Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Crackpot science

[The writer clearly has an agenda so I'll take the "crackpottery" generalization with a grain of salt unless/until I know more about the historical context and the extent to which a given scientist was denigrated by his community. Nevertheless, this is an intriguing list. I'd like to know more about all of these stories firsthand. -Max]

From http://amasci.com/weird/vindac.html

Weird science versus revolutionary science

While it's true that at least 99% of revolutionary announcements from the fringes of science are just as bogus as they seem, we cannot dismiss every one of them without investigation. If we do, then we'll certainly take our place among the ranks of scoffers who accidentally helped delay numbers of major scientific discoveries throughout history. Beware, for many discoveries such as powered flight and drifting continents today only appear sane and acceptable because we have such powerful hindsight. These same advancements were seen as obviously a bunch of disgusting lunatic garbage during the years they were first discovered.

In science, pursuing revolutionary advancements can be like searching for diamonds hidden in sewage. It's a shame that the realms of questionable ideas contain "diamonds" of great value. This makes the of judging crazy theories far more difficult. If crazy discoveries were always bogus, then we'd have good reason to reject them without investigation. However, since the diamonds exist, we must distrust our first impressions. Sometimes the "obvious" craziness turns out to be a genuine cutting-edge discovery. As with the little child questioning the emperor's clothing, sometimes (but rarely, of course,) the entire scientific community is misguided and incompetent. Sometimes only the lone voice of the maverick scientist is telling the truth. 

Below is a list of scientists who were reviled for their crackpottery, only to be later proven correct. Today's science texts are dishonest to the extent that they hide these huge mistakes made by the scientific community. They rarely discuss the embarrassing acts of intellectual suppression which were directed at the following researchers by their colleagues. And... after wide reading, I've never encountered any similar list.[1] This is very telling. 

"When a true genius appears in this world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him." - Jonathan Swift

THE LIST: scroll down 

To add: B Belousov, Carl Woese, Gilbert Ling, John C. Lilly

"Concepts which have proved useful for ordering things easily assume so great an authority over us, that we forget their terrestrial origin and accept them as unalterable facts. They then become labeled as 'conceptual necessities,' etc. The road of scientific progress is frequently blocked for long periods by such errors." - Einstein

"Men show their character in nothing more clearly than by what they think laughable." -J. W. Goethe

Some ridiculed ideas which had no single supporter:
  • Ball lightning (lacking a theory, it was long dismissed as retinal afterimages)
  • Catastrophism (ridicule of rapid Earth changes, asteroid mass extinctions)
  • Child abuse (before Kempe 1962, doctors were mystified by "spontaneous" childhood bruising and broken bones)
  • Cooperation or altruism between animals (versus Evolution's required competition)
  • Instantaneous meteor noises (evidence rejected because sound should be delayed by distance)
  • Mind-body connection (psychoneuroimmunology, doctors ridiculed any emotional basis for disease)
  • Perceptrons (later vindicated as Neural Networks)
  • Permanent magnet levitation ("Levitron" shouldn't have worked)

"The mind likes a strange idea as little as the body likes a strange protein and resists it with similar energy. It would not perhaps be too fanciful to say that a new idea is the most quickly acting antigen known to science. If we watch ourselves honestly we shall often find that we have begun to argue against a new idea even before it has been completely stated." - Wilfred Trotter, 1941

"The study of history is a powerful antidote to contemporary arrogance. It is humbling to discover how many of our glib assumptions, which seem to us novel and plausible, have been tested before, not once but many times and in innumerable guises; and discovered to be, at great human cost, wholly false." -Paul Johnson

If I esteem mankind to be in error, shall I bear them down? No. I will lift them up, and in their own way too, if I cannot persuade them my way is better; and I will not seek to compel any man to believe as I do, only by the force of reasoning, for truth will cut its own way.

"Thou shalt love thy wife with all thy heart, and shalt cleave unto her and none else."

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