In today’s world, when the scientific consensus says something, we tend to believe it without questioning it. We have come to imbue it with an almost god-like power.
We do this for several reasons:
1…Science has given us cures, discoveries and inventions that would have seemed miraculous even just 50 years ago. Think of cells phones, the internet, taking pictures without film from a phone, etc.
2…We think of scientists as people in white lab coats who only go where the facts lead, who have no biases whatsoever.
3…We think scientific opinion is proven fact and cannot be wrong.
I challenge points #2&3 and will prove that they are not always true.
Scientists are people and people have biases. Yes, scientists should go where the facts lead but many times they don’t. They tend to fit their facts into the prevailing paradigm.
Science has been wrong many times. Here are just a few examples;
Prenology…the belief that different parts of the brain correspond to certain personality traits. The size of each part determines how powerfully we express that particular trait. A trained physician can measure the size of each part by feeling the shape of the skull above it. Believe it or not but phrenology was widely accepted in the 19th century.
Global cooling…while not all scientists agreed with it, many did in the 1970’s. The scare was very real. Read https://wattsupwiththat.com/2013/03/01/global-cooling-compilation.
The recent claim that man-made global warming is “settled science” is no where near a consensus. Read www.petitionproject.org and http://breitbart.com/london/2015/07/31/new-study-majority-of-climate-scientists-dont-agree-with-consensus/ and www.forbes.com/sites/jamestaylor/2013/02/13/peer-reviewed-survey-finds-majority-of-scientists-skeptical-of-global-warming-crisis/#2f3e2aa7171b.
Piltdown Man…The fossil known as Piltdown Man was discovered in 1912. It was hailed as the “missing link” in human evolution. In 1953, it was revealed to be a hoax. For over 40 years though, this was ‘fact’. To question it was to open yourself up to being called scientifically illiterate. Many scientists had access to Piltdown Man’s bones and they were studied extensively. No one saw the hoax at the time (although a few questioned it), but afterwards, it all seemed so obvious. It was clear that highly qualified scientists had seen what they wanted to see and had ignored what didn’t fit their preconceptions/biases. Read about it at http://hoaxes.org/archive/permalink/the_piltdown_man. Other evolutionary hoaxes are the peppered moths, the Archaeoraptor half bird-half dinosaur, Nebraska Man and many others. Read about some of these at http://cavern.uark.edu/~cdm/creation/shame.htm. One such dissenting list from Darwinian evolution is at http://www.discovery.org/scripts/viewDB/filesDB-download.php?command=download&id=660. There are other such lists. One good, general article about evolution is at http://thetruthwins.com/archives/44-reasons-why-evolution-is-just-a-fairy-tale-for-adults.
Stress can cause ulcers…this was widely believed for years by the medical community. But in 1982, it was proven that a bacteria caused most ulcers and that stress had nothing to do with it. The two scientists who discovered this won the 2005 Nobel prize in medicine for it. Read about it at http://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/understanding-ulcers-basic-information.
Canals on Mars…in 1877, canals on Mars were discovered using a telescope. Even American astronomer Percival Lowell believed it. But as telescopes improved and the 1st Mariner fly-by satellite observed, there were no canals on Mars. It was all an optical illusion. But, heaven forbid, if you questioned the scientific view at the time. Read about it at http://scienceblogs.com/universe/2012/09/28/the-canals-of-mars/.
Cigarettes are good for you…believe it or not, from the 17th century until the mid-1950’s, doctors prescribed tobacco as a cure for ailments like toothaches, fatigue and joint pains. An early 1950’s ad said to smoke to “fell your level best” and cigarettes were “just what the doctor ordered”. Read about it at http://www.healio.com/hematology-oncology/news/print/hemonc-today/%7B241d62a7-fe6e-4c5b-9fed-a33cc6e4bd7c%7D/cigarettes-were-once-physician-tested-approved.
You cannot grow new brain cells…for decades neuroscientists believed that we grew all of our brain cells in the womb and during early childhood. But evidence began to appear in the 1960’s that this wasn’t true. It took over 20 years to convince the majority of scientists that brain cells can be generated in adults.
Leprosy is highly contagious…No, it’s not! But it took thousands of years before science proved this. It wasn’t until the discovery of anti-biotics in the 20th century that corrected this myth.
With the discovery of radium in 1899, several products were marketed to a public fascinated with the element’s supposed therapeutic properties, such as…
–Vita Radium suppositories were sold in the USA to help revitalize ‘weakened organs’.
–Revigator was a drinking water laced with radium-266 & 288 isotopes, sold between 1918 & 1928. It was said to cure stomach cancer, among other things. It remained popular in the USA until industrialist Eben Byers died of jaw cancer after drinking a bottle a day for 4 years.
–Scortal Radiendocrinator was a product intended to increase sexual virility in men. The device consisted of radium soaked paper placed under the scrotum at night. Its inventor, William J. Bailey, died of bladder cancer in 1949.
–Radium Chocolate was sold in Germany from 1931 to 1936 for its powers of rejuvenation.
–Doramad radioactive toothpaste was sold in Germany during WWII to kill germs and whiten teeth.
–Tho-Radia beauty cream was sold in France in the 1930’s. It contained radioactive thorium & radium. It was believed that the radioactivity killed germs and promoted a healthy glow to the skin.
Also watch www.youtube.com/watch?v=3MuMPLoQZN4.
There are many, many more examples that I could list but these are sufficient to show that science & scientists are not always correct. Only when something has been proven to be true over a very long period of time and under many different circumstances with little or no exceptions can we have complete confidence in its hypothesis. Laws of science like the 1st & 2nd laws of thermodynamics, the law of gravity, the laws of chemical interactions (like if we add sulfur to water we’ll get sulfuric acid, etc.) are examples of ‘settled science’.
Consensus in science, after some initial test results, means little as a majority of scientists have been wrong many times before. At best, it’s a guide. Science isn’t determined by consensus but by facts over a long period of time. So next time someone tells you something is ‘settled science’ or that a majority of scientists believe something, don’t automatically believe them.
For His Kingdom,
Former physics, chemistry, astronomy & mathematics teacher/instructor
Former chemist, research & development lab manager & automotive engineer