metabolic studies". Dr. Tai's paper has already garnered 75 citations.
When I first read about this paper (I believe this is an old story), I could have sworn I saw something familiar. What if you cross out the biology part? "A mathematical model for the determination of total area under
glucose tolerance and other metabolic curves". Thought so.
The writer of this paper was apparently not familiar with the trapezoidal rule that approximates the definite integral that calculates the area under a curve. I learned about it in high school; I'm pretty sure this rule is well-known in the scientific community - didn't Isaac Newton come up with this idea about 300 years ago?
The learned savants Winchell Chung and Fred Kiesche recommended this article to me last week because it brings to mind the notion that there is a place for a specific discipline that ensures that correlations like this are made across fields of knowledge. SF writers have been writing about this idea for more than sixty years.
In his 1950 novel Voyage of the Space Beagle, A.E. van Vogt writes about the Nexialist:
His high-probability chart contained, among other things, check marks in the proper printed spaces showing the amount of volcanic dust in the atmosphere, the life history of various plant forms as indicated by preliminary studies of their seeds, the type of digestive tracts animals would have to have to eat the particular plants examined and by extrapolation, what would be the probable ranges of structure and type of the animals who lived off the animals who ate such plants.
Grosvenor worked rapidly, and since he merely put marks on an already printed chart, it was not long before he had his graph. It was an intricate affair. It would not be easy to explain it to someone who was not already familiar with Nexialism.
(Read more about van Vogt's Nexialist)
In his 1954 story Sucker Bait, Isaac Asimov writes about the members of the Mnemonic Service:
Sheffield said, "Somewhere inside the human brain is a record of every datum that has impinged upon it. Very little of it is consciously remembered, but all of it is there, and a small association can bring an individual datum back without a person's knowing where it comes from. So you get a 'hunch' or a 'feeling.' Some people are better at it than others. And some can be trained. Some are almost perfect, like Mark Annuncio and a hundred like him. Some day, I hope, there'll be a billion like him, and we'll really have a Mnemonic Service..."
"Every once in a while, one of the Service may correlate across a gap no machine could possibly manage..."
(Read more about Asimov's Mnemonic Service)
In his 1968 novel Stand on Zanzibar, John Brunner writes about the Synthesist:
"There were people, extremely top people, whom specialists tended to refer to disparagingly as dilettanti but who dignified themselves with the title "synthesist", and who spent their entire working lives doing nothing but making cross-references from one enclosed corner of research to another..."
(Read more about Brunner's Synthesist)
In his 1984 novel Heretics of Dune, Frank Herbert writes about specialized Mentats who served as House Records Archivists, finding information from their personal knowledge of a vast disorganized set of historical records of the Bene Gesserit:
Taraza rather distrusted Archivists, which she knew was an ambivalent attitude because she recognized the underlying necessity for data. But Chapter House Records could only be viewed as a jungle of of abbreviations, special notations, coded insertions, and footnotes. Such material often required a Mentat for translation or, what was worse in times of extreme fatigue demanded that she delve into Other Memories. ...You could never consult Archival Records in a straightforward manner. Much of the interpretation that emerged from that source had to be accepted on the word of the ones who brought it or (hateful!) you had to rely on the mechanical search by the holosystem.
(Read more about House Records Archivists)
Update: In his 1983 book Dream Thief, Stephen Lawhead writes about Spark Plugs (Systematicians):
A Spark Plug , as they were called, was a member of an elite group of men and women...
Most often they were employed as systematicians - men who could view the overall course of a project and draw valuable information from other areas of study and bring it to bear upon a particular problem. They acted as catalysts of creativity - spark plugs - providing those quick, dynamic bursts of creative insight for projects that had grown too complex to rely on the accidental cross-pollinization of ideas from other disciplines.
(Read more about Lawhead's Spark Plugs (Systematicians))
Read the original article in An American Physics Student in England; thanks to Winchell Chung and to Fred Kiesche for suggesting this item - (and Ashley, for his update comment).
Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 12/14/2010)
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