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Taleb provides yet more fodder for skeptical enquiry. In the middle of Chapter 16 of Antifragile ("A lesson in disorder") where he is arguing that science isn't the source of practical applications of technology but the product of it, he argues:

An extraordinary proportion of work came out of the rector, the English parish priest with no worries, erudition, a large or at least comfortable house, domestic help, a reliable supply of tea and scones with clotted cream, and an abundance of free time ... The enlightened amateur, that is. The Reverends Thomas Bayes (as in Bayesian probability) and Thomas Malthus (Malthusian over-population) are the most famous. But there are many more surprises, cataloged in Bill Bryson’s Home, in which the author found ten times more vicars and clergymen leaving recorded traces for posterity than scientists, physicists, economists, and even inventors. In addition to the previous two giants, I randomly list contributions by country clergymen: Rev. Edmund Cartwright invented the power loom, contributing to the Industrial Revolution; Rev. Jack Russell bred the terrier; Rev. William Buckland was the first authority on dinosaurs; Rev. William Greenwell invented modern archaeology; Rev. Octavius Pickard-Cambridge was the foremost authority on spiders; Rev. George Garrett invented the submarine; Rev. Gilbert White was the most esteemed naturalist of his day; Rev. M. J. Berkeley was the top expert on fungi; Rev. John Michell helped discover Uranus; and many more.

Again, his general argument deserves a well developed question of its own, but this specific claim, that the amateur clergyman contributed more science and technology to posterity than those employed or recognised as scientists seems to demand proof. Is his claim right?

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The obvious first thought is, how many professional scientists (etc) even existed for much of the 19th century, compared to clergy. A "scientist" wasn't even a thing until the 1830s by my recollection. – Jivlain Feb 24 '13 at 23:16
Specialization came after agricultural revolutions. Back in the Renaissance, the methodologies used for Theology, like systematic references and proofs are an application of science. By contrast, in the mid-19th century, doctors refused to wash their hands after autopsies despite strong evidence that it decreased the death rate. From that, I'd say that the theologists of the time applied more actual science that what today's people view as 'scientists'. – Muz Feb 25 '13 at 0:03
I reject the premise of the question. How many professional mathematicians (i.e. paid for doing mathematical research) were there before the 20th century? Most had other jobs and did mathematics as a hobby. Does this mean that lawyers (Fermat) contributed more to mathematics than mathematicians? Ridiculous. – Konrad Rudolph Feb 25 '13 at 10:36
@AndrewGrimm it seemed surprising and, especially on this site, it is often assumed that anything related to religion is a major impediment to progress nor a source of it. – matt_black Feb 26 '13 at 23:17
Can we really say that Thomas Bayes was not a mathematician? He published a number of pamphlets on mathematics (as well as pamphlets on religious topics). True, he was as a Presbyterian pastor, but in the early 1700s there were very few "professional" mathematicians. .... so maybe instead of saying "clergymen contributed more than scientists" we should say "most scientists were clergymen". – GEdgar Jun 29 '15 at 13:43

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