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AshenLady
01-31-2011, 09:39 AM
My husband went to a good college and was taught that plate tectonics was a new "theory" that had yet to be proven and was considered "newfangled" by the older professors, of course, who are now dead wrong, literally and figuratively speaking.

What other scientific facts were found to be dead wrong, through time, when new information was discovered.

naita
01-31-2011, 09:45 AM
Rocks occasionally come from space, although I thought the resistance lasted longer than the wikipedia-article indicates:
The German physicist, Ernst Florens Chladni, was the first to publish the then audacious idea that that meteorites were actually rocks from space. He published his booklet, "On the Origin of the Pallas Iron and Others Similar to it, and on Some Associated Natural Phenomena", in 1794. In this he compiled all available data on several meteorite finds and falls concluded that they must have their origins in outer space. The scientific community of the time responded with resistance and mockery. It took nearly 10 years before a general acceptance of the origin of meteorites was achieved through the work of the French scientist Jean-Baptiste Biot and the British chemist, Edward Howard.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meteorite

Meatros
01-31-2011, 09:55 AM
I'm not sure I would say anything is 'dead wrong' in science. Theories are explanations - they are generally supported by evidence. So, yes, the theory can be mistaken - ie, not take account of all the evidence or a broader theory can do a better job of explaining things. I'm not sure I'm explaining myself properly, so I'll defer you to Asimov's relativity of wrong (http://chem.tufts.edu/AnswersInScience/RelativityofWrong.htm)...

Kimstu
01-31-2011, 10:04 AM
My husband went to a good college and was taught that plate tectonics was a new "theory" that had yet to be proven and was considered "newfangled" by the older professors, of course, who are now dead wrong, literally and figuratively speaking.

:confused: This doesn't seem to make sense. If your husband went to college in the 1950's or 1960's, back then plate tectonics WAS a comparatively new theory and WAS yet to be conclusively verified by experimental evidence. (No scientific theory is ever conclusively proven the way mathematical theorems are, but they can be falsified or confirmed by the results of experiments.)

After all, even the initial hypothesis of continental drift didn't show up until 1915, and it took a good few years after that to establish a physical model for it that enabled plate tectonics to be considered a scientific theory.

So no, at that time your husband's professors WEREN'T "dead wrong" about plate tectonics, either literally or figuratively. They were simply operating in an earlier era of scientific knowledge as far as geology is concerned.

Now, if your husband was hearing this stuff in college in, say, the 1980's or 1990's, then his professors would indeed have been dead wrong to claim that plate tectonics was a new or unverified theory. But if he did indeed attend a "good college", then I rather doubt that he would have been taught any such claims at that late date.

kayaker
01-31-2011, 10:14 AM
My husband went to a good college

Is there such a thing? Sure, there are universities with excellent physics departments. But are there any over-all "good colleges"?

Kimstu
01-31-2011, 10:16 AM
And as for other hypotheses widely regarded as "scientific fact" in their day and later discredited, their name is legion. A few examples:

- The earth is an immobile body at the center of the universe, and the sun and all other celestial objects revolve around it.

- There are four elemental substances in the part of the universe extending from the center of the earth up to the orbit of the moon, namely earth, air, fire and water, whose behavior is determined partly by the existence of a preferred direction in space. Earth and water have a natural tendency to go "down", i.e., towards the earth's center, while fire and air naturally go "up", i.e., away from it.

- The chronology of the origins of the universe, the earth, and the human species is described with reasonable accuracy by accounts recorded in the Bible.

- Humans are biologically set apart from animals and do not share any common genetic ancestor with them.

- Light travels with infinite speed.

- Objects are visible by means of rays of vision emanating from the eye.


I could go on for pages and pages. Basically, pretty much everything that we call "scientific fact" today is a replacement or correction of an earlier hypothesis that was viewed as "scientific fact" in its own day.

AshenLady
01-31-2011, 10:22 AM
Hey, he graduated from college in 1975 and plate tectonics was considered "newfangled". He's gonna try to dig up his old geology textbook. He took the course in 1975. It took a long time for submarines to prove the mid-Atlantic ridge was moving, which was a few years later than that.

Mr. Excellent
01-31-2011, 10:26 AM
The thing is, it's a good thing when the scientific consensus changes. When ideas about the nature of disease, or plate movement, or cosmology change in response to replicable observations or experiements - well, that's the scientific method at work. That's how we advance our knowledge the world, which translates into cures for disease, aircraft, computers, and on and on and on. There's no shame in being proven "wrong" as a scientist, so long as your erroneous position was well-supported by the evidence up until the point that new evidence trumped it.

SenorBeef
01-31-2011, 10:27 AM
And as for other hypotheses widely regarded as "scientific fact" in their day and later discredited, their name is legion. A few examples:


Well, except that people making those things you listed wouldn't really be familiar with the concept of science as we understand it. They were not subjected to falsibiable tests for example. They may have been supposed facts, and even facts about the natural world, but it is not accurate to describe them as scientific, because they were not arrived at using the scientific method.

davidm
01-31-2011, 10:29 AM
And as for other hypotheses widely regarded as "scientific fact" in their day and later discredited, their name is legion. A few examples:

- The earth is an immobile body at the center of the universe, and the sun and all other celestial objects revolve around it.

- There are four elemental substances in the part of the universe extending from the center of the earth up to the orbit of the moon, namely earth, air, fire and water, whose behavior is determined partly by the existence of a preferred direction in space. Earth and water have a natural tendency to go "down", i.e., towards the earth's center, while fire and air naturally go "up", i.e., away from it.

- The chronology of the origins of the universe, the earth, and the human species is described with reasonable accuracy by accounts recorded in the Bible.

- Humans are biologically set apart from animals and do not share any common genetic ancestor with them.

- Light travels with infinite speed.

- Objects are visible by means of rays of vision emanating from the eye.


I could go on for pages and pages. Basically, pretty much everything that we call "scientific fact" today is a replacement or correction of an earlier hypothesis that was viewed as "scientific fact" in its own day.I don't think "scientific fact" is really a correct term, is it? Shouldn't we use a term like "accepted scientific theory"?

In any case, I don't think any of those things met the criteria that we use today to decide that something is an accepted scientific theory.

I think a better example of what you're looking for would be Newtonian Physics. It was based on observation and experimentation, and it was falsifiable in that predictions could be made and tested. So it met the criteria to be an accepted theory and yet, it turned out to be... not exactly wrong, but not totally right either.

Kimstu
01-31-2011, 10:32 AM
Hey, he graduated from college in 1975 and plate tectonics was considered "newfangled". He's gonna try to dig up his old geology textbook. He took the course in 1975.

Not very surprising, seeing that it was seismographic and paleomagnetic studies in the 1960's that conclusively verified the movement of the lithosphere (http://scign.jpl.nasa.gov/learn/plate2.htm).

As that linked essay concludes:

Since its emergence in the 1960's, plate tectonic theory has gained wide-spread acceptance as the model of Earth processes.


I don't see anything particularly "wrong" or unscientific about a college course in 1975 considering a theory that became established in the 1960's as "new".

After all, to take a more recent example, scientific theories and models relating to anthropogenic global warming emerged back in the 1970's and 1980's (following an original hypothesis proposed nearly a century earlier). But there are still many people who would describe these ideas as "new".

AshenLady
01-31-2011, 10:42 AM
There is a considerable "lag" time between when theories are discovered, "proven" and reach acceptance and with the time that textbooks are printed. There are loads of textbooks that are way behind in keeping up with theories and such, I would imagine, especially in the 1970's before PC's were being used by students.

I think there were lots of outdated information being disseminated back then.

Kimstu
01-31-2011, 10:45 AM
Well, except that people making those things you listed wouldn't really be familiar with the concept of science as we understand it. They were not subjected to falsibiable tests for example.

Many of them were; for example, theories about the geocentric configurations of planetary orbits were refined by observational testing.

Now, if your point is that none of them were subjected to enough falsifiable testing to reveal the fundamental fallacy in their hypothesis, then I'd definitely agree with you.

However, that disqualification would also apply for, e.g., the first couple hundred years of the acceptance of davidm's example of Newtonian classical mechanics. And if you're going to claim that Newtonian physics wasn't "arrived at using the scientific method", then I think that makes the concept of "scientific method" pretty much meaningless.

All of the examples I gave (with the possible exception of the inference from the Bible) were deduced to some extent from empirical evidence and tested to some extent against experimental criteria. I can't agree with you that there's some kind of sharp binary division at any point in history between "scientific method" and "absence of scientific method".

The methods of empirical deduction and experimental testing that we think of as the "scientific method" today have almost always played some part in constructing claims about the natural world that were viewed as fact. They just weren't always applied with the same consistency or rigor that we now consider mandatory (and in fact, they are not always applied with that level of consistency or rigor even nowadays).

scr4
01-31-2011, 10:46 AM
I'm not sure if there's such thing as a "scientific fact". Hypotheses and theories are always subject to revision if new evidence emerges to challenge it. Observations are prone to errors.

Kimstu
01-31-2011, 10:49 AM
There is a considerable "lag" time between when theories are discovered, "proven" and reach acceptance and with the time that textbooks are printed.

Sure. Textbooks for students, especially introductory textbooks, have traditionally tended to favor the well-established aspects of their subjects and don't get much into the cutting-edge controversies of current research.

That may be changing somewhat nowadays, especially with new editions of standard textbooks being issued so frequently, but there will always be some difference between "textbook science" and "research article science".

AshenLady
01-31-2011, 10:55 AM
It's hard to imagine, but before computers, you really were limited in what you could figure out, check, learn, discern. You had to get to a library, hope that there were recent editions of textbooks, etc. Hope that reference materials were up-to-date and available for your perusal.

Imagine not being able to turn on your computer and look up "plate tectonics?' It was a different world then for learning and everything else.

GreasyJack
01-31-2011, 11:02 AM
The mid-70's were tough times to be trying to teach a Geo 101 type class. You were at a point in the "tectonics revolution" where the evidence for tectonics had become overwhelming, but before the full implications of the theory had been applied to every facet of the science. So a lot of the geosyncline-based geological processes were being thrown out but the tectonics-based replacements weren't fully fleshed out yet.

This sort of thing is hard to explain to a bunch of bored kids who just need a science class to graduate, so until the field really got comfortable with tectonics in the 80's they generally stuck with teaching the older ideas (or just not teaching some things), with tectonics perhaps being a footnote.

Floater
01-31-2011, 11:05 AM
When I started the equivalent of a US high school (in 1966) the Swedish school system was undergoing a major change in curriculum and all text books were brand new and filled with the latest ideas. This means that many things I had been told earlier, e.g. how mountain ridges were formed, were now null and void and new things, such as plate tectonics, were taught as gospel instead by the same teachers.

Kimstu
01-31-2011, 11:07 AM
Imagine not being able to turn on your computer and look up "plate tectonics?' It was a different world then for learning and everything else.

In the sense of less immediate availability of information, sure. In the sense of less immediate reliability of information, I'm not so sure.

Yes, you can Google "plate tectonics" today and find lots of reliable information on it; but then, as you noted, plate tectonics is no longer a new theory and is not particularly controversial. If you try Googling a newer and more controversial hypothesis, such as anthropogenic climate change, the quality of the resulting information will be far more mixed. Heck, if it's controversial it doesn't even have to be new in order to generate a lot of garbage results for a broad-based information search, as we can see by Googling a topic like "Darwinian evolution".

True, we have much readier access to good information nowadays about the current state of science than we did back in 1975, but we also have much readier access to nonsense and lies about it.

Alka Seltzer
01-31-2011, 11:16 AM
I'm not sure I would say anything is 'dead wrong' in science. Theories are explanations - they are generally supported by evidence. So, yes, the theory can be mistaken - ie, not take account of all the evidence or a broader theory can do a better job of explaining things. I'm not sure I'm explaining myself properly, so I'll defer you to Asimov's relativity of wrong (http://chem.tufts.edu/AnswersInScience/RelativityofWrong.htm)...

Good article thanks.

AshenLady
01-31-2011, 11:25 AM
OkaY, my father-in-law graduated engineering school in the very early fifties. He had to go back to school to learn the latest goings on.....that being the invention of transistors!!!....so, it happens to people, that change comes fast or slow, but there is a continual replacement of obsolete information, with new, proven scientific facts that were once theories.

My father-in-law who is 84 years old now, is still incredulous in that the use of slide rules is no longer taught.

AshenLady
01-31-2011, 11:28 AM
The mid-70's were tough times to be trying to teach a Geo 101 type class. You were at a point in the "tectonics revolution" where the evidence for tectonics had become overwhelming, but before the full implications of the theory had been applied to every facet of the science. So a lot of the geosyncline-based geological processes were being thrown out but the tectonics-based replacements weren't fully fleshed out yet.

This sort of thing is hard to explain to a bunch of bored kids who just need a science class to graduate, so until the field really got comfortable with tectonics in the 80's they generally stuck with teaching the older ideas (or just not teaching some things), with tectonics perhaps being a footnote.


Thanks....exactly what went on!!!

NCDane
01-31-2011, 11:43 AM
The Steady State cosmological theory was for some time
a serious competitor of the Big Bang. The central tenet
of Steady State is that the density of the Universe is
unchaging, observed expansion due to continuous creation
of new matter. (No, I don't know how Steady State got
around certain possible issues relating to gravitation and
thermodynamics)

The 1964 discovery of the cosmic microwave background,
a phenomenon predicted by Big Bang but not Steady State,
resulted in the former's becoming the standard model.

The term "Big Bang" was btw coined by Fred Hoyle, one of
Steady State's inventors and foremost proponents. First use
is said to have occurred during a radio interview, and was
meant by Hoyle to be derisive.

spenczar
01-31-2011, 11:48 AM
there is a continual replacement of obsolete information, with new, proven scientific facts that were once theories.

No. I don't know why it's so hard to convince people of this. Science doesn't prove facts; it doesn't "prove" anything. Science is the business of making concise statements that can completely describe everything humans have seen and can predict what they will see.

That splits into two tasks - making the statements (coming up with theories) and looking at stuff (doing experiments). That's not at all the same as proving facts, which is the domain of mathematics. For instance, the best that anyone can ever say while doing science is "given the history of observations of continental structure, geology, and zoology, my concise explanation of our observations is plate tectonics." They can't say "continental structure, geology, and zoology mean plate tectonics is true."

And this isn't a semantic problem. Theories describe the observations at hand. Ike Newton was totally justified in coming up with his laws of mechanics to explain motion. He turns out to be wrong for motion at incredible speeds, but observations of relativistic behavior weren't in his toolkit. His theory was as right as could be - for his observations.

In the same sense, we can never say any of our theories are "true" because we (of course) can never observe everything. We never know if we are missing something really big that just happens to be quite rare but invalidates our theories.

Arkcon
01-31-2011, 11:58 AM
I'm guessing what you're asking is something that you don't realize is very personal -- what were you taught in school, that radically changed before you left. Plate tectonics is a good one of those, I'll give you another -- Kingdoms of life.

When I was in grammar school in the mid-70's, we were introduced to the two kingdoms of life: animals and plants. And I was a smart little future scientist, so it was good. Animals and plants.

"And protists," said my little sister a few years later.

"Uh ... yeah ... that's what I meant to say, animals and plants and protists" even though I'd hadn't heard it before

And then, in high school -- fungi. Well of course. Obviously. Fungi, are not animals or plants. Although, you will still find books today that think mushrooms in the wood are just odd-colored plants. And bacteria have to be on their own. So we have 5 now.

Then in college only really two. Eukaryotes and Prokaryotes (the latter are bacteria and blue green algae, which aren't all blue, or green or even algae, which are plants ... er ... protists. Those two are the superkingdoms, we still have the five er ... four now, beneath them.

Excluding viruses, of course, since they're not actually alive. Except ...

But some stuff, for example my missive above, is all just what Richard P. Feynman would call, a "map of a cat." Some names to be memorized, not rally an important bit of information that you need to develop functional theories. That's the really purpose of science, and that task is never actually complete.

Ludovic
01-31-2011, 12:00 PM
Science doesn't prove facts; it doesn't "prove" anything.That's the beauty of it!

MLS
01-31-2011, 12:10 PM
Also, the statement that something is a "theory" doesn't mean that what it deals with isn't real. The theory may well be an explanation of HOW something works, not that it exists. Finding evidence that throws doubt on a particular theory of gravity does not mean that gravity isn't real, just that there may be a better explanation.

Johanna
01-31-2011, 12:27 PM
When I was 8 years old-- in 1967-68-- I subscribed to Science News, and that's when I remember the geophysical confirmation of plate tectonics was in the news. I remember it because I was so excited by the news I invited one of my friends over after school just to point out the article. My impression was that plate tectonics was pretty much a done deal from then on. It looks to me like your husband's textbooks were 7 or 8 years out of date.

I took my intro geology course in the 1978-79 academic year, and my textbook treated plate tectonics as a well-established fact, but only recently so established. So it took, what, ~10 years for textbooks to get caught up? Has that rate been accelerating as scientific discoveries have accelerated in the past decades, or has it stayed linear?

Sparky812
01-31-2011, 12:43 PM
Back in the day, the Earth was not only flat but the center of the Universe around which the Sun and stars rotated.
To profess anything else was blasphemous and claimants were found to be dead wrong, literally and figuratively speaking.

Quercus
01-31-2011, 12:51 PM
I've seen two different editions of the same biology texbook: in the older one the proton-pump theory of how the mitochondria in cells work was presented in a sidebar as a possible but not at all proven explanation; in the later one (1980's ish) the theory was presented along with everything else as accepted fact.

(Yes, I'm using the scientific 'only until enough evidence contradicts it' meaning of 'fact'. No need to rehash the semantics.)

AshenLady
01-31-2011, 12:57 PM
I think that's why there is so much trouble with climate change phenomena. Global warming gives the idea that we are all going to be living in a sauna bath, 24/7/365 and to some people, this name doesn't correspond with what's happening and therefore, can't be accurate.

I hope that the fleshing out phase gives way to a little more enlightenment. I live in a state where our corpulent governor, says he "isn't sold" on global warming. When politics fly in the face of science, it gets scary.

Ludovic
01-31-2011, 01:14 PM
I think that's why there is so much trouble with climate change phenomena. Global warming gives the idea that we are all going to be living in a sauna bath, 24/7/365 and to some people, this name doesn't correspond with what's happening and therefore, can't be accurate.

I hope that the fleshing out phase gives way to a little more enlightenment. I live in a state where our corpulent governor, says he "isn't sold" on global warming. When politics fly in the face of science, it gets scary.
I don't think that any "fleshing out" that may or may not be needed has anything to do with misconceptions about the theory. The models of global warming already predict differing effects on differing locations and times, not a uniform warming (but of course you already knew this.)

So science has already fleshed this out.

Captain Amazing
01-31-2011, 01:19 PM
If you read Kim Stanley Robinson's novel Antarctica, there's a conversation in it about the nature of science and the development of scientific theories. One of the main characters is having a conversation with some researchers who are in Antarctica to find evidence supporting the theory that the East Antarctic ice sheet is a recent development, rather than the older view that it's old and stable, and they discuss the scientific controversy, and how scientific knowledge develops.

It's too long to reproduce here, but is worth reading. If you get the chance, it's on pages 170-180 of the paperback. It includes the great line, "Many scientists are wrong, perhaps most. They end up serving as devil's advocates to the ones lucky enough to be right."

Superfluous Parentheses
01-31-2011, 01:34 PM
- Humans are biologically set apart from animals and do not share any common genetic ancestor with them.
I don't think this was ever regarded as "fact" within the scientific community. AFAIK, by the time genetics was well enough understood, Darwinian evolution and common descent (or at least, the relationship between humans and other mammals) was already well established.

If I'm wrong, please correct me - I'm fascinated by the history of evolutionary theory.

Kimstu
01-31-2011, 01:36 PM
I think that's why there is so much trouble with climate change phenomena. Global warming gives the idea that we are all going to be living in a sauna bath, 24/7/365 and to some people, this name doesn't correspond with what's happening and therefore, can't be accurate.

I hope that the fleshing out phase gives way to a little more enlightenment.

I hope so too, but I'm not very sanguine about it. As Ludovic noted, scientists have already refined the anthropogenic-global-warming hypothesis far beyond the simplistic and inaccurate notion of "everything's going to be steamy hot all the time", but many people are just refusing to listen to anything more complicated than that.

And this sort of ignorance-defending reaction can persist for a long time. Consider the similarly simplistic and inaccurate notions about evolution that pervade popular understanding, such as "evolution says that humans evolved from monkeys" and "evolution says that life began totally by random chance". Biologists have been trying for decades to explain the more complex science underlying these misconceptions, but some people just don't want to listen.

Skald the Rhymer
01-31-2011, 02:02 PM
And as for other hypotheses widely regarded as "scientific fact" in their day and later discredited, their name is legion. A few examples:

- The earth is an immobile body at the center of the universe, and the sun and all other celestial objects revolve around it.

- There are four elemental substances in the part of the universe extending from the center of the earth up to the orbit of the moon, namely earth, air, fire and water, whose behavior is determined partly by the existence of a preferred direction in space. Earth and water have a natural tendency to go "down", i.e., towards the earth's center, while fire and air naturally go "up", i.e., away from it.

- The chronology of the origins of the universe, the earth, and the human species is described with reasonable accuracy by accounts recorded in the Bible.

- Humans are biologically set apart from animals and do not share any common genetic ancestor with them.

- Light travels with infinite speed.

- Objects are visible by means of rays of vision emanating from the eye.


I could go on for pages and pages. Basically, pretty much everything that we call "scientific fact" today is a replacement or correction of an earlier hypothesis that was viewed as "scientific fact" in its own day.

Except for the two paragraphs I bolded, I would not call the items you listed "scientific." They're artifacts of pre-scientific scholarship.

CurtC
01-31-2011, 02:10 PM
Hey, he graduated from college in 1975 and plate tectonics was considered "newfangled". He's gonna try to dig up his old geology textbook. He took the course in 1975. It took a long time for submarines to prove the mid-Atlantic ridge was moving, which was a few years later than that.

I have a pretty distinct memory of learning, around 1975, about the idea that the continents seem to fit together, because they used to be together but broke apart.

I was in junior high school then, and our science teachers taught us this idea, but it was definitely presented as being a possibility that many were advocating but was not completely accepted yet. Looking back, I think they did it just about right.

griffin1977
01-31-2011, 04:42 PM
My husband went to a good college and was taught that plate tectonics was a new "theory" that had yet to be proven and was considered "newfangled" by the older professors, of course, who are now dead wrong, literally and figuratively speaking.

They idea that a theory is just a "guess" that has no basis in fact is just wrong. Things that are pretty much accepted as fact in the ordinary sense of the word are still "theories" scientifically speaking, its not as if at some point a committee of scientists gets together and upgrades an idea from "theory" to "fact". There are just some theories that have successfully used to predict future experimental measurements many times, and some that have not, they are both still theories. The idea that the world goes round the sun is called Copernican theory, and its still a theory.

That said plate tectonics was a rare example of genuinely kooky "left of field" idea that became mainstream (as opposed to simply a minority opinion that eventually won out against opposition from the established order). You can look at this (http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=536651)thread for a pretty in-depth discussion of all this.

Uncertain
01-31-2011, 08:50 PM
Back in the day, the Earth was not only flat but the center of the Universe around which the Sun and stars rotated.
To profess anything else was blasphemous and claimants were found to be dead wrong, literally and figuratively speaking.

When was the Earth last flat? And when was it considered blasphemous to claim otherwise?

qazwart
01-31-2011, 08:54 PM
My husband went to a good college and was taught that plate tectonics was a new "theory" that had yet to be proven and was considered "newfangled" by the older professors, of course, who are now dead wrong, literally and figuratively speaking.

What other scientific facts were found to be dead wrong, through time, when new information was discovered.

Plate tectonics was a wild eyed, unsupported theory until the late 1950s when the first International Geophysical Year (July 1, 1957, to December 31, 1958) discovered the mid-Atlantic ridge. That was the smoking gun that pretty much settled the theory. Once tectonics looked like a real theory, evolutionary evidence started piling up. Species in remote parts of the world now had the means of moving from one continent to another.

Other recent "Can't be true" theories include the idea that the dinosaurs were done in by a comet or astroid (T-Rex and the Crater of Doom (http://www.amazon.com/Rex-Crater-Doom-Walter-Alvarez/dp/0375702105) is an excellent book on how what seemed to be an outlandish theory became main stream scientific thinking).

Talking about dinosaurs, when I was young, they were considered cold blooded, slow witted reptiles, but are now considered not only warm blooded, but in the same scientific classification as birds.

Even the theory of evolution by natural selection didn't catch on immediately. Many scientists refused to embrace it because Darwin never came up with a good means of transmitting traits from one generation to the next, and how these traits would change. It wasn't until Mendel's work in Genetics (which were done at the time of Darwin) were rediscovered and applied to the theory of evolution by natural selection.

And, there was the long, long struggle getting scientists to accept the germ theory of disease. Many were still stuck on Miasma theory of disease (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miasma_theory_of_disease) way past Pasture and Snow's evidence otherwise. (BTW, Ghost Map (http://www.amazon.com/Ghost-Map-Steven-Johnson/dp/1594489254) is another excellent account on how scientific facts will change.

Then, there's the Big Bang theory that wasn't fully accepted until the 1964 when Penzias and Wilson picked up the microwave background radiation while attempting to tune a radio receiver for Bell Labs.

Something more recent? How about genetic theory. We have way fewer genes than we originally imagined. And our genome is filled with junk (or is it?).

Prions as a disease vector was a big controversy even after Prusiner won the Nobel prize for his work in 1997.

In fact, one of the ways I use to separate out nonsense from science is to ask if it has been updated in the last few decades or so. Bach Flowers remedies still pretty much are based upon the original 38 flowers Edward Bach found in the country side of England. Homeopathic remedies have little changed in theory or substance despite the major changes in understanding of disease. Chiropractic medication has not developed since its founding in the 19th century.

In our age, even such scientific standards as evolution have evolved over the years, and the theory constantly changes. Science isn't a doctrine, but a method. Doctrines never change, but scientific facts can.

WarmNPrickly
01-31-2011, 09:03 PM
Old theories aren't discarded just because they aren't entirely right. Newtons laws are perfectly accurate for most things and are currently taught in highschool physics. Instantaneous light is just fine for everyday stuff, as is a geocentric earth. The old theories aren't necessarily wrong, their just not great at describing more complicated behaviors. If we were to find evidence that Einstein was wrong, or that homeopathy sometimes worked we wouldn't toss out the good science that has worked perfectly until now. We would simply refine what we thought we knew to include the new knowledge.

Lord Mondegreen
01-31-2011, 09:51 PM
I wonder if the Tongue (or Taste) Map (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tongue_map) would qualify. Although it was a misrepresentation of the original research, many text books stated that each taste type could only be detected on one part of the tongue.

On another issue, as discussed on the Dope fairly extensively, the classical explanation of how an aircraft flies seems to be increasingly regarded as flawed.

Finally, I was tempted to also add "Pluto is a planet" as being something I was taught which was wrong, but really that's just a matter of shifting definitions.

Wendell Wagner
01-31-2011, 10:50 PM
Sparky812 writes:

> Back in the day, the Earth was not only flat but the center of the Universe
> around which the Sun and stars rotated.
> To profess anything else was blasphemous and claimants were found to be
> dead wrong, literally and figuratively speaking.

No. It's been generally accepted since at least the time of the ancient Greeks that the Earth is round.

panamajack
02-01-2011, 03:07 AM
Except for the two paragraphs I bolded, I would not call the items you listed "scientific." They're artifacts of pre-scientific scholarship.

I'm not sure why "light travels instantaneously" would not be classified as science (when "vision rays" is). Any experiment prior to accurate astronomical instruments would support such a hypothesis. The debate goes back to the ancient Greeks if I'm not mistaken. Aristotle's view held sway for an awful long time, but to call Aristotle "pre-scientific" does him a bit of a disservice. The fault rather lies with those who accepted his theories without ever testing or improving them.

I wouldn't say, for instance, that atomic theory (the 18th-20th Century one) was unscientific for being unable to detect subatomic particles.

Xema
02-01-2011, 08:07 AM
It's hard to imagine, but before computers, you really were limited in what you could figure out, check, learn, discern.
Though it may be hard to imagine, the same is true today.

Sparky812
02-01-2011, 10:20 AM
Sparky812 writes:

> Back in the day, the Earth was not only flat but the center of the Universe
> around which the Sun and stars rotated.
> To profess anything else was blasphemous and claimants were found to be
> dead wrong, literally and figuratively speaking.

No. It's been generally accepted since at least the time of the ancient Greeks that the Earth is round.

I was joking but..
Generally accepted? No.
Please re-read your Classical world history, starting in Ancient Greece with pre-Socratic beliefs and Aristotle's writings. Then study Mesopotamian, Ancient Egyptian, Chinese and Indian religions and come back when you have an more educated viewpoint.

Skald the Rhymer
02-01-2011, 10:41 AM
I'm not sure why "light travels instantaneously" would not be classified as science (when "vision rays" is). <snip>


You're right.

cjepson
02-01-2011, 11:38 AM
Phlogiston and the luminiferous ether were two scientific constructs that were pretty universally accepted until it was shown that they didn't square with the facts.

Also, IIRC, the idea that some craters on Earth might be meteoric in origin was once considered to be a crackpot notion. (And this was after the existence of meteors was accepted.)

AshenLady
02-01-2011, 12:16 PM
Boy, did h. pylori cause a stink in the medical community, when it was proven that the cause of gastric ulcers was NOT stomach acid, as was written in stone for quite some time. It was absolute heresey for sometime, to suggest an infectious component to ulcers, until Nobel prizes were given in 2005, quite a few years after the discovery of h.pylori was made.

http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CBsQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fnobelprize.org%2Fnobel_prizes%2Fmedicine%2Flaureates%2F2005%2Fpress.html&ei=6ExITeakKMWBlAfVjt3xBA&usg=AFQjCNH9Jshf55Sm2vc4oD-XcFOr9NnqMQ&sig2=kni2Zwu5vmVebccSn8OPHA

Sparky812
02-01-2011, 12:33 PM
/slight hijack

but this thread reminds me of Andrew Wakefield (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrew_Wakefield) and his fraudulent research that has caused 13 years of misinformation to be propagated by the media and some celebrities.

Son of a Rich
02-01-2011, 12:45 PM
Wasn't pus considered a good thing, circa the American civil war?

robert_columbia
02-01-2011, 01:23 PM
:confused: This doesn't seem to make sense. If your husband went to college in the 1950's or 1960's, back then plate tectonics WAS a comparatively new theory and WAS yet to be conclusively verified by experimental evidence. (No scientific theory is ever conclusively proven the way mathematical theorems are, but they can be falsified or confirmed by the results of experiments.)

After all, even the initial hypothesis of continental drift didn't show up until 1915, and it took a good few years after that to establish a physical model for it that enabled plate tectonics to be considered a scientific theory.

So no, at that time your husband's professors WEREN'T "dead wrong" about plate tectonics, either literally or figuratively. They were simply operating in an earlier era of scientific knowledge as far as geology is concerned.

Now, if your husband was hearing this stuff in college in, say, the 1980's or 1990's, then his professors would indeed have been dead wrong to claim that plate tectonics was a new or unverified theory. But if he did indeed attend a "good college", then I rather doubt that he would have been taught any such claims at that late date.

Fundamentally, science is about making a comprehensible model of the universe. Different scientists sometimes disgree on the correct model. Sometimes the Church or Government disgrees with the model and crap happens.

As has been mentioned above, there are a lot of models that have been discarded due to later observations, such as the geocentric universe. It made sense to people hundreds of years ago to see Earth as the center of the universe. It doesn't now. That doesn't make the scientists of the past liars or frauds.

johnpost
02-01-2011, 01:25 PM
Wasn't pus considered a good thing, circa the American civil war?

it still is a good thing.

robert_columbia
02-01-2011, 01:28 PM
...I think a better example of what you're looking for would be Newtonian Physics. It was based on observation and experimentation, and it was falsifiable in that predictions could be made and tested. So it met the criteria to be an accepted theory and yet, it turned out to be... not exactly wrong, but not totally right either.

Newtonian mechanics is wrong, but is still a good model for building a bridge. The degree of error you will get by using the Newtonian model/equations/laws as opposed to the Relativity ones are so tiny (unless you are e.g. planning to accelerate to .99 C or something) that it literally doesn't matter - you can't work with steel, stone, or wood to a precision anywhere close to the error between Newtonian and Einsteinian physics.

AshenLady
02-01-2011, 01:41 PM
/slight hijack

but this thread reminds me of Andrew Wakefield (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrew_Wakefield) and his fraudulent research that has caused 13 years of misinformation to be propagated by the media and some celebrities.


Outright fraud and skewing data, are around more than we'd like to think about. The "publish or perish" mentality, not to mention funding bias of scientific research makes peer review of research so very, very important and now, with such fast communication, more than ever.

AshenLady
02-01-2011, 01:46 PM
Fundamentally, science is about making a comprehensible model of the universe. Different scientists sometimes disgree on the correct model. Sometimes the Church or Government disgrees with the model and crap happens.

As has been mentioned above, there are a lot of models that have been discarded due to later observations, such as the geocentric universe. It made sense to people hundreds of years ago to see Earth as the center of the universe. It doesn't now. That doesn't make the scientists of the past liars or frauds.

The Geology Department was filled with "old coots" who found it hard to let go of obsolete theories that they had been teaching all of their lives. Although it is a good college, it's fraught with the problem of Professors who stay on longer than their respective "shelf dates".

Surreal
02-01-2011, 02:05 PM
What other scientific facts were found to be dead wrong, through time, when new information was discovered.

Edge.org recently featured responses to a similar question posed by Richard Thaler:

http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/thaler10/thaler10_index.html

The flat earth and geocentric world are examples of wrong scientific beliefs that were held for long periods. Can you name your favorite example and for extra credit why it was believed to be true?

Wendell Wagner
02-01-2011, 09:14 PM
Sparky812 writes:

> Please re-read your Classical world history, starting in Ancient Greece with pre-
> Socratic beliefs and Aristotle's writings. Then study Mesopotamian, Ancient
> Egyptian, Chinese and Indian religions and come back when you have an more
> educated viewpoint.

No, you're simply wrong here. Look at this Wikipedia article:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spherical_Earth

Now look at what you said in your original post:

> Back in the day, the Earth was not only flat but the center of the Universe
> around which the Sun and stars rotated.
> To profess anything else was blasphemous and claimants were found to be
> dead wrong, literally and figuratively speaking.

I don't know what you could mean when you claim that someone who insisted that the Earth was round would be considered blasphemous and would be executed except that you're claiming that this is what happened during the Middle Ages in Europe. That's blatantly false. Every educated person in Medieval Europe (which included all the hierarchy of the Catholic Church) believed that the Earth was round. They knew approximately how big it was. (In fact, Columbus understood the Earth's size less well than anyone else in 1492. People told him that he could never reach Asia in a ship because it was too far to sail. They were right. If North and South America hadn't been in the way, he and his men would have starved to death before he could have reached Asia. Columbus, perhaps deliberately, underestimated the size of the Earth to make it seem like he could sail to Asia.) They also knew approximately how big the moon was and how far away it was. Every educated person in Europe since 300 A.D. (which includes everyone of importance in the Catholic Church) has believed that the Earth was round. No one has ever been considered blasphemous and been executed by them for believing that the Earth was round. If you're claiming that there was some ancient civilization somewhere where they believed that the Earth was flat and who considered people who believed that it was round were blasphemous and should be executed, what civilization was that?

Kimstu
02-01-2011, 11:12 PM
The Geology Department was filled with "old coots" who found it hard to let go of obsolete theories that they had been teaching all of their lives.

Frankly, I don't think that describing plate tectonics as a new and still somewhat tentative theory in a college course back in 1975 necessarily qualifies as a symptom of reactionary clinging to obsolete theories. Back in 1975, AFAICT, plate tectonics still was a relatively new and somewhat tentative theory that was not universally accepted among geology researchers, and previous models were not yet "obsolete" as far as mainstream science was concerned.

You seem to be finding it hard to let go of your theory that your husband's professors of thirty-five years ago must have been closed-minded old coots, simply because they didn't know as much back then about the validity of the plate-tectonics model as we know about it today.

Johanna
02-01-2011, 11:50 PM
I looked but haven't found any indication that there still remained any doubt about plate tectonics by 1975. Except maybe for old fogies who had outlived their time and couldn't adapt to new knowledge...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plate_tectonics#Definition_and_refining_of_the_theory_-_from_new_global_tectonics_to_plate_tectonics
"After all these considerations," [i.e., geophysical discoveries circa 1965] "Plate Tectonics (or, as it was initially called 'New Global Tectonics') became quickly accepted in the scientific world."

In 1967, "Xavier Le Pichon published a complete model based on 6 major plates with their relative motions, which marked the final acceptance by the scientific community of plate tectonics." So my memories are accurate. The theory finally won out right when I remember it being in the news, in 1967.

It wasn't the scientific community that still harbored doubts in 1975, although apparently some textbook writers did. Which is why I'm now curious how long does it take textbooks to catch up in the physical sciences. In the 1970s it took at least 9 years for the textbooks to catch up to the science on this matter. How much of a lag is there in science textbooks these days? What factors contribute to either delaying or expediting these updates?

Kimstu
02-02-2011, 12:20 AM
I looked but haven't found any indication that there still remained any doubt about plate tectonics by 1975.

I agree that plate tectonics seems to have been definitely the dominant model in geology by then, but that doesn't mean it was wrong at the time to point out that it was relatively new and still undergoing experimental verification. There was a study by Nitecki et al. as late as 1978 on which practicing geologists accepted plate tectonics and which didn't, so I think it may be a bit of an exaggeration to say that there absolutely wasn't any doubt about it.


Except maybe for old fogies who had outlived their time and couldn't adapt to new knowledge...

Well, it's easy in hindsight to diss more cautious recipients of a new theory as "old fogies who couldn't adapt", but I'm not sure it's always valid. Especially when the adaptation timeframe in question is only a few years.

GuanoLad
02-02-2011, 12:51 AM
When I was at school, the scientific consensus was that there was a planet named Pluto! Those wacky ignorant scientists and their crazy ideas!

naita
02-02-2011, 02:19 AM
it still is a good thing.

Not to the extent that we rub dung in open wounds to make sure it develops.

Sparky812
02-02-2011, 10:57 AM
Sparky812 writes:

> Please re-read your Classical world history, starting in Ancient Greece with pre-
> Socratic beliefs and Aristotle's writings. Then study Mesopotamian, Ancient
> Egyptian, Chinese and Indian religions and come back when you have an more
> educated viewpoint.

No, you're simply wrong here. Look at this Wikipedia article:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spherical_Earth

Now look at what you said in your original post:

> Back in the day, the Earth was not only flat but the center of the Universe
> around which the Sun and stars rotated.
> To profess anything else was blasphemous and claimants were found to be
> dead wrong, literally and figuratively speaking.

I don't know what you could mean when you claim that someone who insisted that the Earth was round would be considered blasphemous and would be executed except that you're claiming that this is what happened during the Middle Ages in Europe. That's blatantly false. Every educated person in Medieval Europe (which included all the hierarchy of the Catholic Church) believed that the Earth was round. They knew approximately how big it was. (In fact, Columbus understood the Earth's size less well than anyone else in 1492. People told him that he could never reach Asia in a ship because it was too far to sail. They were right. If North and South America hadn't been in the way, he and his men would have starved to death before he could have reached Asia. Columbus, perhaps deliberately, underestimated the size of the Earth to make it seem like he could sail to Asia.) They also knew approximately how big the moon was and how far away it was. Every educated person in Europe since 300 A.D. (which includes everyone of importance in the Catholic Church) has believed that the Earth was round. No one has ever been considered blasphemous and been executed by them for believing that the Earth was round. If you're claiming that there was some ancient civilization somewhere where they believed that the Earth was flat and who considered people who believed that it was round were blasphemous and should be executed, what civilization was that?

All this for a joke? It was a play on words from the original OP!
Wow! What a killjoy!

AshenLady
02-02-2011, 11:58 AM
Frankly, I don't think that describing plate tectonics as a new and still somewhat tentative theory in a college course back in 1975 necessarily qualifies as a symptom of reactionary clinging to obsolete theories. Back in 1975, AFAICT, plate tectonics still was a relatively new and somewhat tentative theory that was not universally accepted among geology researchers, and previous models were not yet "obsolete" as far as mainstream science was concerned.

You seem to be finding it hard to let go of your theory that your husband's professors of thirty-five years ago must have been closed-minded old coots, simply because they didn't know as much back then about the validity of the plate-tectonics model as we know about it today.


Well, someone asked the question as to why his professors weren't teaching the new plate tectonic theory and the only thing we could come up with is that the Professors were quite old and had a hard time accepting newer ideas that were in the process of being "fleshed out".

Gymnopithys
02-02-2011, 03:02 PM
My husband went to a good college and was taught that plate tectonics was a new "theory" that had yet to be proven and was considered "newfangled" by the older professors, of course, who are now dead wrong, literally and figuratively speaking.

What other scientific facts were found to be dead wrong, through time, when new information was discovered.

Do you mean plate tectonics has been replaced by this:
http://www.4threvolt.com/EEEvidence.html (4threvolt) ?

Mijin
02-02-2011, 03:50 PM
Old theories aren't discarded just because they aren't entirely right. Newtons laws are perfectly accurate for most things and are currently taught in highschool physics. Instantaneous light is just fine for everyday stuff, as is a geocentric earth. The old theories aren't necessarily wrong, their just not great at describing more complicated behaviors.

Agreed. It's a common meme that the laws of motion have been proven wrong in the face of relativistic and quantum physics.
In reality they are used to make thousands of correct predictions every day.

All theories are simplifications at one level or another. The Newtonian model is cruder than some we have available, but they provide a useful simplification in many situations.

For all the talk of "Once scientists believed X, now we know different" there aren't many substitutions for X, certainly not where the actual scientific method was employed. The whole nature of the scientific method; where one must make repeatable, accurate, surprising predictions basically precludes being outright wrong.

Wendell Wagner
02-02-2011, 10:03 PM
Sparky812 writes:

> All this for a joke? It was a play on words from the original OP!
> Wow! What a killjoy!

Geez, you're desperate. You make an incorrect statement and try hopelessly to defend it. When someone finally shows you that it can't possibly be true, you then claim that it was just a joke.

Sparky812
02-02-2011, 10:43 PM
I have always maintained that it was a joke.
Please reread post #46
I was joking but...



It's been generally accepted since at least the time of the ancient Greeks that the Earth is round.

I have no desire to debate with you, since you fail to to comprehend that this statement is the falsehood.

Please move on.