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Today at The Design of Life blog

Why do scientists sometimes ignore warnings that theories are wrong?

Even great scientists can get it all wrong, and it is interesting to see how and when they do.

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13 Responses to Today at The Design of Life blog

  1. Carl Sagan provides at least 1 interesting example. In a book about the Viking missions there ia a chapter on who decided what experiments/devices should be packed into the Viking Lander. The geologists and Sagan hotly contested the inclusion of a camera that might capure the image of a hypothetical creature that Sagan though *might* be on Mars. The debate was heated but Sagan won out. The geologists thought it was a waste. Of course, we now know there is nothing walking or even crawling around on Mars. The point is that Sagan was so emotionally attached to his pet theories that they became blinding.

  2. Oh you know, Gleaner, Sagan also thought apes would write books:

    “Although a few years ago it would have seemed the most implausible science fiction, it does not appear to me out of the question that, after a few years in such a verbal chimpanzee community, there might emerge the memoirs of the natural history and mental life of a chimpanzee, published in English or Japanese (with perhaps an “as told to” after the byline).” —Carl Sagan, The Dragons of Eden Quoted in The Spiritual Brain, p. 16.

    Having written several books myself, I can’t imagine it being the sort of project that should interest apes.

  3. O’Leary: Oh you know, Gleaner, Sagan also thought apes would write books

    I hate to say this because I kinda liked the man, but when all is said and done, Carl Sagan will go down as one of the worst crackpots of 20th century science.

    Sagan, like Stephen Hawking and a host of other famous physicists and astronomers, also believed in the physical possibility of time travel, a sure sign of ingrained crackpottery, in my opinion. Sagan lived a sci-fi life, in his own mind.

    Having said that, I must acknowledge his amazing talent for translating difficult scientific subjects into an easy language that most people could understand. Too bad a lot of the “science” (e.g., The Dragons of Eden) was pure hogwash.

  4. As a teenager, I enjoyed reading Carl Sagan. Later, I enjoyed reading Stephen Hawking. Both best read with a grain of salt.

    Also, I agree that what you term “dark clouds” can lead to intriguing new scientific ideas. Simply closing a blind eye to exceptions or incongruent information is indicative of confirmation bias at best, inflexible dogmatism at worst.

  5. Cosmologists: often in error, seldom in doubt :)

    I don’t know who originally said that, but it’s great.

  6. Asimov said that most exciting prase in science is not “Eureka”, but “That’s funny”.

    johnnyb, love that quote.

    unrelated aside: do any of the design proponents teach undergrad or grad science/math/computer classes. I feel like expanding my education, and would love to enroll in such classes. NY or easy access from NY preferred. Summer preferred. BTW, the class does not have to be on design, but the prof has to be ID sympathetic.

  7. Good article; perhaps one of things that distinguishes today’s intellectual climate from the early 20th century is that then science was still being done out of genuine curiosity to understand the world we live in. Today, it seems a lot of so-called science is done with little motivation other than to preserve the current materialist ‘ascendancy’. It is hard to deny the fact that the slowing-down of scientific progress to which you refer coincides very closely with the adoption of Darwinism as dogma in the academic mainstream.

  8. O’Leary (2): “…Sagan also thought apes would write books.”

    Sagan apparently got tired of waiting for chimps to write their memoirs themselves, so decided to help them out and write them for them. The works were presented (sans expurgations) as Chapter 14 (“Gangland”) of Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1992), by Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan.

    An example snippet, by “Buddy”:

    I like a little ***, same as the next guy. But what I really like is combat. You’re out on patrol, you gotta be real quiet. You gotta be ready for action. Strangers could be anywhere. Anything could happen at night. Night’s the most exciting.

    We catch some Strangers, they’ve had it. One time Squint come on a Stranger mother holding her kid. He take the little brat by a leg and smash its head on the rocks. That’ll teach Strangers to come around. Days later I seen her again, real sad, carrying that dead baby like it’s still alive. But that’s the way it goes. Strangers mess with our turf, they get what’s coming.

    Big Guy, he don’t go out on patrols no more. In the old days, before Big Guy take over, it’d be him and me and Squint on patrol. That was great. Those Strangers, they come over here to steal our turf and **** our females. Some of ours, the younger ones, they don’t mind so much — they got a thing about quickies with Strangers. But us guys, we mind…. [etc.]

  9. Dietary science is another area where scientists have been very wrong. I haven’t seen much mention of it here, but Gary Taubes in his book Good Calories, Bad Calories does a good job of showing that there has never been any compelling evidence to suggest that dietary fat is bad for us.

    Most working in the diet field, though, including almost all doctors, still believe that saturated fat causes heart disease and cancer. This is one more area where “science” and reality do not seem to mix.

  10. mapou sagan was definitely one of the 20th century scientific crackpots. that is why he spent all of his time writing popular books instead of focusing on scientific research. the part about the camera is hilarious.

    denyse why do you think apes wouldn’t be interested in your writing projects? i find them interesting, and i wonder if anyone has ever attempted to teach the apes to read? for all our scientific ‘advancement’ it’s amazing that no one has attempted to communicate with them. i suppose the materialists are too busy trying to prove that they are our uncles.

  11. Off-topic, but I had to post it: Larry Norman died Sunday. Here’s what he dictated shortly before his death:

    I feel like a prize in a box of cracker jacks with God’s hand reaching down to pick me up. I have been under medical care for months. My wounds are getting bigger. I have trouble breathing. I am ready to fly home.

    My brother Charles is right, I won’t be here much longer. I can’t do anything about it. My heart is too weak. I want to say goodbye to everyone. In the past you have generously supported me with prayer and finance and we will probably still need financial help.

    My plan is to be buried in a simple pine box with some flowers inside. But still it will be costly because of funeral arrangement, transportation to the gravesite, entombment, coordination, legal papers etc. However money is not really what I need, I want to say I love you.

    I’d like to push back the darkness with my bravest effort. There will be a funeral posted here on the website, in case some of you want to attend. We are not sure of the date when I will die. Goodbye, farewell, we will meet again.

    Goodbye, farewell, we’ll meet again
    Somewhere beyond the sky.
    I pray that you will stay with God
    Goodbye, my friends, goodbye.

    Larry

  12. larrynormanfan, my condolances on your personal loss. Years ago, Larry Norman put on a consert in our church. I enjoyed Larry music for many hours myself, and feel some loss at his passing — though I enjoy knowing that he is finally free from this world of toil.

    Thanks for letting us know, and for sharing his personal eulogy.

  13. 13

    bFast, thanks for that response. I’ve been listening to Larry Norman’s music since about 1980, and his death is a great loss for me. I used to see him perform back then — fantastic shows, just Larry and his guitar. I never had the chance to see him with a band. We’d talk sometimes after a show, and he was always so generous with his time.
    Thing is, I’ve moved away from Larry theologically — become, I suppose, more “liberal” and less evangelical — but he’s always been someone whose music and spirit I treasure. Put him next to the usual dreck that passes for Christian music these days, and there’s just no comparison; Larry was the real deal. Here is a bit from “I Hope I’ll See You in Heaven”:

    Now I’m sitting in this garden
    in the middle of my days
    and my memories drift and harden
    as the years they slip away,
    and I’ve been looking in this mirror
    at the age around my eyes
    Time is such an earnest laborer,
    precision is his neighbor.
    Lay my body in the ground,
    but let my spirit touch the sky.

    How many songs are that honest?
    He could be a difficult person (he may have been bipolar) and he lost a lot of friends. But he was a great songwriter and a big soul. I’ll miss him.

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