Greatest Hits of the Science Deniers
“And yet, it moves.”
Thus muttered Galileo Galilei under his breath after being forced by the Inquisition to recant his claim that the Earth moved around the Sun, rather than the other way round. The public vindication of Copernican heliocentrism would have to wait another day.
Today, Galileo’s story is a well-known illustration of the dangers of both unchecked power and declaring scientific matters “settled.” Yet, throughout history, Galileo wasn’t alone.
Scientists once knew that light moved through space via the luminiferous aether—how else could its waves travel? In 1887 Albert Michelson and Edward Morley proved that it wasn’t so thanks to a “failed” experiment designed to conclusively demonstrate the existence of this invisible medium. Poor Michelson suffered a nervous breakdown when faced with such unexpected results.
In 1931 a book published in Germany, One Hundred Authors against Einstein, defended the settled science of Newtonian physics, proclaiming Einstein’s theory of relativity a fraud. Einstein was reported to have replied, “Why one hundred? If I were wrong, one would have been enough.”
On these pages I recently recounted the story of the early 20th century belief in Eugenics, a science widely adopted by governments around the world as a basis for social policy, with horrifying results.
Australian physicians Barry Marshall and Robin Warrens were ridiculed when they hypothesized that ulcers were caused by microbes, which every scientist knew couldn’t survive in stomach acid. Doctors were sure that peptic ulcers were caused by stress and spicy foods. In frustration, Marshall drank a Petri dish full of cultured H. pylori, proving the settled science wrong. Hopefully, the Nobel Prize he and Warrens received compensated for the illness that resulted.
And remember the government’s dietary guidelines, including the warnings against salt and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Pyramid urging Americans to eat more carbs and fewer fats? That didn’t work out so well, did it?
We all grew up knowing that life began in the “primordial soup” of the seas, sparked by lightning. A recent paper in Nature casts doubt on that theory, producing evidence that life may have begun in hydrothermal vents in the ocean floor. The jury is still out on this one.
And that’s the point.
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