Science Failures

 

I used to be a science teacher. When I was young I loved being in the outdoors and observing nature and discovering new things. So when I grew up and became a teacher, science was my natural field of interest.

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However in our contemporary world science for some has grown into a belief system, a religion if you like.

Some are so confident that science is the way to the future that any new fact or idea that comes along and convinces many is held on to with religious ferocity even when it is doubtful that there is any truth in it.

The National Post every year in publishes a section called “Junk Science” illustrating ideas that are held by many but are NOT correct.

Expelled-No-IntelligenceMany professors and scientists want to distinguish themselves, so they study an area of science and become somewhat of an expert in that area. However sometimes after being sure of the result for so long, without the facts to back up their theories, some scientists go rogue and publish false data and conclusions in order to benefit themselves and/or their colleagues.

Due to the discovery after several years of some of these wrong conclusions, the person is exposed and then the scientific community has to revise its idea of facts which are now NOT facts at all.

But how many times do we NOT discover the falsification of data and some ideas which are assumed to be true are actually false? How many times do some ideas appear to be true but when retested with better equipment and controls, now appear to be incorrect?

Here are a few examples where scientists have had to change their minds about what the facts were.

The following are largely taken from ScienceChannel website to preserve their discoveries for educational, informational and research purposes without consideration of profit under the Fair Use section. Added comments are by myself or the other contributors to the Compendium.

“Take a deep breath: Believe it or not, scientists are not always right. We really put them up on a pedestal, though, don’t we? We quote scientists as experts, buy things if they’re “scientifically proven” to work better … but scientists are human, too. It’s just not fair to expect perfection out of them, is it? But come on, can’t we at least ask for a reasonable level of competency?”

Top Science Mistakes

1: The Circulatory System

You don’t have to be a doctor to know how important the heart is…but back in ancient Greece, you could be a doctor and STILL have no idea how important the heart is.

Back then, doctors like second-century Greek physician Galen believed (no kidding) that the liver (not the heart) circulated blood (along with some bile and phlegm), while the heart (really) circulated “vital spirit”(whatever that is).

How could they be so wrong? It gets worse.

Galen hypothesized that the blood moved in a back-and-forth motion and was consumed by the organs as fuel. What’s more, these ideas stuck around for a very long time. How long?

It wasn’t until 1628 that English physician William Harvey let us in on our heart’s big secret. His “An Anatomical Study of the Motion of the Heart and of the Blood in Animals” took a while to catch on, but a few hundred years later, it seems beyond common sense — perhaps the ultimate compliment for a scientific idea.

2: The Earth Is the Center of the Universeearth_from_space_close_up-wallpaper-1920x12001

Chalk it up to humanity’s collectively huge ego. Second-century astronomer Ptolemy’s (blatantly wrong) Earth-centered model of the solar system didn’t just stay in vogue for 20 or 30 years; it stuck around for a millennium and then some.

It wasn’t until almost 1,400 years later that Copernicus published his heliocentric (sun-centered) model in 1543. Copernicus wasn’t the first to suggest that the we orbited the sun, but his theory was the first to gain traction.

Ninety years after its publication, the Catholic Church was still clinging to the idea that we were at the center of it all and duking it out with Galileo over his defense of the Copernican view. Old habits die hard.

3: Germs in Surgery

bacteria-on-skin_1899719j-artist-conceptionLaugh or cry (take your pick), but up until the late 19th century, doctors didn’t really see the need to wash their hands before picking up a scalpel. (that’s the 1800’s !)

The result? A lot of gangrene. Most early-19th century doctors tended to attribute contagion to “bad air” and blamed disease on imbalances of the “four humors” (that’s blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile, in case you weren’t familiar).

“Germ theory” (the revolutionary idea that germs cause disease) had been around for a while, but it wasn’t till Louis Pasteur got behind it in the 1860s that people started listening. It took a while, but doctors like Joseph Lister eventually connected the dots and realized that hospitals and doctors had the potential to pass on life-threatening germs to patients.

Lister went on to pioneer the idea of actually cleaning wounds and using disinfectant. Remember him next time you reach for the Purell.

4: DNA: Not So Important

dnaDNA was discovered in 1869, but for a long time, it was kind of the unappreciated assistant: doing all the work with none of the credit, always overshadowed by its flashier protein counterparts.

Even after experiments in the middle part of the 20th century offered proof that DNA was indeed the genetic material, many scientists held firmly that proteins, not DNA, were the key to heredity. (What’s new? That’s about 100 years of clinging. :)) DNA, they thought, was just too simple to carry so much information.

It wasn’t until Watson and Crick published their all-important double-helical model of the structure of DNA in 1953 that biologists finally started to understand how such a simple molecule could do so much. Perhaps they were confusing simplicity with elegance.

5: The Atom Is the Smallest Particle in Existence

Believe it or not, we weren’t actually all that stupid in ancient times. atomThe idea that matter was composed of smaller, individual units (atoms) has been around for thousands of years — but the idea that there was something smaller than that was a bit harder to come by.

It wasn’t until the early 20th century, when physicists like J.J. Thompson, Ernest Rutherford, James Chadwick and Neils Bohr came along, that we started to sort out the basics of particle physics: protons, neutrons and electrons and how they make an atom what it is. Since then, we’ve come a long way: on to charmed quarks and Higgs bosons, anti-electrons and muon neutrinos. Let’s hope it doesn’t get too much more complicated than that.

6: The Earth Is Only 6,000 Years Old

Once upon a time, the Bible was considered a scientific work. Really. People just kind of assumed it was accurate, even when it didn’t make much sense. (In present times, this is similar to believing every press release on environment or climate change that comes out even if it has not been repeatable, and does not seem consistent with observable fact! Yes we are still fallible human beings, just as the ancients were.)

Take the age of the planet, for example.

Back in the 17th century, a religious scholar took a hard look at the Bible and estimated that creation happened around 4004 B.C. (you know, approximately). Add in nearly 2,000 more years to get to the 18th century, when Western, Bible-reading geologists started to realize that the Earth was constantly shifting and changing, and you get about 6,000 years.

Hmm … those biblical scholars may have been a bit off. Current estimates, based on radioactive dating, place the age of the planet at around, oh, 4.5 BILLION years.

By the 19th century, geologists started putting the pieces together to realize that if geologic change was happening as slowly as they thought it was, and if this Darwin guy was at all right about evolution (which was also a slow process), the Earth had to be WAY older than they had thought. The emergence of radioactive dating in the early 20th century would eventually prove them right.

(Although even that is now questionable, as some scientists feel it must be at least 20 billion years old if evolution was to have enough time to develop. The problem is that we are guessing that the processes we see today always occurred at the same rate. But did they? Perhaps borrowing a back-to-the-future time machine might help 🙂)

 

7: The Rain Follows the Plow

If only it were so easy. It’s actually kind of shocking that humanity held on to the idea that land would become fertile through farming for so long. Didn’t anyone look around and see that all this farming of arid land wasn’t doing much?

So much for observation.

In reality, this quite erroneous theory (popular during the American and Australian expansions) may have stayed alive in part because it did sometimes work — or at least it seemed to work.

What we know now is that the plow wasn’t actually bringing the rain; long-term weather patterns were. Arid regions (like the American West, for example) go through long-term cyclical droughts, followed by cycles of wetter years. Wait long enough and you’ll get a few wet ones.

There’s just one problem: wait a few more years and all the rain just goes away – only now, you’ve got a civilization to support. (Remember when Al Gore’s inconvenient climate panic was the main topic in the news? So it seems that Al did not realize that climates are always changing, warmer sometimes, cooler other times since the beginning of climate! Perhaps taking a course in geology would have helped. Of course neither you, I or dear Al was there to notice! 🙂

8: Phlogiston

What? You’ve never heard of phlogiston? Well, don’t beat yourself up about it, because it’s not real.

Phlogiston, proposed in 1667 by Johann Joachim Becher, was another element to add to the list (earth, water, air, fire and sometimes ether); it wasn’t fire itself, but the stuff fire was made of. All combustible objects contained this stuff, Becher insisted, and they released it when they burned.

Scientists bought into the theory and used it to explain a few things about fire and burning: why things burned out (must have run out of phlogiston), why fire needed air to burn (air must absorb phlogiston), why we breathe (to get rid of phlogiston in the body).

Today, we know that we breathe to get oxygen to support cellular respiration, that objects need oxygen (or an oxidizing agent) to burn and that phlogiston just doesn’t exist.

9: Heavier Objects Fall Faster

OK, trick question: do heavier objects fall faster than lighter ones? Today, we all (really, all ??? 🙂 know that they don’t, but it’s understandable how Aristotle could’ve gotten this one wrong.

It wasn’t until Galileo came along in the late 16th century that anyone really tested this out. Though he most likely did not (Why not? I hope the answer to this is not too weighty. ), as legend holds, drop weights from the tower of Pisa, Galileo did perform experiments to back up his theory that gravity accelerated all objects at the same rate. In the 17th century, Isaac Newton took us a step further, describing gravity as the attraction between two objects: on Earth, the most important being the attraction between one very massive object (our planet) and everything on it.

A couple of hundred years later, Albert Einstein’s work would take us in a whole new direction, viewing gravity as the curvature that objects cause in space-time. And it’s not over. To this day, physicists are ironing out the kinks and trying to find a theory that works equally well for the macroscopic, microscopic and even subatomic. Good luck with that. (The only problem here being that as we work out the kinks in one area, more kinks develop in other areas. See National Post’s Junk Science! 🙂

10: Alchemy

The idea of morphing lead into gold may seem a little crazy these days, but take a step back and pretend you live in ancient or medieval times. (Some scholars are equating this with the theory of evolution today, whose model,  has yet to demonstrate where the links are between some of the species of the past and those we see today. *See below.)

Pretend you never took high-school chemistry and know nothing about elements or atomic numbers or the periodic table. What you do know is that you’ve seen chemical reactions that seemed pretty impressive: substances change colors, spark, explode, evaporate, grow, shrink, make strange smells – all before your eyes.

Now, if chemistry can do all that, it seems pretty reasonable that it might be able to turn a dull, drab, gray metal into a bright, shiny yellow one, right? In the hopes of getting that job done, alchemists sought out the mythical “philosopher’s stone,” a substance that they believed would amplify their alchemical powers.

They also spent a lot of time looking for the “elixir of life.” Never found that, either.

Here are some articles in which the model of evolution is in question as a tenable theory.

Does evolutionary theory need a rethink? : Nature News …

www.nature.com/news/does-evolutionarytheoryneed-a-rethink-1.16080
 Oct 8, 2014 – Now mainstream evolutionary theory has come to focus almost … with their environments, in the process changing the structure of ecosystems.
sandwalk.blogspot.com/2014/10/rethinkingevolutionary-theory.html
 Oct 9, 2014 – I do not think Lynch’s view of evolutionary theory (or Koonin’s) is compatible with ….. ‘Does evolutionary theory need a rethink” the article asked. (Good luck in reading this one as a lay person 🙂
genomicsnews.ca/…/doesevolutionary-theory-need-a-rethink-nature-ne…
 Oct 9, 2014 – Researchers are divided over what processes should be considered fundamental. YES, URGENTLY — Kevin Laland and colleagues or NO, …
www.rationalskepticism.org › … › Evolution & Natural Selection
Oct 8, 2014 – 20 posts – ‎12 authors

Dogmatism on evolution is hindering scientific advancement. If evolutionary biologists censor themselves, imagine what they do to other …

www.quora.com › … › ScienceEvolution (process)
No, it doesn’t need “a rethink” as if that were a brilliant new idea. Yes? Because EVERYTHING about evolution is constantly being re-tested and rethought every …

Does evolutionary theory need a rethink?

www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25297418
by K Laland – ‎2014 – ‎Cited by 3

Oct 9, 2014 – Adaptation, Physiological/genetics; Animals; Biological Evolution*; Developmental Biology*/trends; Ecosystem; Epigenesis, Genetic …

Does Evolutionary Theory Need a Rethink …

www.realclearscience.com/…/does_evolutionary_theory_need_a_rethink

Oct 9, 2014 – The mimic frog (Ranitomeya imitator) is the first vertebrate, and only the second known animal, to suggest that mimicry can split populations into …

http://robward.org/evolution-a-theory-in-crisis-revisited/

Does evolutionary theory need a rethink?… – NCSE: The …

https://www.facebook.com/evolution.ncse/posts/10154659385010580

Joseph T Lapp I’m calling this a straw man. I was not familiar with the overly-simple theory until I read this article; evolutionary theory has always been complex.

Does evolutionary theory need a rethink? – LockerDome

https://lockerdome.com/news.ycombinator.com/7080838273707028

Charles Darwin conceived of evolution by natural selection without knowing that genes exist. Now mainstream evolutionary theory has come to focus almost 

Andrew McAfee on Twitter: “Does evolutionary theory need …

https://twitter.com/amcafee/status/524633410808328193

Oct 21, 2014 – Does evolutionary theory need a rethink? debate in Nature: … Isn’t evolving theories a part of evolution? 😉 RT @pmarca @amcafee Does …

Does evolutionary theory need a rethink? « News from …

blogg.lnu.se/ccbg/blog/blogg/doesevolutionary-theory-need-a-rethink/

Oct 14, 2014 – We have recently concluded that evolutionary principles can be used to … I think the “No” side argued that there is no need for a rethink …

i>Nature</i> Admits Scientists Suppress Criticisms of Neo …

www.evolutionnews.org/2014/10/nature_admits_s090321.html
 

Oct 8, 2014 – We contend that evolutionary biology needs revision if it is to benefit fully … and John Odling-Smee, “Does evolutionary theory need a rethink?

Do yourself a Google search and you will find oodles (whatever that number is) of articles on this topic.
So I must say to BC if he ever reads anything but the “No!” side, “NO, BC, Evolution is NOT settled science!” At least that is what these scientists and other learned individuals are saying. Do YOU know something they do not? Please tell us if you have a further “revelation”. Perhaps one passed down by “Moses Dawkins” ?

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