“To kill an error is as good a service as, and sometimes even better than, the establishing of a new truth or fact.”
“My mind seems to have become a kind of machine for grinding laws out of large collection of facts.”
Quotes from the Jan 2009 special issue of Scientific American on the Most Powerful Idea in Science issue.
Here’s what Gary Stix’s article, “Darwin’s Living Legacy”, in that issue begins with:
When the 26-year-old Charles Darwin sailed into the Galapagos Islands in 1835 onboard the HMS Beagle, he took little notice of a collection of birds that are now intimately associated with his name. The naturalist, in fact, misclassified as gosbeaks some of the birds that are now known as Darwin’s finches. After Darwin returned to England, ornithologist and artist John Gould began to make illustrations of a group of preserved bird specimens brought back in the Beagle‘s hold, and the artist recognized them all to be different species of finches.
From Gould’s work, Darwin, the self-taught naturalist, came to understand how the finches’ beak size must have changed over the generations to accommodate differences in the size of seeds or insects consumed on the various islands.
What I find interesting about this little story is that it illustrates an important truth, namely, specialization matters and the collaboration among specialists is important in pushing the envelope. No single person has the wisdom and knowledge to do everything on their own. No one is really self-sufficient and most advances in any field are the result of a gradual accretion of small but significant insights given to different minds.