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Old 09-08-2019, 12:11 PM
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Darwin was wrong about the human appendix and theories proven wrong ?


So Darwin said that the appendix in humans, is a vestigial organ, which I believe current research has proven to be incorrect.

This thread is about such scientific theories that we learnt as kids (say the 80s) which have been proven wrong. Understand that the evolution of science works to correct itself as new data is available and older laws/theories are modified (like Newton’s law becomes a special case of Relativity at lower speeds).

So what are some of these theories that have done a U-turn instead of being a special case of a broader theory ? I can think of some examples and welcome other posts:

1. Appendix is a vestigial organ
2. Eating fats will make you fat
3. Glass is a supercooled liquid evidenced by the old glass at European churches which get thicker in the bottom due to slow flow of glass
4. Trees in the forest compete for light and bigger trees smother out smaller trees. Trees don’t cooperate with each other.

Last edited by am77494; 09-08-2019 at 12:12 PM.
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Old 09-08-2019, 12:21 PM
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Another one of my favorite pet peeve is the misrepresentation of the solar system in school books (at least when I was growing up). It’s very hard to show the solar system to scale on textbook pages especially if Pluto is included.
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Old 09-08-2019, 12:35 PM
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Dinosaurs were sluggish reptiles that substituted brawn for intelligence and became extinct when mammals came along: wrong on all counts.

Last edited by Lumpy; 09-08-2019 at 12:36 PM.
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Old 09-10-2019, 12:44 PM
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Dinosaurs became extinct (probably a direct result of that meteor that slammed down in the Yucatan) clearing the way for mammals to evolve. Mammals did not cause the extinction.
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Old 09-10-2019, 01:33 PM
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Dinosaurs became extinct (probably a direct result of that meteor that slammed down in the Yucatan) clearing the way for mammals to evolve. Mammals did not cause the extinction.
I've never heard anyone claim that mammals caused the extinction of the dinosaurs, and in any case, mammals had already evolved by the event; the removal of dinosaurs allowed mammals to spread, diversify, and dominate.
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Old 09-10-2019, 05:06 PM
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I've never heard anyone claim that mammals caused the extinction of the dinosaurs, and in any case, mammals had already evolved by the event; the removal of dinosaurs allowed mammals to spread, diversify, and dominate.
In the past it was sometimes suggested that mammals could have contributed to the extinction of the dinosaurs by eating their eggs, or even by competition. (In fact, my first dinosaur book, Roy Chapman Andrews' All About Dinosaurs (1953), makes these suggestions as a couple among several causes, and the chapter on the extinction is headed by an illustration of couple of ratlike mammals eating a clutch of dinosaur eggs.) And the idea was common in popular culture:

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You know Tyrannosaurus Rex was destroyed before
By a furry little ball that crawled along
The primeval jungle floor
He stole the eggs of the dinosaur
...
We are egg snatchers -
Flashin' sunshine children
Diamond thieves
Mau Mau (Amerikon), Jefferson Starship (1970)

Last edited by Colibri; 09-10-2019 at 05:08 PM.
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Old 09-08-2019, 10:26 PM
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Another one of my favorite pet peeve is the misrepresentation of the solar system in school books (at least when I was growing up). Itís very hard to show the solar system to scale on textbook pages especially if Pluto is included.
A diagram that isn't to scale is not a "misrepresentation."
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Old 09-09-2019, 05:23 AM
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A diagram that isn't to scale is not a "misrepresentation."
It is a misrepresentation if it's not explicitly labeled "diagram not to scale."
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Old 09-09-2019, 08:25 AM
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It is a misrepresentation if it's not explicitly labeled "diagram not to scale."
Have you ever seen a textbook that has that disclaimer under every diagram that isn't to scale? Every diagram representing an atom, for example?
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Old 09-09-2019, 10:09 AM
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Have you ever seen a textbook that has that disclaimer under every diagram that isn't to scale? Every diagram representing an atom, for example?
Wikipedia does the solar system right, with illustrations that explain planet sizes and distances accompanied by captions clearly indicating what aspects of the figure are/aren't to scale.

Likewise for the atom. The nucleus in the large illustration is not drawn to scale, but the inset clearly specifies its actual dimensions.

It's fine to present neophytes with simplified subject matter, including illustrations that distort one or more aspects so as to facilitate convenient depiction of other aspects. But readers should be made to understand that what they're learning has been simplified.
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Old 09-09-2019, 06:21 AM
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A diagram that isn't to scale is not a "misrepresentation."
Scale diagram of the solar system: https://joshworth.com/dev/pixelspace...larsystem.html

It would be quite a challenge to fit that in a textbook.
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Old 09-09-2019, 08:48 AM
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Scale diagram of the solar system: https://joshworth.com/dev/pixelspace...larsystem.html

It would be quite a challenge to fit that in a textbook.
Thatís a lot of scrolling. Iím on my way to Saturn. I keep expecting a jump scare though.
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Old 09-09-2019, 10:27 AM
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Scale diagram of the solar system: https://joshworth.com/dev/pixelspace...larsystem.html

It would be quite a challenge to fit that in a textbook.
I visited the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff and it had a Solar System walk to scale, a series of engraved bronze plates set in the sidewalk with the sun at six inches in diameter. Pluto was not included but the plates had probably been there before the demotion so I suspect there simply wasn't enough room, over 2,000 feet according to this site.

I have read of kits you could buy, small cast plates for mounting on posts at a scale of 36-inches for the sun, the size of those plastic spheres you see on high tension wires. Then Neptune would be almost 4km away from the starting point.
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Old 09-09-2019, 10:39 AM
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I visited the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff and it had a Solar System walk to scale, a series of engraved bronze plates set in the sidewalk with the sun at six inches in diameter. Pluto was not included but the plates had probably been there before the demotion so I suspect there simply wasn't enough room, over 2,000 feet according to this site. ...
Which is ironic because, IIRC, the solar system walk was on the path leading to the observatory where Pluto was discovered.
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Old 09-09-2019, 01:42 PM
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A diagram that isn't to scale is not a "misrepresentation."
Imagine my shock to discover that Alaska isn't an island off the coast of Baja California.
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Old 09-08-2019, 12:52 PM
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Can you enlarge on this?
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4. Trees in the forest compete for light and bigger trees smother out smaller trees. Trees donít cooperate with each other.
When Linnaeus first described his system, he named only two kingdoms Ė animals and plants. In school we were taught that fungi was a third. Today it's up to five with something called protists and monera.

Pluto isn't a planet, we never learned about Ceres. The asteroids are all over the place, not just in the Asteroid belt. Today, there are getting to 800000 named asteroids, with 10000 or so crossing Earth's orbit.
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Old 09-08-2019, 04:36 PM
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When Linnaeus first described his system, he named only two kingdoms Ė animals and plants. In school we were taught that fungi was a third. Today it's up to five with something called protists and monera.
IIUC, the latest systems based on DNA and other biochemical information combines animals and fungi into a single kingdom but still ends with eight major kingdoms:
Bacteria:
Archaeota:
Excavata: Euglena, etc.
Rhizaria: Foraminifers, etc.
Chromalveolata: Diatoms, Brown & Golden Algae, Ciliates, etc.
Archaeplastida: Green Plants, Green & Red Algae, Glaucocystids, etc.
Amoebozoa: Slime molds, Amoebozoids
Opisthokonta: Animals, Fungi, Trichoplax adhaerens
The final six in this list form the Eukaryota Empire.
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Old 09-08-2019, 12:57 PM
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"Continental drift" was a discredited crackpot theory when I was in school.
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Old 09-08-2019, 01:02 PM
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The belief that stomach ulcers were caused by stress or diet. It's now known the primary cause is a bacterial infection.
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Old 09-08-2019, 01:08 PM
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The still pervasive belief that being out in the cold causes 'a cold'.

(and ninja'd by Nemo on ulcers)

Last edited by KarlGauss; 09-08-2019 at 01:09 PM.
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Old 09-10-2019, 01:18 AM
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The still pervasive belief that being out in the cold causes 'a cold'.

(and ninja'd by Nemo on ulcers)
A cold is caused by contracting a respiratory virus.

But cold weather can lower your immune systemís ability to fight infection, and make you more susceptible to contracting a virus. Therefore the advice to stay warm in order to protect yourself from catching a cold is still valid, even if the reasoning behind it is not.
https://journals.plos.org/plospathog...l.ppat.0030151
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Old 09-10-2019, 11:22 AM
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. . .But cold weather can lower your immune systemís ability to fight infection, and make you more susceptible to contracting a virus. . . . .[/url]
I don't think this has ever been proven. If it were the case, we should see an uptick in all kinds of illnesses during colder months--and we just don't.
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Old 09-10-2019, 02:06 PM
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A cold is caused by contracting a respiratory virus.

But cold weather can lower your immune systemís ability to fight infection, and make you more susceptible to contracting a virus. Therefore the advice to stay warm in order to protect yourself from catching a cold is still valid, even if the reasoning behind it is not.
https://journals.plos.org/plospathog...l.ppat.0030151
It (the cold) also causes more people to congregate indoors, making spreading said virus much easier.

So - being cold does not cause you to catch a cold - but it does make you more susceptible to doing so.

and no amount of "dressing warm" will change that.
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Old 09-08-2019, 01:24 PM
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"Continental drift" was a discredited crackpot theory when I was in school.
In ninth grade Earth Science I did a paper on what was believed to be the cause of mountain building back then. IIRC heavy deposits in the ocean pushed up mountains on the shore kind of like a seesaw.

Also, large dinosaurs like the Brontosaurus were thought to spend all their time in water because they were too heavy to walk on land.

There was some thought that lunar craters were formed by volcanic action, though meteor strikes were also a cause.
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Old 09-08-2019, 01:30 PM
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A good way to start is with this wikipedia article.\: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_o...misconceptions
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Old 09-08-2019, 01:09 PM
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Trees compete AND cooperate. Depending on many complex factors.
Eating fats WILL make you fat, if you eat more calories than you burn. But it's a complex subject. Much like trees.
Also, a significant minority of ulcers have no bacterial cause.
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Old 09-08-2019, 01:31 PM
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2. Eating fats will make you fat
3. Glass is a supercooled liquid evidenced by the old glass at European churches which get thicker in the bottom due to slow flow of glass
I don't know that these were actual scientific theories so much as wives tales. The demonization of fats, I think, was a propaganda campaign funded by the sugar industry. The glass thing was just something someone said, and everybody else agreed it sounded good.

It's important we get the context right when we talk about "Science had it wrong!" stories. Often, science didn't get it wrong, just some random people said "this is probably the scientific explanation", and it was neither correct nor scientifically researched.

Science does get things wrong occasionally, but that's part of the process. Science is allowed to self-correct, unlike other systems of belief.
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Old 09-08-2019, 02:21 PM
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Science does get things wrong occasionally, but that's part of the process. Science is allowed to self-correct, unlike other systems of belief.
As a person of science myself, I am with you in the spirit of your post.

However over the past few years some gross events in science have come to light that has left me wondering. Two such events are :

1. The reproducibility crisis in one area of science : https://go.galegroup.com/ps/anonymou...36&p=HRCA&sw=w

2. The widespread practice of p-hacking also in one area of science : https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Data_dredging
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Old 09-08-2019, 02:50 PM
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As a person of science myself, I am with you in the spirit of your post.

However over the past few years some gross events in science have come to light that has left me wondering. Two such events are :

1. The reproducibility crisis in one area of science : https://go.galegroup.com/ps/anonymou...36&p=HRCA&sw=w

2. The widespread practice of p-hacking also in one area of science : https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Data_dredging
Those are concerning as to the overall confidence in science that is currently being done, but I think it's also a useful feature that science can say "here are some places where we are going wrong, here's how it is happening."
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Old 09-08-2019, 04:42 PM
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It's important we get the context right when we talk about "Science had it wrong!" stories. Often, science didn't get it wrong, just some random people said "this is probably the scientific explanation", and it was neither correct nor scientifically researched.
Cannonical example: the "Science has proven that bumblebees can't fly" nonsense.
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Old 09-08-2019, 07:51 PM
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Pluto isn't a planet, we never learned about Ceres. The asteroids are all over the place, not just in the Asteroid belt.
None of those are things that science got wrong.

1. Reclassifying Pluto as a minor planet changed nothing we knew about that object. It was just a change in classification, done for bureaucratic reasons. (I know I'm running the risk of restarting the Pluto Wars here. Let's hope that doesn't happen.)

2. There's only so many things you can teach in limited school time, so it's not surprising you didn't learn every fact about the Solar System. And they sometimes intentionally simplify things taught in the lower grades, mostly to make them easier to teach amd learn. Ceres was discovered in 1800; various asteroids that are not in the main belt had been known about well before you were in school. You not learning these facts in school is a matter of both simplification and lack of time to teach everything.
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Old 09-08-2019, 09:08 PM
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The glass thing was just something someone said, and everybody else agreed it sounded ..
David Halliday was a physicist from the University of Pittsburgh and also worked at MITs Radiation lab. Robert Resnick was a science
Educator from U of Pittsburgh and RPI.

Both were aware receiving Physics textbook authors and yet : Halliday & Resnick's freshman physics text (4th edition, 1992) claimed that glass flows in windows (at the beginning of the chapter on fluids).

Can you please explain what you mean by someone said something ... ?
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Old 09-08-2019, 01:39 PM
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So Darwin said that the appendix in humans, is a vestigial organ, which I believe current research has proven to be incorrect.
Not exactly.

"Vestigial" does not equate to "useless".
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Old 09-09-2019, 03:05 AM
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4. Trees in the forest compete for light and bigger trees smother out smaller trees. Trees donít cooperate with each other.
Seems that they do; well, to some extent anyway.
Quote:
Wise old mother trees feed their saplings with liquid sugar and warn the neighbors when danger approaches. Reckless youngsters take foolhardy risks with leaf-shedding, light-chasing and excessive drinking, and usually pay with their lives. Crown princes wait for the old monarchs to fall, so they can take their place in the full glory of sunlight. Itís all happening in the ultra-slow motion that is tree time, so that what we see is a freeze-frame of the action.
Read more: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/scien...ZXZWjIxRgvE.99
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Old 09-09-2019, 03:43 AM
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Wise old mother trees feed their saplings with liquid sugar and warn the neighbors when danger approaches. Reckless youngsters take foolhardy risks with leaf-shedding, light-chasing and excessive drinking, and usually pay with their lives. Crown princes wait for the old monarchs to fall, so they can take their place in the full glory of sunlight. Itís all happening in the ultra-slow motion that is tree time, so that what we see is a freeze-frame of the action.
We were taught the Germans were humorless and at all not delusional.
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Old 09-09-2019, 04:18 AM
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I don't know if this counts as a 'theory', but in school (40 ish year ago), I was taught that the sea is blue because it is reflecting the colour of the sky.

This happened in England, where the sky is grey about half of the time - and I questioned this exact point when the teacher asserted it, but was told just to shut up and accept it.

The sea is blue because water is a blue coloured substance, even in its purest form (other factors such as suspended materials, algae etc probably also contribute to the blue colour of the sea).
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Old 09-09-2019, 04:45 AM
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I don't know if this counts as a 'theory', but in school (40 ish year ago), I was taught that the sea is blue because it is reflecting the colour of the sky.

This happened in England, where the sky is grey about half of the time - and I questioned this exact point when the teacher asserted it, but was told just to shut up and accept it.
Yes, but when the sky is grey the sea is grey.
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Old 09-09-2019, 08:03 AM
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Yes, but when the sky is grey the sea is grey.
Yes, but it simply isn't.
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Old 09-09-2019, 08:09 AM
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Yes, but it simply isn't.
You got some photographs of a blue sea under a grey sky?
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Old 09-09-2019, 10:34 AM
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You got some photographs of a blue sea under a grey sky?

Are you serious? Because the question is ridiculous. The colour tint of the water in the ocean is not a surface phenomenon.

Here is a video of a ship in a storm (cloudy sky) traversing large waves in the southern ocean. At 16 seconds in, what colour is the water in the large wave that breaks over the bow of the ship?

Last edited by Mangetout; 09-09-2019 at 10:36 AM.
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Old 09-09-2019, 10:42 AM
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Are you serious? Because the question is ridiculous. The colour tint of the water in the ocean is not a surface phenomenon.

Here is a video of a ship in a storm (cloudy sky) traversing large waves in the southern ocean. At 16 seconds in, what colour is the water in the large wave that breaks over the bow of the ship?
It would help if I had included the video link, I guess:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ET9nv1jpghY

While we are here, here is another one - scuba diving on a rainy, overcast day:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gzwFGtgnUfg
The water is blue

Last edited by Mangetout; 09-09-2019 at 10:44 AM.
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Old 09-09-2019, 10:57 AM
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It would help if I had included the video link, I guess:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ET9nv1jpghY

While we are here, here is another one - scuba diving on a rainy, overcast day:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gzwFGtgnUfg
The water is blue
Fair enough, but I've perhaps spent more time looking out to the North Sea than you and I can assure you that on many days, blueness is the least of its qualities.
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Old 09-09-2019, 06:55 AM
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I graduated high school in 1965. I learned all the things were incorrect statements about what "science" knew, in science class as a freshman. (1963) Plate tectonics wasn't a thoroughly integrated theory until shortly after that, but elements of it were already well studied.

So, when you say that "science" believed these things, what you mean is that the education system in the political jurisdiction where you lived taught these 40 to sixty year old theories without updates, and you didn't do any research outside of class to find if it was true.

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Old 09-09-2019, 08:28 AM
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Imagine trying to include the larger Eris, not to mention Quaoar, Sedna, Makemake, the Oort Cloud, the Kuiper Belt, etc. in there. What you learned in grade school is a very limited picture.

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Old 09-09-2019, 08:29 AM
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On the other side, when I took anthropology in 1956, the text, 1948 edition, made it clear that the story of human evolution would be a lot more coherent it Piltdown man had never been found. He didn't exactly claim it was a hoax, but he obviously had some doubt. Since the hoax had been exposed in 1953, my confidence in the book was greatly increased. It is in fact one of the only texts from my college days that I still have.

Let us not exaggerate the errors of science. Plate tectonics was rejected largely because no one could imagine a mechanism. Sure the Americas seemed to fit together, more or less, with Europe and Asia, but that could be a coincidence. Without a mechanism, it is speculation. It reminds me of the time that someone^* called a colleague of mine with the statement that 1 + 196,882 = 196,883. Aside from being obvious, the two numbers on the left are the first two coefficients of a series important in number theory while the third is the degree of the first representations of something called the monster group. My colleague dismissed this as moonshine and the name has stuck to one of the most important recent developments connecting number theory and geometry.

* "Someone" was John Conway whom some non-mathematicians may have heard ot.
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Old 09-09-2019, 09:01 AM
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Most of these are not really examples of science getting it wrong.

1. Dismissing a hypothesis until sufficient evidence has been presented is good science (plate tectonics)
2. A crude model being superceded by a more precise one is good science (number of organism kingdoms)
3. Stuff that's "common knowledge" often isn't anything to do with science (cold causes cold)
4. Specifically on the appendix thing, yes functions have been found for the appendix but that's not the same thing as saying it is not vestigial. It's still debatable whether you're better off with or without an appendix.
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Old 09-09-2019, 10:34 AM
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Originally Posted by am77494 View Post
4. Trees in the forest compete for light and bigger trees smother out smaller trees. Trees don’t cooperate with each other.
I'm not sure in what sense this is supposed to be a "misconception." In fact, the dominant process in most forests is that trees do compete for light, and slower-growing individuals are shaded out and die. They also compete for minerals, nutrients, and water. It has been found that trees may benefit other individuals by sharing nutrients, but competition is still a very important process. I would call this an incomplete picture, rather than an actual misconception.

Last edited by Colibri; 09-09-2019 at 10:35 AM.
  #48  
Old 09-09-2019, 10:55 AM
The Stafford Cripps is offline
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I'm not denying that water is inherently blue, or that your teacher's logic was flawed. I'm just saying that to prove it, you need something stronger than your childhood self's incorrect belief that the sea will appear to be blue under a grey sky.
  #49  
Old 09-09-2019, 10:57 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by The Stafford Cripps View Post
I'm not denying that water is inherently blue, or that your teacher's logic was flawed. I'm just saying that to prove it, you need something stronger than your childhood self's incorrect belief that the sea will appear to be blue under a grey sky.
My childhood's belief that the sea is blue was formed by looking at the fucking sea.

Last edited by Mangetout; 09-09-2019 at 10:58 AM.
  #50  
Old 09-09-2019, 11:14 AM
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Originally Posted by Mangetout View Post
My childhood's belief that the sea is blue was formed by looking at the fucking sea.
From angles and in weather conditions that allowed you to see blueness, which, I repeat, might often otherwise be completely fucking absent.

Last edited by The Stafford Cripps; 09-09-2019 at 11:18 AM.
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