1905, publication of the special theory of relativity. The pivotal point of decades of frustration, the priceless fruit of a bright mind. It burns the scientific community like napalm the forest. Few, among the gracious ones, believe the achievement: such a mass of experimental evidence, that wild, unpredictable, capricious animal, has been tamed to a single article, a few pages of masterly rational arguing.
Amid the widespread skepticism within the inner sanctum of theoretical physics, the theory itself happens to match the Zeitgeist quite closely. In an unprecedented powerful manner, it supports the then popular idea that the world is a simple construction. Sure, there are a few oddities here and there, such as the photoelectric effect or, much later, black holes, but they are only the sparkling windows and polychrome vaults of an essentially bare frame, marvelously robust and light at the same time. And alongside goes the society; sure, black people are squatting remote corners of the globe, homosexuality is not unheard of, and Marx is taken inspiration from somewhere in the boundless prairies of Russia, but all these are short-lived exceptions, hardly worth mentioning.
The scientific method has not changed much since then.
2003, completion of the human genome project. Countless hours of teamwork are poured into this brute-force scale-up of the sequencing protocol. The result is, in many ways, a disaster. Of the 3 billions nucleotides that form our genetic code, 2% are doing what we expect, they encode for useful molecules that are being produced for a vaguely known purpose. When biologists start thinking about the other 98%, it slowly becomes clear that good-for-all recipes are not in sight, nor to be expected. The distillate of ten years of biological research is like a good brandy: the abundant ingredients are known but far from sufficient for a complete liquor, and a myriad of little, barely noticeable spirits contribute in equally crucial part to the success of the mixture.
Once again, this result resonates well in the contemporary society. As easily as finding insects of different shapes and colors, with wings or antennae, deadly poisonous or delicious, we discover ourselves surrounded by very special people, each slightly different and peculiar, and good manners are only helping that much. Beyond the blindfold of law, we enjoy our own tiny colorful swarm.