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The Status Quark

Murray Gell-Mann reflects on matter’s building blocks and scientists’ resistance to new ideas

4:32pm, August 28, 2009

When in the course of scientific events it becomes necessary to dissolve allegiances to established beliefs, you can expect to face a lot of flak.

New scientific ideas, the German physicist Max Planck once observed, triumph not because of the power of reason, but because their opponents eventually die. It was perhaps a slight exaggeration. But it certainly reflects the spirit of scientific conservatism infused in the textbooks, journals and academic departments that impose disciplinary consensus on students and their teachers. Science’s methods are so powerful, its defenders sometimes contend, that views contrary to current consensus are too likely to be wrong to be taken seriously.

Nobody understands this pressure from the scientific establishment better than Murray Gell-Mann, the Nobel laureate physicist who identified quarks as the ultimate building blocks of most earthly matter. Gell-Mann, who turns 80 on September 15, has witnessed resistance to many groun

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