Talking Points: Edward Witten on Élitism

“The critics feel passionately that they are right, and that their viewpoints have been unfairly neglected by the establishment. They strike a populist note. They bring into the public arena technical claims that few can properly evaluate. They are sometimes able to generate astonishing amounts of publicity. We all know examples from our own fields or from the media. Responding to this kind of criticism can be very difficult. It is hard to answer unfair charges of élitism without sounding élitist to non-experts ... Scientists in this type of situation would do well to heed the advice in Nature’s Editorial. Keep doing what you are doing. And when you have the chance, try to patiently explain why what you are doing is interesting and exciting, and may even be useful one day.” —Edward Witten, Charles Simonyi Professor in the School of Natural Sciences, in “Answering critics can add fuel to controversy,” Nature, November 16, 2006