Being A Maverick Has Helped Science Progress

Consensus has enormous power and influence on certain political officials and the scientific community. Often times it will be used as an argument to pass government grants and against those who question a popular hypothesis or theory.  This real life story I’m about to tell is isolated from the creation-evolution controversy, but it’s important nevertheless.

Fractal geometry was discovered by Mandelbrot who was Jewish, born in November 1924 and passed away in October 2010.  His parents were well-educated and as a youth he was able to escape Nazi persecutions as his family fled Poland during 1936.  Living in France, he was able to continue his studies for a time then in 1947 to 1949 he studied at California Institute of Technology, where he obtained first master’s degree in aeronautics. He then returned to France, were he got  his Ph.D. degree in Mathematical Sciences at the University of Paris in 1952.

His discovery known as the  “Mandelbrot set” has an array of incredibly beautiful and intricate patterns with similarity that leads to infinity. It has influenced many areas such as art, finance, linguistics, biology, medicine, chemistry, physics, earth science, cosmology, computer science, astronomy, many of the engineering disciplines, and of course, mathematics. It’s quite astounding that this pervasive principle could be discovered in our time.

One would think, consensus was in favor of doing new things with geometry which lead to Mandelbrot set having massive influence.  But sadly, this was not the case. In fact, mathematicians were telling Mandelbrot that geometry was out dated, only useful for school children. Mandelbrot didn’t accept that idea from the consensus, so he unwillingly became a maverick.

Science describes it this way…

“Some describe Mandelbrot as one who chose the role of a maverick in the mainstream sciences.  Quite to the contrary, his uncompromising devotion to analyze and understand the “rough” reality of nature isolated him from the mainstream. In his view, the common “smooth” representations of natural processes were entirely inappropriate and far from the essence of nature: “Clouds are not spheres and mountains are not cones.”  Alone, he shaped a program of geometry based on fractals, a term he coined to refer to mathematical shapes with irregular contours, just as seen in nature.”

What would it be like if Mandelbrot decided to abide what the mainstream was telling him and not purse a better way of doing geometry rather than enduring many years of hardship? Would he gotten a government grant for his research if the same thing happened today? Indeed it would have been much more easier to go with the flow…

“Now that Mandelbrot’s work can be considered to belong to mainstream mathematics and the sciences, it is important to remember that there was once strong resistance and skepticism.  I have often asked myself where Mandelbrot found the source of his strength, determination, and endurance in those decades when he was practically isolated in his own mathematical world.”

Mavericks are needed in biology as well, one rarely hears of them because the bounty on mavericks in biology is very high. Consensus does more nowadays than just isolate those whom they disagree with. They could make it very difficult or impossible on a maverick to get funding even though that maverick may not being a creationist or ID scientist. Michael Rampino is an example, his job could be online or face long years of isolation from the pack. As the documentary, Expelled pointed out non-evolutionists can loose their tenture if they come out into the open with their questioning of Darwinian evolution.

Great achievements and success with those achievements, are not always made by the popular opinion at large, the loner, the one who dares to be different and endure ridicule and skepticism can make a huge impact on science! In the Bible, this normally referred to as David vs Goliath.


5 thoughts on “Being A Maverick Has Helped Science Progress

  1. Michael again hopes to subsume creationism under the umbra of “maverick science,” which enjoys a popular following.

    But, as Robert Park pointed out in his book Voodoo Science, “Alas, to wear the mantle of Galileo, it is not enough that you be persecuted by an unkind establishment; you must also be right.”

  2. The way Science describes it, Mandelbrot was NOT a maverick, so what’s the point here ?

    Science clearly state that ‘some’ called him a maverick, but actually he was not.

  3. Michael attempts to equate being a maverick to being correct, hoping thereby to arrogate popular acclaim for the underdog to creationism.

    But there is a vast difference. Creationism is outside the scientific mainstream because it’s WRONG. Fractals were outside the mainstream because very few appreciated their importance. No one thought that Mandelbrot was a crackpot, or that his work was incorrect. What most people missed was its importance to a wide range of applications— patterns in nature, self-replication, chaos theory. Creationism, on the other hand, has never in centuries of trying found any applications whatsoever, no fruitfulness in any field of endeavor.

    Unlike creationism, Mandelbrot’s results built on previous scientific work. The most important characteristic of a fractal curve is called its “Hausdorff dimension,” not the “Mandelbrot dimension. The next-most-famous curve is the “Julia set,” from the much earlier work of Gaston Julia. Creationism, on the other hand, starts from a fixed religious text, and advances only a single step before it falls. Whereas science builds upon the previous work of others—to expand it, to test it, even to tear it down—every creationist claim starts anew from ground level.

    Since he is such a fan of Mandelbrot, Michael has no doubt read about Mandelbrot’s application of fractals to body patterns that arise during evolution. In fact, Mandelbrot was the first to demonstrate a strong link between fractals and self-organization of complex evolved systems. So, if Michael knew a little bit more what he was talking about, he might not hold Mandelbrot in such high esteem.


    I was one of the early purchasers of The Fractal Geometry of Nature. Mostly because I had met Mandelbrot and several of his coworkers at IBM Research in the 1980s. He appeared a crusty old guy, and, as the Science article notes, he had a rep for dogged determination.

  4. Contrary to Michael’s expectations, I do have a high regard for under-appreciated mavericks. Stuart Kauffman in biology. Ilya Prigogine in the dynamics of highly non-equilibrium systems. (His death is still left unfilled by serious followers.) Sunny Auyang in complex systems. Steve Wolfram’s A New Kind of Science is, I think already being employed in the move toward computer simulations and agent-based models—but he receives little credit for the idea. (Maybe not enough dogged determination.) Sorry, Eelco; no one in cosmology at the moment—Bondi & Gold just didn’t pan out.

    Mavericks are needed in science. Every major new idea starts out as a minority of one, and many require years to develop and become accepted. Boltzmann’s atoms and Wegener’s continental drift come to mind.

    The difference from creationism is that the mavericks of science submit their ideas to all of their peers for criticism, for experimental verification, and for extension to other phenomena. Another difference, of course, is integrity. Scientists must be able to trust each others’ work, and violations are punished harshly. On the other hand, everyone expects that creationists will lie—they think it is their faith that justifies them, not their honesty.


    Of course, most mavericks in science fail. We never hear of them. Where now are Rene Blondlot’s N-rays? Linus Pauling’s vitamin-C cure for the common cold? However, again in contrast to creationists, many scientific mavericks did make substantial contributions to science quite apart from their failed theories–Pauling himself, and Hoyle, Bondi, and Gold. Ernst Mach was dead wrong about continuum theory, but prolific in other areas.

    But we need the failures as well as the successes. The difference between the scientific failed mavericks and creationists is that the scientific ones are willing to submit to evidence.

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