PDA

View Full Version : Famous Scientists with Outlandish Theories


SLCsteve
12-08-2006, 12:28 PM
Hello,

I am looking for a quick example of a famous scientist who had one or more outlandish theories.

I have a friend who is trying to call some research into disrepute not by criticizing the specific research but instead by criticizing some of the researchers' more outlandish theories.

I know that famous, legitimate scientists also had some strange theories--I just can't think of a good example.

Thanks!

JCorre
12-08-2006, 12:30 PM
Tesla? (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nikola_Tesla)

Grey
12-08-2006, 12:46 PM
Let me get this straight, your friend has no interest in attacking the argument but would rather attack the presenter? The fancy name would be Ad Hominem and it’s normally considered a logical fallacy.

Sir Fred Hoyle's idea of viruses falling from space might be a weird enough idea that hasn’t been born out.

BrainGlutton
12-08-2006, 12:51 PM
Sigmund Freud (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sigmund_Freud) was certainly a seminal figure in the development of psychology as a science, but many of his theories are considered "outlandish" today. Carl Jung, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carl_jung) even more so. (Nowadays, shrinks seem to prefer pills to "talk therapy.") Or were you limiting this to the natural sciences?

ywine
12-08-2006, 12:54 PM
I think there's just enough of a possibility gap - with the suggestions Hoyle has made about particle size in interstellar space (a great deal the size of bacteria) - for it to deserve some credence. If you think about the scale of the arena on Earth for molecular "trials" to produce inheriting self-assembly there doesn't seem to be nearly enough opportunity for that to be anything but extremely improbable.

Little Nemo
12-08-2006, 12:55 PM
Isaac Newton was a firm believer in alchemy.

David Simmons
12-08-2006, 12:57 PM
What theory could possibly be more outlandish than the Copenhage quantum interpretation of Niels Bohr et al. It's only advantage is that it works.

Loach
12-08-2006, 01:15 PM
Linus Pauling had theories about vitamin C which many consider to be outlandish or at least controversial.

yabob
12-08-2006, 01:22 PM
William Shockley, the co-inventor of the transistor, had views on race and eugenics that were controversial, to say the least. Shockley:

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

yabob
12-08-2006, 01:35 PM
You might also consider Pierre Teilhard de Chardin:

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

His work in paleontology was significant enough that you have to consider him a legitimate scientist. He also spent his life attempting to reconcile science with intense religious faith and mysticism, seemingly starting from a basic assumption that such a thing was possible. Look at the critique of "The Phenomenon of Man" by Sir Peter Medawar, basically ripping him a new asshole.

Raguleader
12-08-2006, 01:35 PM
Didn't Copernicus have some crazy idea about the Earth revolving around the sun?

I mean, hell, the nutjob got excommunicated for that one.

yabob
12-08-2006, 01:40 PM
Oh, and you might also consider John Lilly, who started out as a conventional scientist:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_C._Lilly

Alive At Both Ends
12-08-2006, 01:42 PM
William Herschel, who discovered Uranus in 1781, believed the Sun was cold and simply had a glowing upper atmosphere.

friedo
12-08-2006, 01:51 PM
Isaac Newton was a firm believer in alchemy.

Newton also spent a huge portion of his later years looking for ciphers in the Bible.

BrainGlutton
12-08-2006, 01:57 PM
Oh, and you might also consider John Lilly, who started out as a conventional scientist:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_C._Lilly

As did Timothy Leary. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timothy_Leary)

M. Meursault
12-08-2006, 02:02 PM
What about Thomas Edison and his wonky theories about the after-life/the spirit world? That has to count.

Derleth
12-08-2006, 02:09 PM
I have a friend who is trying to call some research into disrepute not by criticizing the specific research but instead by criticizing some of the researchers' more outlandish theories.Anyone stupid enough to be fooled by this isn't smart enough to argue with.

mr. jp
12-08-2006, 02:11 PM
Aristotle thought that the purpose of the brain was to cool down the blood.

ralph124c
12-08-2006, 02:15 PM
Two come to mind:
Wilhelm Reich: was originally a respected psychologist. totally went bonkers later. Hos "orgone" theory is one of the amusing episodes of crackpot "science".
-L. Ron Hubbard: Scientist, naval officer, and researcher. His theory of "scientology" is a real hoot-postulates that human souls/thetans have existed for 100's of billions of years.

ouryL
12-08-2006, 02:16 PM
William Herschel, who discovered Uranus in 1781, believed the Sun was cold and simply had a glowing upper atmosphere.

So the surface of the sun is either the same temperature or colder than its interior...

yabob
12-08-2006, 02:18 PM
As did Timothy Leary. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timothy_Leary)
Leary was a psychologist, and might be looked at somewhat askance as a "soft scientist". Lilly actually had hard science degrees and received a medical degree. But if you read something like "Eye of the Cyclone", you discover that he was just as far off the deep end as Leary, if not further. The man dropped acid before floating in isolation tanks (the movie "Altered States" was loosely based on his activities).

Spectre of Pithecanthropus
12-08-2006, 02:32 PM
Isaac Newton was a firm believer in alchemy.

But IIRC alchemy and chemistry hadn't been differentiated at the time, nor were the chemical elements recognized for what they were. Given the then-current notion of only four elements--earth, air, fire, and water, the idea that transmutation was possible was not outlandish.

friedo
12-08-2006, 02:44 PM
Two come to mind:
Wilhelm Reich: was originally a respected psychologist. totally went bonkers later. Hos "orgone" theory is one of the amusing episodes of crackpot "science".
-L. Ron Hubbard: Scientist, naval officer, and researcher. His theory of "scientology" is a real hoot-postulates that human souls/thetans have existed for 100's of billions of years.

Hubbard was never a scientist. He attended college for two years and got pretty awful grades. He later claimed to have a Ph.D., which turned out to be from one of those non-accredited diploma mills.


But IIRC alchemy and chemistry hadn't been differentiated at the time, nor were the chemical elements recognized for what they were. Given the then-current notion of only four elements--earth, air, fire, and water, the idea that transmutation was possible was not outlandish.


Modern chemistry is usually regarded as having started with Boyle in the mid-17th century, during Newton's lifetime. But even alchemists didn't subscribe to the silly notion of "earth, air, fire and water." Many of the chemical elements have been known since antiquity, although the discoveries of most of them didn't start to gain steam until just after Newton's death.

CalMeacham
12-08-2006, 03:10 PM
Two physicists know of believe that at least some UFOs really are visiting alien spacecraft. One's at Harvard, the other's at MIT ( I took a course from him as an undergrad). Both have taken quite a bit of flak over this.

Derleth
12-08-2006, 03:40 PM
Hubbard was never a scientist. He attended college for two years and got pretty awful grades. He later claimed to have a Ph.D., which turned out to be from one of those non-accredited diploma mills.In general, you can't believe anything 'official' about Hubbard because it was all made up by him and the Church of Scientology, the corporate cult he founded. To all reliable accounts, Hubbard was a lackluster student, a decidedly mediocre Naval officer, and absolutely nothing like a real scientist.Two physicists know of believe that at least some UFOs really are visiting alien spacecraft. One's at Harvard, the other's at MIT ( I took a course from him as an undergrad). Both have taken quite a bit of flak over this.To be fair, it is not physically impossible. Highly unlikely, but not physically impossible.

In any case, I think Tesla is the premiere example of the kind of person this thread is looking for. Nobody else matched his highs and lows.

Mathochist
12-08-2006, 03:43 PM
Serge Lang: "HIV does not cause AIDS".

Actually that's a gross oversimplification of his position, but it's not too far off from how it was received and he didn't do much to make his point clearer.

rowrrbazzle
12-08-2006, 03:58 PM
The astronomer J. Allen Hynek began as a UFO skeptic, advising the various Air Force projects investigating reports of them. Later he cast doubt on them and even founded the Center for UFO Studies. But toward the end of his life he was returning to skepticism.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J._Allen_Hynek

Chronos
12-08-2006, 04:11 PM
Didn't Copernicus have some crazy idea about the Earth revolving around the sun?

I mean, hell, the nutjob got excommunicated for that one.Not quite. Copernicus had the eminent good sense to first, present his theory as merely a convenient calculational tool rather than actual truth, and second, to not publish until he was on his deathbed. It was Galileo who took up the heliocentric torch and got himself very unpopular with the Church, and even that was due more to him making the Pope out to be a buffoon than to the theory itself.

SLCsteve
12-08-2006, 04:14 PM
Thanks, everyone. Many, many good suggestions. I used the Tesla example.

I was directed by my friend to a Fox News commentary (http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,235317,00.html) on New York City's recent decision to ban trans fats in City restaurants and invited to “enjoy this perspective on [New York] City’s recent ban on trans fats.”

I sent him the following as a response to the Fox News piece--


Unfortunately, I was unable to find any real “perspective” on trans fats in Mr. Milloy’s bitter and illogical tirade.

I kept waiting for him to get to the point and talk about why the ban on trans fats is a bad idea. Instead, he engages in a number of the most obvious and egregious forms of deceptive argumentation to dodge the real issue.

First, he links the Board’s decision to research done by Ascherio and Millet. According to Milloy, the decision is “directly traceable” back to them. Where is the evidence that it is directly traceable? Don’t look too hard—there is none. We’re supposed to believe there is a link based on Milloy’s assertion alone.

He then goes on to discredit Ascherio and Millet’s research—in a myriad of areas other than their research on trans fats. He never actually deals with the relevant research head on, instead he distracts the reader with other, more outlandish research to try to discredit by association (given the tactics used in the article I do not trust the information, anyway).

So, what’s the strategy here?

First, Milloy links the idea to the most potentially disreputable source he can find by simply saying that it is “directly traceable” to it and provides no evidence for that link. Actually establishing the link could be problematic because the fact of the matter is it is more likely that the Board based its decision on information from sources like the New England Journal of Medicine (http://content.nejm.org/cgi/content/short/354/15/1601) , et al. (http://scholar.google.com/scholar?q=%22Trans+Fatty+Acids%22&hl=en&lr=&scoring=r&as_ylo=2001)

This is sort of like hating Volkswagens (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volkswagen#Origins_in_1930s_Germany) because they have their origin in the Third Reich. And that link really is directly traceable. (Have I invoked Godwin’s law? I don’t think so—this is an illustrative point).

Introducing facts and being intellectually honest, though, just makes argumentation more difficult; besides, Mr. Milloy knows his target audience, and he knows that his readers will eat this up like a trans fat laden stack of Oreos, no questions asked.

Second, Milloy decides that maybe Ascherio and Millet’s research about trans fats is a bit too good, so instead of attacking it head on he talks about their other research.

This is kind of like criticizing Tesla (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nikola_Tesla) ’s discoveries that led to AC power by attacking his more outlandish theories of teleportation and time travel. This may work when you are impeaching the credibility of a witness at trial, but it doesn’t work in the realm of science.

Ascherio and Millet’s research on trans fats is out there—their hypotheses, methodologies and conclusions are public. Why not confront the research head on and criticize it on its merits?
Because it’s easier to attack weaker arguments, and Milloy can get away with doing so even when those arguments are wholly irrelevant to the topic at hand because, again, his readers will swallow it whole like a fried snickers bar greased with partially hydrogenated oil.

I don’t necessarily agree with what NY City has done—but we don’t get anywhere by being lazy like Mr. Milloy.

So, thanks for all of the suggestions.

The trans fat issue is interesting, but not something I have any expertise with--but as a law student I try my best to spot spurious arguments.

DrDeth
12-08-2006, 04:56 PM
The article that Milloy is whining about is likely this one:
http://www.ajcn.org/cgi/content/abstract/66/4/1006S
"A Ascherio and WC Willett
Department of Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, MA 02115, USA.

trans Fatty acids are formed during the process of partial hydrogenation in which liquid vegetable oils are converted to margarine and vegetable shortening. Concern has existed that this process may have adverse consequences because natural essential fatty acids are destroyed and the new artificial isomers are structurally similar to saturated fats, lack the essential metabolic activity of the parent compounds, and inhibit the enzymatic desaturation of linoleic and linolenic acid. In the past 5 y a series of metabolic studies has provided unequivocal evidence that trans fatty acids increase plasma concentrations of low-density-lipoprotein cholesterol and reduce concentrations of high-density-lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol relative to the parent natural fat. In these same studies, trans fatty acids increased the plasma ratio of total to HDL cholesterol nearly twofold compared with saturated fats. On the basis of these metabolic effects and the known relation of blood lipid concentrations to risk of coronary artery disease, we estimate conservatively that 30,000 premature deaths/y in the United States are attributable to consumption of trans fatty acids. Epidemiologic studies, although not conclusive on their own, are consistent with adverse effects of this magnitude or even larger. Because there are no known nutritional benefits of trans fatty acids and clear adverse metabolic consequences exist, prudent public policy would dictate that their consumption be minimized and that information on the trans fatty acid content of foods be available to consumers. "

Which was published in a highly respected Journal, with scads of evidence, and has been citing many many times by others.

Here's another article about dangers of trans-fats:
http://atvb.ahajournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/21/7/1233
"Replacement of Dietary Saturated Fatty Acids by Trans Fatty Acids Lowers Serum HDL Cholesterol and Impairs Endothelial Function in Healthy Men and Women "

Yet another cite:
http://www.jacn.org/cgi/content/abstract/20/1/5

IMHO- Milloy, who presents himself as "anti-junk science" is really "anti-laws that decrease the profits of big business". His site seems to propose that DDT-bans and Global Warming are both "junk science", and that plastic trash is really good for the oceans- that last because a certain type of plastic is often used to clean up.

Milloy is part of the "Free Enterprise Action Fund" which means that less controls on big business = more cash in his pocket.

Note that some of what Malloy calls "junk science" really is junk science.

The point about trans-fats is that they are bad for you, and that they have no benefits other than a tiny price saving. Malloy is being disingenuous when he says "New Yorkers could, for example, see restaurants banned from serving potatoes, peas, peanuts, beans, lentils, orange juice and grapefruit juice. Ascherio-Willett reported an increase in the risk of heart disease among consumers of these foods in the Annals of Internal Medicine (June 2001). Although none of those slight correlations were statistically meaningful -- and, in all probability, were simply meaningless chance occurrences -- a similar shortcoming didn’t seem to matter to the Board when it came to their trans fats research." As the trans-fat research showed a significant correlation, not a slight correlation. :rolleyes: No one is suggesting that anything be banned on account of a slight correlation. :dubious:

GIGObuster
12-08-2006, 05:21 PM
But IIRC alchemy and chemistry hadn't been differentiated at the time, nor were the chemical elements recognized for what they were. Given the then-current notion of only four elements--earth, air, fire, and water, the idea that transmutation was possible was not outlandish.
Not differentiated at the time? Maybe early in his life, but by the time he began to really concentrate on it, chemistry was ignoring alchemy.

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/newton/alch-newman.html

In a recent NOVA documentary it was shown that by the time Newton was growing metal trees, others were already looking for less outlandish applications and were developing chemistry.

Newton died in 1727. By that time you're well into the Enlightenment, and alchemy had become the domain of dunces; it was associated with all sorts of useless medieval knowledge. So the fact that Newton had been a serious student of this obsolete and idiotic field was really problematic.
Unfortunately, Newton did hide and write his alchemy research in code. As researchers are decoding his notes, it is becoming clear that Newton was not even part of the debunking of alchemy.

Raguleader
12-08-2006, 06:01 PM
The point about trans-fats is that they are bad for you, and that they have no benefits other than a tiny price saving.

Huh. I thought Trans-fats were supposed to give the fried food a particular taste and/or texture? If that's not the case, then I'm even less annoyed by the ban than I was before. For the most part, I've been amused in a head-shaking way by it, but I figure people and resteraunts will just learn to cope with the change.

Encinitas
12-08-2006, 06:08 PM
A very interesting thread and welcome to the boards SLCsteve. I hope you stick around. :)

ElvisL1ves
12-08-2006, 06:13 PM
Tycho Brahe took astrology as seriously as astronomy.

Fiveyearlurker
12-08-2006, 06:36 PM
Peter Duesberg is a fantastic example.

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

The guy did fantastic work on oncogenes in the 70s, and was very well respected. Enough that he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in the 80s.

And his career is now dedicated to proving that HIV has nothing to do with AIDS, and that AIDS is actually caused by drugs that gay people tend to use.

jimmmy
12-08-2006, 08:42 PM
In his book The Demon-Haunted World Carl Sagan gave a list of errors he personally had made as an example of how science works –[Conclusions emerging from a premise, and the validity of the premise should not be discounted or accepted because of favor.]

One of those errors was that Sagan predicted on Nightline in 1991 that the smoke from the fires that the retreating Iraqi army set in the Kuwaiti oil feilds would cause a worldwide ecological disaster resulting in global cooling.

Sagan also apparently (http://www.boulder.swri.edu/clark/sagan.html) believed (that there was a 50-50 chance of finding animals like Polar Bears on Mars
(cite #2) (http://xrayer.blogspot.com/2006/11/sagans-folly-we-all-make-mistakes.html)

DocCathode
12-08-2006, 10:02 PM
What about Thomas Edison and his wonky theories about the after-life/the spirit world? That has to count.

What theories? All I've read on the subject was that he used a figure of speech on how sensitive a piece of equipment was 'so sensitive that if there is life after death, it will pick up the evidence'. All he said was that it was sensitive, not that he believed in life after death or built the machine for that purpose.

Freddy the Pig
12-08-2006, 10:20 PM
John Napier (http://www.thocp.net/biographies/napier_john.html) was a brilliant mathematician who invented logarithms. He also dabbled enough in science and invention to qualify as a "scientist".

He viewed both math and science as sidelights to his major life work, the Plaine Discovery of the Whole Work of St. John--an incoherent and worthless attempt to explicate the Book of Revelation.

Stranger On A Train
12-09-2006, 01:31 AM
Two physicists know of believe that at least some UFOs really are visiting alien spacecraft. One's at Harvard, the other's at MIT ( I took a course from him as an undergrad). Both have taken quite a bit of flak over this.Sagan, while not necessarialy whole-heartedly promoting the idea that UFOs were actually flying saucers from outer space, nonetheless permitted it (as well as abduction theories) more credence than most physical scientists would.

I'm surprised that no one has yet mentioned Kary B. Mullis (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kary_Mullis), Nobel Laureate (Chemistry) and Japan Prize winner for his work in developing the polymerese chain reaction, who has feverently promoted the idea that not only does HIV not cause AIDS, but that the syndrome is actually the result of drug abuse and anal sex. (Although anal sex--unprotected or otherwise--is definitely an anatomically unrecommended activity to engage in, there's no reason to believe that by itself it causes immune system failure.) Mullis is considered a large size flake by the vast majority of virologists and molecular biologists, and reportedly spends most of his time surfing and smoking pot.

I have to agree with David Simmons, though: the Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum mechanics takes the cake. The cat is both alive and dead? That's wicked freaky. Anybody who buys into that stuff is totally wack.

Stranger

ralph124c
12-09-2006, 03:27 AM
I have an official CO$ brochure-it says Hubbard was the most important scientist since Newton!

Horatio Hellpop
12-09-2006, 03:57 AM
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a physician, albeit an unsuccessful one. He believed in fairies and seances. Even among his contemporaries, this was a little bit out there.

Alive At Both Ends
12-09-2006, 08:05 AM
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a physician, albeit an unsuccessful one. He believed in fairies and seances. Even among his contemporaries, this was a little bit out there.
"Even among his contemporaries"? You make it sound as if he were writing in the Middle Ages. He died in 1930.
But he was a bit weird on the subject of Spiritualism. He wrote a godawful Spiritualist novel called The Land Of Mist. I've had the misfortune to read it, it's as if he sacrificed all his writing skill to the cause.

friedo
12-09-2006, 12:30 PM
"Even among his contemporaries"? You make it sound as if he were writing in the Middle Ages. He died in 1930.
But he was a bit weird on the subject of Spiritualism. He wrote a godawful Spiritualist novel called The Land Of Mist. I've had the misfortune to read it, it's as if he sacrificed all his writing skill to the cause.

If there was a such thing as a Spiritualism Fundamentalist, Conan Doyle would fit the bill. He was convinced that his wife was a medium from the spirit world and that his dead relatives were telling him (through Lady Doyle) that there was going to be a worldwide cataclysm any day now.

He regularly battled skeptical organizations of the day, often resorting to doctoring evidence and out-and-out lying about what had occurred at seances. Sherlock would not have approved.

ElvisL1ves
12-09-2006, 12:41 PM
Thomas Gold (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Gold) made some serious contributions to astronomy, as well as theorizing that oil is not from decomposed vegetable matter near the surface but instead is formed by bacteria acting on natural gas flows deep in the earth's crust.

BrainGlutton
12-09-2006, 01:35 PM
I was directed by my friend to a Fox News commentary (http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,235317,00.html) on New York City's recent decision to ban trans fats in City restaurants and invited to “enjoy this perspective on [New York] City’s recent ban on trans fats.”

What else do you expect from Milloy? (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steven_Milloy#Criticism)

BrainGlutton
12-09-2006, 01:47 PM
Percival Lowell (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Percival_Lowell) was an esteemed astronomer who popularized the "canals on Mars" canard.

Robert Boyle, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Boyle) one of the fathers of modern chemistry, believed it was possible to transmute metals through alchemy. He even got Parliament to repeal Henry IV's old statute against multiplying gold or silver. He also believed he had proven the existence of phlogiston. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phlogiston)

Alive At Both Ends
12-09-2006, 02:25 PM
Thomas Gold (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Gold) made some serious contributions to astronomy, as well as theorizing that oil is not from decomposed vegetable matter near the surface but instead is formed by bacteria acting on natural gas flows deep in the earth's crust.
To be honest, that doesn't sound very outlandish to me, just wrong.

bibliophage
12-09-2006, 03:08 PM
I seem to recall that a once-serious scientist (John Gribbon, I think) was involved in the scare-mongering about the wild notion that an unusual alignment of the planets (circa 1979) would case earthquakes.

bibliophage
12-09-2006, 03:17 PM
I couldn't find much in a Google search, probably because I had the scientist's name spelled wrong. It was Gribbin (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Gribbin), not Gribbon. Cecil wrote about the idea here (http://www.straightdope.com/classics/a1_159b.html). Some people apparently believe the notion was a hoax perpretrated by Gribbin, not an honest belief.

rowrrbazzle
12-09-2006, 03:22 PM
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_GribbinIn 1974 he published, with Stephen Plagemann, a book with the idea that the massive planet Jupiter would destroy Los Angeles by setting off an earthquake in 1982. This became the infamous The Jupiter Effect...

Gribbin repudiated it in the July 17, 1980 issue of New Scientist where he stated that he had been "too clever by half."J.B. Rhine was a botanist before he took up ESP.

BrainGlutton
12-09-2006, 03:25 PM
I couldn't find much in a Google search, probably because I had the scientist's name spelled wrong. It was Gribbin (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Gribbin), not Gribbon. Cecil wrote about the idea here (http://www.straightdope.com/classics/a1_159b.html). Some people apparently believe the notion was a hoax perpretrated by Gribbin, not an honest belief.

[ur=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Gribbin]Gribbin[/url] (a scientist, but better known as a popular science writer) has stated he was "too clever by half."

BrainGlutton
12-09-2006, 03:27 PM
Sorry, Gribbin. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Gribbin)

The Jupiter Effect, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jupiter_effect) BTW, is not to be confused with the Harmonic Convergence, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harmonic_Convergence) except in the sense that both are bullshit.

yabob
12-09-2006, 03:36 PM
Edison:

It's probably also problematic to refer to Edison as a "scientist", rather than an "inventor" or an "industrialist".

Edison did have more than a passing fascination with the paranormal. Here's an article by Martin Gardner from The Skeptical Enquirer:

http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m2843/is_n4_v20/ai_18535410

It should be noted that Theosophy and Spiritualism were popular in Edison's day. Many otherwise hardheaded types like various captains of industry subscribed to those notions to some degree. Being the ultimate tinkerer that he was, Edison apparently did occasionally attempt to construct apparatus to investigate paranormal phenomena, rational scientific basis for them or not.

ElvisL1ves
12-09-2006, 04:45 PM
To be honest, that doesn't sound very outlandish to me, just wrong.Well, that's another way to say "making shit up", I suppose.

DrDeth
12-09-2006, 10:42 PM
Percival Lowell (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Percival_Lowell) was an esteemed astronomer who popularized the "canals on Mars" canard.

[.[/url]

That's just being proven wrong by later, better data. Hardly "outlandish".

Oslo Ostragoth
12-10-2006, 12:47 AM
Thomas Gold (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Gold) made some serious contributions to astronomy, as well as theorizing that oil is not from decomposed vegetable matter near the surface but instead is formed by bacteria acting on natural gas flows deep in the earth's crust.What is so outlandish about that? Isn't methane abundant in the universe? Given several billion years to mutate and evolve, couldn't a strain of bacteria arise that would use that methane to its advantage, resulting in heavier hydrocarbons?

Raguleader
12-10-2006, 01:10 AM
I have to agree with David Simmons, though: the Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum mechanics takes the cake. The cat is both alive and dead? That's wicked freaky. Anybody who buys into that stuff is totally wack.

Stranger

You won't find us to be so wack when the zombie kittens attack! :eek:

*starts loading shotgun shells with birdshot and Willy-Peter*

misterW
12-10-2006, 08:45 AM
Hello,

I am looking for a quick example of a famous scientist who had one or more outlandish theories.

I have a friend who is trying to call some research into disrepute not by criticizing the specific research but instead by criticizing some of the researchers' more outlandish theories.

I know that famous, legitimate scientists also had some strange theories--I just can't think of a good example.

Thanks!

Francis Crick (cant get any more famous than that) put forth the idea of directed panspermia -- that life on earth may have arisen from a seeding rocket filled with microorganisms sent from another solar system.

Mathochist
12-10-2006, 05:28 PM
Francis Crick (cant get any more famous than that) put forth the idea of directed panspermia -- that life on earth may have arisen from a seeding rocket filled with microorganisms sent from another solar system.

And here I thought you meant this old thread (http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=198659&highlight=fried+semen).

TJdude825
12-10-2006, 07:42 PM
I believe Kepler thought the planets' distances from the sun were based on imaginary polyhedra and spheres nested inside one another. The data coincidentally came close to fitting, and it was too nice of a coincidence for it to be mere coincidence, he thought.

I think Einstein's idea that the passage of time and the length of objects can change depending on your point of view is rather outlandish, as are invisible rays that arise from electric and magnetic fields, and can carry energy and information. They just both happen to be right.

Mathochist
12-10-2006, 07:52 PM
I believe Kepler thought the planets' distances from the sun were based on imaginary polyhedra and spheres nested inside one another.

You're thinking of the Mysterium Cosmographicum (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mysterium_Cosmographicum).

Yes, Kepler proposed this model at first, but withdrew it when he discovered what we now call Kepler's Laws, which state that planetary orbits are ellipses. I think we specifically can't count a hypothesis here if the scientist in question abandons it in light of evidence. That's how the scientific method works. This example is actually a particularly good parallel to string theory.

Alive At Both Ends
12-10-2006, 07:57 PM
I think Einstein's idea that the passage of time and the length of objects can change depending on your point of view is rather outlandish, as are invisible rays that arise from electric and magnetic fields, and can carry energy and information. They just both happen to be right.
Nitpick: The bit about the length of objects changing wasn't Einstein's idea, it was proposed by Hendrik Lorentz and George Fitzgerald in 1904, a year before Einstein picked up the idea.

yabob
12-10-2006, 08:21 PM
You're thinking of the Mysterium Cosmographicum (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mysterium_Cosmographicum).

Yes, Kepler proposed this model at first, but withdrew it when he discovered what we now call Kepler's Laws, which state that planetary orbits are ellipses. I think we specifically can't count a hypothesis here if the scientist in question abandons it in light of evidence. That's how the scientific method works. This example is actually a particularly good parallel to string theory.
Kepler did, however, hang on to the notion of "The Music of The Spheres", believing planetary motions to correspond to musical harmonies. He published "Harmonice Mundi" after having formulated the first two laws of planetary motion in "Astronomia nova" 10 years earlier, and presented the third in that work, intertwined with a bunch of Astrology:

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

Kepler remained a Pythagorian mystic and Astrologer. Astrology and Astronomy weren't really clearly separated in his era. Kepler firmly believed that the motions of the heavens influenced human affairs, and he was trying to unravel exactly how it worked.

Send questions for Cecil Adams to: cecil@straightdope.com

Send comments about this website to: webmaster@straightdope.com

Terms of Use / Privacy Policy

Advertise on the Straight Dope!
(Your direct line to thousands of the smartest, hippest people on the planet, plus a few total dipsticks.)

Copyright © 2018 STM Reader, LLC.