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Science and the making of VictoriaRoyal Society of Victoria
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The Royal Society's Place in Science


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The Royal Society's Place in Science (continued)

Certainly we work by experiments, but before we plan our experiments there has to be an idea to test. Imagining the new idea is the mark of the great scientist. These new ideas come in the course of one's reading or talking or hearing about what someone else has done in another country. Often the novel idea comes when one is reading a subject that one has no right to read, or when one is present at a talk where one does not belong. It also often does the scientist good in his own subject to have to talk about it to an intelligent layman—an intelligent man who does not know that particular subject. When we do this we are forced to put our statement into new words and we may suddenly see a flaw in the argument which till then we had been confident about. We all know, whether we are scientists or not, that there are several levels at which we talk about any subject. If say you had spent a year at Timbuktu—if you met someone who had also spent a year at Timbuktu you could talk as fellow-experts about the habits of the people and the local stories and who were the important men to know. If you met an intelligent person who had never been within 1000 miles of Timbuktu you could still talk about it without being a bore—you'd have to abolish all the place names; some of the stories would have to go but some would be international. You would have to use analogies of what the other person knew about trading towns in a desert. If you were talking to a person who was really rather dull you couldn't say much more than that the place was very hot and the locals couldn't speak English. Talking about a scientific topic is—there's a semipopular level which assumes quite a lot of common knowledge but not the special terms which only the real top-notchers talk when they get together.

People in Bright Sparcs - Leeper, Geoffrey Winthrop

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Leeper, Geoffrey Winthrop 1960 'The Royal Society's Place in Science', typescript, Royal Society of Victoria papers, State Library of Victoria, MS 11663, item 35/6.

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