“There is a popular misconception that science is an impersonal, dispassionate, and thoroughly objective enterprise. Whereas most other human activities are dominated by fashions, fads, and personalities, science is supposed to be constrained by agreed rules of procedure and rigorous tests. It is the results that count, not the people who produce them.
This is, of course, manifest nonsense.
Science is a people-driven activity like all human endeavor, and just as subject to fashion and whim. In this case fashion is set not so much by choice of subject matter, but by the way scientists think about the world. Each age adopts its particular approach to scientific problems, usually following the trail blazed by certain dominant figures who both set the agenda and define the best methods to tackle it.
Occasionally scientists attain sufficient stature that they become noticed by the general public, and when endowed with outstanding flair a scientist may become an icon for the entire scientific community.
In earlier centuries Isaac Newton was an icon. Newton personified the gentleman scientist - well connected, devoutly religious, unhurried, and methodical in his work. His style of doing science set the standard for two hundred years.
In the first half of the twentieth century Albert Einstein replaced Newton as the popular scientist icon. Eccentric, dishevelled, Germanic, absent-minded, utterly absorbed in his work, and an archetypal abstract thinker, Einstein changed the way physics is done by questioning the very concepts that define the subject.
Richard Feynman has become an icon for late twentieth-century existing formalisms and developing his own highly intuitive approach. Whereas most theoretical physicists rely on careful methematical calculation to provide a guide and a crutch to take them into unfamiliar territory, Feynman’s attitude was almost cavalier. You get the impression that he could read nature like a book and simply report on what he found, without the tedium of complex analysis.”