Working as a scientist one encounters very similar pressures to those encountered by members of religious groups or political parties (pressure to conform, interpersonal relationships being used as leverage etc.), as well as somewhat similar reasoning (appeals to authority, ad hominem attacks etc.).
What advice would you give to a junior scientist who wishes to pursue the 'truth', but finds that doing so can lead to personal criticism, isolation and ultimately loneliness (which is not good for his health)? Is it better to be accepted by one's peers or is personal integrity of important when the two clash? Are charges of naivety and quixoticism relevant here?
I know these are all somewhat different questions, but an answer to any or just one of them would be most helpful. Thank you in advance.
The best piece of advice I ever heard on this issue came in a talk I heard years ago about Darwin. Darwin wanted to convince us of something that wasn't at all obvious when he introduced it. But more to the point, he wanted to be taken seriously by the scientific community. How did he do it? By spending the early part of his career demonstrating that he could do what his fellow scientists did -- that he could do credible, solid research that his colleagues would recognize as such. That made it possible for him to be taken seriously when he introduced his novel ideas. If someone is going to invest the time and energy needed to explore and evaluate ideas that are far from the mainstream, they need good reason to think that the effort might pay off. For every brilliant maverick in any field, there are at least 10 cranks. We might put it this way: if you want to persuade your peers, you need to be accepted by them as an able worker in your field. And doing that has an advantage from your own...