12 bad reasons for rejecting scientific studies

quote there is nothing wrong with asking questions but you have to be willing to accept the answers to those questions vaccine safety scientific studyA few days ago, I posted what I thought was a fairly innocuous image (right) onto my blog’s Facebook page. I was, however, sadly mistaken. My page was quickly flooded with comments by people who arrogantly insisted that there was nothing wrong with blindly rejecting all of the thousands of studies showing that vaccines are safe. I probably shouldn’t have been surprised by this, but still, I was astounded by the level of hubris and willful ignorance that was being so proudly displayed. What didn’t surprise me, however, were the attempts at justifying such a baffling position. They included all of the usual tropes about conspiracies, scientists being paid off, government corruption, etc. (I have included screen shots of some of the responses to the meme throughout this post). Most of these responses suffered the same fundamental problem. Namely, they assumed that there was something wrong with the studies rather than actually providing evidence that they were flawed. This is a very common mistake. When faced with a study that disagrees with their preconceptions, people often blindly assert that the authors were paid off, the data were manipulated, there’s a conspiracy afoot, etc., but unless they can actually prove that such unethical behavior occurred, that response is logically illegitimate and is no different from simply saying, “it’s wrong because I say it’s wrong” (in technical terms, it’s an ad hoc fallacy). You cannot assume that a study is flawed just because you disagree with it.

To be clear, I am not suggesting that you blindly accept every scientific paper. Unfortunately, not all papers are of a high quality, and bad, biased research does get published. So you should carefully examine all scientific studies, but you cannot blindly reject them just because they discredit your preconceived views. This is especially true for topics like vaccines for which we have thousands of studies that all agree with each other. It’s one thing to say that one paper is biased or one research group was paid off, but it is something else entirely to assert that essentially every paper on a topic is wrong and every researcher is corrupt.

In short, it is important to carefully examine scientific studies rather than blindly accepting them, but the inverse is also true (i.e., you have to carefully examine the study before rejecting it). I have previously written about good criteria for rejecting a paper; therefore, in this post I want to flip things and instead describe 12 bad arguments for rejecting a paper.

Bad reason #1: Galileo/Columbus

galileoWhen faced with results that they don’t like, many people will invoke Galileo or Columbus and claim that they defied the mainstream view and people thought that they were crazy, but they turned out to be right. I explained this one in detail here, but to be brief, no one thought that Galileo was crazy. He presented facts and careful observations, not conspiracies and conjecture. He did not blindly reject the science of his day, rather he made meticulous observations and presented data that discredited the common views. That is not in any way shape or form the same as arrogantly and ignorantly rejecting a paper just because you disagree with it.

Moving on to Columbus, the debate in his day was about the size of the earth, not its shape, and Columbus was dead wrong. In fact, his stubborn ignorance would probably have killed him and his crews if it hadn’t been for the fortunate “discovery” of the New World. You see, Columbus was the ideological equivalent of a modern day anti-vaccer. He “did his own research” and pompously declared that all of the experts were wrong about the size of the earth, and he thought that the well-accepted calculations were flawed. In reality, the accepted calculations of his day were very close to correct, while Columbus’s numbers were way off.

Bad reason #2: science has been wrong in the past

Moving beyond the specific examples of Galileo and Columbus, other people often make the broad claim that science shouldn’t be trusted because it has been wrong before. This is another one that I have dealt with at length elsewhere, so I’ll be brief here. First, it is true that science has been wrong, but it has always been other scientists who have figured out that it was wrong. Further, it is logically invalid to blindly assume that it is wrong just because it has been wrong before.

Additionally, although there have been plenty of minor hypotheses which have been discredited, there have been very few core ideas that have been rejected in the past century. In other words, ideas which are supported by thousands of studies have rarely been rejected, and very few central ideas have been overthrown in recent decades. The closest example that you can find is probably Einstein’s theory of relativity replacing Newton’s law of gravity, but even in that example, Newton’s work wasn’t really wrong, it was just incomplete. Einstein didn’t completely throw Newton out the window; rather, he simply showed that Newton’s law doesn’t always work and doesn’t give us a complete picture. He built on what Newton had found.

Finally, attacking science by asserting that it has been wrong before is utterly absurd because science is inherently a process of modifying our understanding of the world. In other words, science is self correcting. This is one of it’s greatest strengths. To publish in science, you have to pass a rigorous peer-review process, which weeds out a ton of junk science. So, most of what gets published is of high quality. Further, when a bad paper gets published, it quickly comes under scrutiny by the rest of the scientific community, who will then point out errors in it (if they exist) and often try to replicate the results. As a consequence, it can be hard to get away with fraudulent science because if someone else tries to replicate your work, they are going to figure out that something was very wrong with your research (this is exactly what happened with Wakefield’s fraudulent paper suggesting that vaccines cause autism). Thus, science is self correcting and constantly replaces erroneous ideas as new evidence comes to light (the same can’t be said for anti-science views which rigidly cling to their positions no matter how much evidence opposes them). Therefore, the fact that science has been wrong is actually a good thing, because if there were no instances where we had discovered that a previous idea was wrong, that would mean that science hadn’t advanced.

Bad reason #3: it’s all about the money

fundingThis is probably the most common response to papers on climate change, vaccines, GMOs, etc., and it’s often simply untrue. The scientific community is massive, and there are thousands of independent scientists doing research. Further, all scientific publications require authors to declare any conflicts of interest, so you can actually check and see if a paper was paid for by a major company, and if you did that, you would find that many of the papers supporting GMOs, vaccines, etc. have no conflicts of interest. Anti-scientists, of course, have no interest in actually looking at the paper. They would rather just assume that it was paid off because that fits with their world-view. Further, even if 90% of the papers on a topic like vaccines had been paid off, that would still leaves us with hundreds of papers showing that they are safe and effective and essentially no papers saying that they are dangerous (you can find more details on the finances of vaccines, GMOs, and climate change here).


Based on this person’s follow up comments, everything except for the first sentence was sarcastic (i.e., they think that science does actually blindly reject answers we don’t like, etc.)

Finally, even if a paper does have a conflict of interest, that doesn’t give you carte blanche to ignore it. The fact that someone works for a pharmaceutical company, for example, does not automatically mean that they biased or falsified their data. If a paper has a conflict of interest, then you should certainly give it extra scrutiny, and you should be suspicious if it disagrees with other papers or has questionable statistics, but you cannot automatically assume that it is flawed.

Bad reason #4: there are other results that I disagree with

This is one of my favorites. Someone will say, “I reject the science of X because science also says Y and I disagree with Y.” We can rephrase this as, “I reject science because I reject science.” I would not, for example, accept water fluoridation as evidence that it’s ok to reject the science of vaccines unless I had already rejected the science of fluoridation. In other words, you have to justify your rejection of the science of Y before you can use it as evidence that we shouldn’t trust the science of X. Further, even if you could demonstrate that the science of Y (in this example fluoridation) was wrong, that still would not in any way shape or form prove that the science of X (in this example vaccines) is wrong. In fact, this entire line of reasoning is just a special case of the logical fallacy known as guilt by association. If are going to say that a scientific result is incorrect, you have to provide actual evidence that the specific result that you are talking about is incorrect.

other things I disagree with

I’m not sure which part of this post grieves me the most: their shoddy logic, their rejection of science, their bizarre capitalization, or the fact that someone “liked” it.

Bad reason #5: gut feelings/parental instincts

I encounter this one frequently, and it irritates me to no end. I will, for example, show someone the scientific evidence for vaccines, and they respond with, “well as a parent only I know what is best for my child.” Similarly, when I show people the evidence for GMOs, they often respond with something like, “well I just have a gut feeling that manipulating genes is bad.” I do not give a flying crap about your instincts or gut feelings. The entire reason that we do science is because instincts and feelings are unreliable. When someone presents you with a carefully conducted, properly controlled study, you absolutely cannot reject it just because you have a gut feeling that it’s wrong. Doing that makes no sense whatsoever. It is the most blatant form of willful ignorance imaginable. Don’t get me wrong, intuition is a good thing, and gut feelings can certainly help you in many situations, but they are not an accurate way to determine scientific facts.

Just to demonstrate the true absurdity of this response, let’s imagine for a minute that you went into the ER, and the doctor there said, “according to scientific studies, I should only give you X amount of morphine, but my gut tells me that I should actually give you five times that amount, so that’s what I’m going to do.” I’m pretty sure that you would immediately demand a different doctor. Similarly, imagine someone saying, “science says that smoking causes cancer, but my gut tells me that it’s fine.” Do you see the problem? Gut feelings simply aren’t reliable. That’s why we do science.

Bad reason #6: I’m entitled to my opinion/belief

Daniel Moyniham quote everyone is entitled to his own opinion but not his own factsThis is another very common response, and it is very similar to #5. Science deals with facts, not opinions or beliefs. When multiple scientific studies all agree that X is correct, it is no longer a matter of opinion. If you think that X is incorrect, that’s not your opinion, you’re just wrong. Think about the relationship between smoking and lung cancer again. What if someone said, “well everyone is entitled to their opinion, and my opinion is that it’s safe.” Do you see the problem? Scientists don’t have an opinion or belief that smoking is dangerous; rather, it is a scientific fact that it is dangerous, and if you think that it is safe, you are simply in denial. Similarly, you don’t get to have an “opinion” that the earth is young, or vaccines don’t work, or climate change isn’t true, or GMOs are dangerous, etc. All of those topics have been rigorously tested and the tests have yielded consistent results. It is a fact that we are changing the climate, a fact that vaccines work, a fact that the earth is old, etc. If you reject those, you are expressing willful ignorance, not an opinion or belief.

Bad reason #7: I’ve done my research/an expert agrees with me

meme research you keep using that wordI’ll make this one simple: if your “research” disagrees with properly conducted, carefully controlled studies, then your research is wrong (or at the very least, must be rejected pending future data). There, it’s that simple. The only exception would be if your research is actually a large set of properly controlled studies which have directly refuted the study in question (e.g., if you have a meta-analysis vs. a single study, then, all else being equal, go with the meta-analysis). It’s also worth pointing out that having a few people with advanced degrees on your side does not justify your position (that’s a logically fallacy known as an appeal to authority). No matter what crackpot position you believe, you can find someone somewhere with an advanced degree who thinks you’re right.

Bad reason #8: scientific dogma

This response basically states that all scientists are forced to follow the “dogma” of their fields, and anyone who dares to question that dogma is quickly ridiculed and silenced. I’ve written about this before, so I’ll be brief here. In short, that’s simply not how science works. Nothing makes a scientist happier than discovering that something that we thought was true is actually false. In fact, that is how you make a name for yourself in science. No one was ever considered a great scientist for simply agreeing with everything that we already knew. Rather, the great scientists are the ones who have shown that our current understanding is wrong and a different paradigm provides a better understanding of the universe. To be clear, if you are going to defeat a well established idea, you are going to have to have some very strong evidence. After all, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,” but if you have that extraordinary evidence, then you absolutely can publish it. If, for example, I actually had powerful evidence that discredited the theory of evolution, not only could I publish in the journal of my choosing, but I would have just guaranteed myself the Nobel Prize. As a biologist, nothing could possibly be better for my career than discrediting Darwin. So why then aren’t biologists rushing to publish that evidence? Quite simply, because it doesn’t exist. Similarly, you don’t see many publications against anthropogenic climate change, vaccines, etc. because the data for those positions just don’t exist (fun fact: “data” is plural so “the data don’t” is actually grammatically correct).

Bad reason #9: distrust of governments/media

I often find that people reject science because of a distrust of governments or the media. For example, anti-vaccers often blindly reject all CDC statistics showing the benefits of vaccines (amusingly they readily accept the reported side-effects, inconsistent reasoning anyone?). Many people, however, take it even a step further. On numerous occasions, I have shown someone a study which was not in anyway affiliated with a government agency, yet they still responded with a lengthy rant about corrupt governments or the media. The basic idea of their argument seems to boil down to, “the government/media agree with these results, therefore they must be false.” This line of reasoning is, however, clearly fallacious (in fact it’s a logically fallacy known as guilt by association). Governments and the media will lie to push their own agendas, I’m certainly not denying that, but that fact does not automatically mean that everything that they say is a lie. For example, the CDC and other government agencies say that smoking is dangerous, does that mean that it’s safe? Obviously not. Similarly, if a news reporter said that you shouldn’t drink lava, would that mean that you should? It’s fine to be skeptical of what you are told by the government/media. In fact it is a good thing, but when you are presented with scientific evidence, then it’s not a matter of trusting the government/media. Rather, it is a matter of whether or not you accept science. In other words, I don’t need to trust the government or media in order to accept the results of a carefully controlled study.

decide for myself

This comment was a bizarre combination of distrust of the government, doing one’s own research, following a personal belief, and confusingly trying to equate science with government decision in order to assert that mistakes have been made in the past (or at least that’s my understanding of this ramble)

Bad reason #10: it’s a conspiracy

This one is very closely related to #8 and 9, but it takes things a step further. It proposes that there is a massive conspiracy and scientists are being paid by governments/big companies to falsify results. Just take a quick look at the anti-vaccine movement or the anti-GMO movement, and you will quickly find that pro-vaccine/pro-GMO scientists are vilified and receive constant accusations of being “shills.” Similarly, there are many people who think that all climate scientists have been bought off by governments. I’ve explained the problems with this line of reasoning in more detail here and here, so I’ll just talk about the biggest problem. Namely, the scope of this conspiracy would be impossibly huge. The scientific community consists of millions of people from all over the world working out of thousands of universities, institutes, non-profits, corporations, agencies, etc. It includes people from countless religions, cultures, political ideologies, etc. There is no way that you could possibly get that many people to agree on a massive deception like this. Just think about what is being proposed here. Do you honestly think that nearly all of the world’s climate scientists have been bought off? We are talking about thousands of people from all over the world. Similarly, there are numerous corporations, universities, non-profits, etc. involved in the research and production of vaccines and GMOs. Do you honestly think that all of those different organizations (many of whom compete with each other and have different goals and purposes) have all managed to come together to make one unified conspiracy? That’s just nuts. The same problems exist for governments. Topics like vaccines, GMOs, and the dangerous of climate change are agreed upon by numerous governments and scientific organizations from all over the world. Honestly ask yourself the following question: which is more plausible, that countless governments, companies, non-profits, etc. have all come together to create the world’s largest conspiracy and buy off virtually every scientist on the planet, or that the thousands of independent scientists who have devoted their lives to science are actually doing real research?

Bad reason #11: anecdotes

This list certainly wouldn’t be complete without talking about personal anecdotes. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I have presented someone with scientific studies showing that vaccines are safe only to have them responded with, “but I know someone who developed autism after getting a vaccine” or “what about this case where someone became sick after a vaccination.” Anecdotes do not matter in science, because anecdotes don’t allow us to establish causation. Let me give an example. Suppose that someone takes treatment X and has a heart attack 5 minutes later. Can we conclude from that anecdote that treatment X causes heart attacks? NO! It is entirely possible that the heart attack was totally unrelated to the treatment and they just happened to coincide with one another. Indeed, I once heard a doctor describe a time where he was preparing to vaccinate a child, and while preparing the vaccine, the child began having a seizure (to be clear, he hadn’t vaccinate the child yet). He realized that if he had given the vaccine just 60 seconds earlier, it would have looked for all the world like the vaccine had caused the seizure when in fact the kid just happened to have a seizure at the same time that a vaccine was being administered.

From those two examples, it should be clear that anecdotes are worthless because they cannot establish causal relationships (in technical terms, using them to establish causation is a logical fallacy known as post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacies [i.e., A happened before B, therefore A caused B]). Properly controlled studies, however, do allow us to establish causation. If, we took a large group of individuals of the same age, ethnicity, medical history, etc., divided them randomly into two groups, and gave half of them treatment X and half of them a placebo, then and only then would we be able to look for causal relationships. In other words, if the treatment group has heart attacks significantly more frequently than the control group, then we could conclude that treatment X most likely causes heart attacks (science never proves anything with 100% certainty). Nothing else will let us make that claim. Even if you collected a whole series of anecdotes in which people had heart attacks following treatment X, it wouldn’t matter because there wouldn’t be any controls. In other words, I could respond to your anecdotes with anecdotes of people who received treatment X and didn’t have heart attacks as well as anecdotes of people who didn’t have treatment X, but still had heart attacks. Properly controlled studies are the only way to establish that one thing causes another. That goes for side effects of vaccines, alternative “medicines,” fad diets, etc.

Bad reason #12: a scientific study found that most scientific studies are wrong

This argument is fascinatingly ironic because it uses a scientific paper to say that we shouldn’t trust scientific papers, but let’s look closer because this argument actually has some merit. The paper being references is, “Why most published research findings are false” by John Ioannidis, and it is actually a very useful and informative work, but it often gets misused. The paper describes several reasons why published papers are often wrong, and I will go over just a few highlights. First, we have the problem of small sample sizes. As I have previously explained, small sample sizes are unreliable and you really need a large sample size to be confident in your results, yet many studies get published with small sample sizes, and you should be hesitant to place a lot of confidence in a result that didn’t come from a good sample size.

Second, we have publication bias. This can be a bias because of funding sources or preconceived ideas, but often it is a bias that is inherent in the publication system. In science, it is (unfortunately) often hard to publish a “negative” result. For example, if you do a drug trial and you find that it doesn’t work, you may have trouble publishing that result; whereas, if you got a “positive” result (i.e., it does work) you could easily publish it. The problem is that statistical significance relies on probabilities, and some papers will, get a false positive just by chance (this is called a type I error and I explained it in more detail here). So, when journals only publish positive results, you end up with a lot of false positives which aren’t balanced out by the negatives, because the negatives don’t get published. In other words, the type I error rate among published papers is much higher than the rate among all studies, because negative studies often don’t get published.

Now, all of that may sound very bleak, but it should not make you lose all confidence in the scientific process because of a very important component of scientific inquiry: replication. Ioannidis’s work applies mostly to single paper studies. In other words, when only one study has ever looked at drug X, there is a high chance that the results are actually wrong, but when multiple studies have tested drug X and all found that it works, then you can be fairly certain that it is actually effective. So, the arguments set forth by Ioannidis don’t apply to topics like vaccines, GMOs, and other areas of “settled science,” because they have been examined by thousands of studies. When numerous studies all agree, then you can have very high confidence in the results (this is why meta-analyses and systematic reviews are so useful). So, this paper shouldn’t make you question the safety of vaccines, the effects we are having on the climate, etc. It should, however, make you skeptical of the one or two anti-vaccine papers that you occasionally see, or the one paper supporting some “miracle cure,” or the occasional paper on homeopathy, acupuncture, etc. Those studies almost always have tiny sample sizes and countless other studies have failed to replicate their results. This is why it is so important to look at the entire body of literature not just a single study.


In summary, properly conducted, carefully controlled studies are the only way to reliably understand our universe, and you cannot reject them without good justification. Look around you. All of the modern marvels that you see today were brought to you courteously of science. Further, if I asked you, “How many of your siblings died of a terrible childhood disease?” I’m guessing that the answer would be “none.” If I had asked that question a few decades ago, however, most of you would have lost at least one sibling to diseases which are now almost unheard of. Even if you want to erroneously attribute the decline of those diseases to increased sanitation rather than vaccines and modern medicine, it is still science which is responsible for our increased hygiene and access to clean water. So no matter how you cut it, many of you wouldn’t be alive today if it wasn’t for science. Science clearly works and you need an extremely strong justification for rejecting scientific results.

To be fair, some scientists are corrupt and bad science does occasionally get published, but bad research tends to be identified and discredited by other researchers. In other words, there may be a high probability of a single paper being wrong, but when lots of different studies have all arrived at the same conclusion, you can be very confident in that conclusion. Perhaps most importantly, you cannot simply assume that a paper is bad just because you disagree with its results. You need to present actual evidence that it is flawed or biased before you can reject it.







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20 Responses to 12 bad reasons for rejecting scientific studies

  1. fmwendel says:

    > […] it is actually a very useful and informative work, but it often get’s misused.

    Please correct this typo – it get’s on my nerves.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. realthog says:

    An excellent piece: many thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. bbnewsab says:

    Reblogged this on Mass Delusions a.k.a. Magical & Religious Woo-Bullshit Thinking and commented:
    Here are some very bad reasons or arguments for rejecting scientific studies (and therefore you can, of course, be damned sure to find them being referred to by woos and religious people).

    xxx Science has often been wrong in the past, so why should I trust science today?

    xxx Science is all about the money and no scientist gets money to research to confirm the “Other World” and its spiritual inhabitants.

    xxx My gut feelings tell me science can’t be trusted. I rely on my intuition much more than I trust scientific research.

    xxx I’m entitled to have my own opinion/belief. Science has no right whatsoever to decide what I should believe or not believe in.

    xxx I’ve done my own research and my husband/wife agrees with me that my conclusions are correct.

    xxx Science is based on dogma as much as religion is. And I prefer religious dogmas more that scientific ones, because religion is about Heaven or Hell, and I don’t want to go to Hell.

    xxx Science is used by governments and politicians – not to speak of skeptics or atheists – to deceive and mislead us ordinary people.

    xxx I trust my cousin who says he/she was cured by prayers instead of relying on and following his/her doctor’s advice. Why would my cousin want to lie to me?

    More bad reasons/arguments can be found in the post I now reblog. Please, read it. I’m sure you are going to enjoy doing it – unless you are a woo or a religious person. (How can I be so sure of that? Because my cousin told me so. 🙂 )


    Liked by 1 person

  4. It’s really sad that there are still people out there who don’t believe/trust in science.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. janem1276 says:

    Great information. Will be helpful to counter arguments when I go back to office practice next month.


  6. Sean Burgess says:

    While I agree with most everything in the post, I do have a caveat about #2 that coincides with #12. Being in my mid 40s, I have lived through significant changes in the way medical advances are reported in the media. I consider myself to have a decently trained scientific mind, so I am better able to understand the nuances of the verbiage used when the talking head starts with “a new study has shown”. This is particularly true when it comes to recommendations on diet and how it affects our health.

    Eggs have gone from being a staple of breakfast to heart attack inducing containers of cholesterol, only to be accepted back in as a great source of protein and nutrition after studies showed that cholesterol eaten doesn’t seem to affect cholesterol levels in the blood. Salt used to be worth more than gold, but it was demonized as being the cause of hypertension, only to find out that removing it is only beneficial if you already have high blood pressure and can lead to other health issues. IARC made coffee a carcinogen based on a few studies about a single type of cancer, but has not revisited the declaration even after numerous studies have indicated that it provides more benefits than any harm it may cause. And don’t even get me started on the waffling around wine.

    My point is that while science is pretty self correcting, the hype that surrounds “new discoveries” is something that the mass media doesn’t scrutinize enough, mainly because they don’t understand exactly what they are talking about. This acceptance of new information as concrete facts speaks to our inherent desire to think of the world in a binary way. Things are either good or bad, known or unknown, right or wrong. The uncertainty that is caused by hearing “that’s strange” while doing science is what drives the fear of many people. What makes scientists giggle like a school girl will make them curl up in the fetal position in the corner of the room.

    In the end, the one thing that people want most is an stable world with unchanging rules clearly written down for all to follow and that’s not how science works. Science is all about testing those rules every which way it can and erasing them when they don’t make sense. That’s why there are no 2,000 year old science books that are read by all scientists around the world.


  7. I was a practicing scientist for 20 years (now retired) with numerous publications in peer-reviewed scientific journals, and I agree with this article. At the same time I recently wrote an article (on my personal website) that challenges a view that the mass media claim is a scientific consensus but actually is not. This makes me a skeptic of something that is not exactly science but rather of supposed science. My article is titled, “Why Does David Rockefeller Want You to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint?” and is online at http://newdemocracyworld.org/CoR/david.html . I invite readers to decide if my article uses any of the “wrong reasons for rejecting scientific studies” and to let me know if they think it does.


  8. mistryla says:

    I agree with everything that you’ve said. Still, one of my daughters nearly died from the HPV vaccine, so her younger siblings will be skipping that one. They have all gotten all of the others and will continue to get them.


  9. Paxo says:

    “there have been very few core ideas that have been rejected in the past century”
    Think again
    1. static nature of continents
    2. steady-state cosmology
    3. psycho-analysis
    4. the central dogma of molecular biology (epigenetics undermines that)
    5. It is most simple form selfish genery (see 4).
    6. dinosaurs were big lumbering lizards
    7. You could even argue Darwinism in the sense of particulate inheritance rather than blending inheritance.
    8. Young (e.g. few million years) earth. The age of the Earth and the universe was only settled in the 1950s
    Pretty big ideas. The interesting thing about these things they have gone with a whimper rather than a bang.


    • Fallacy Man says:

      A. You managed to name 8. In my opinion, 8 counts as “very few.”
      B. Many of those were not core ideas. For example, many scientists thought that the earth was millions of years old back before Darwin. The idea that the earth was young was never a core idea of science as we know it (i.e., it was rejected early in the history of science as a formal way of studying the universe). Similarly, the idea that all dinosaurs were large lumbering lizards was never a core idea, and it was also rejected more than a century ago. The same is true for #7. Blending inheritance was a hypothesis, but it was never a core idea that had been supported by countless studies. Steady-state is the same story. It was hotly debated. It wasn’t an idea that was nearly universally agreed on.
      C. Most of the remaining ideas are situations like gravity, where the prevailing view wasn’t wrong, it was just incomplete. Epigenitics is a good example of this. It didn’t refute everything that we thought we knew, rather it built on what we knew and made it more complete.

      Really, out of your entire list, #1 is the only one that I would agree was a core idea of the past century that has now been refuted.


      • realthog says:

        I think you may be being misled by Paxo’s (mis)use of the term “steady-state cosmology”. I too initially blinked at this, assuming Paxo was talking about the Steady State Theory, which was, of course, never a bedrock concept, merely a respected hypothesis. But I think what s/he is referring to is that, a hundred years ago, it was believed by astronomers that our galaxy was all there was, that the universe was essentially finite and unchanging: there was no concept of its vastness and certainly no idea that it might be expanding.

        I’d say that, definitely, thanks to the work of Leavitt, Hubble and others, there was a definite revolution in our scientific thinking there, with a refutation of the existing knowledge.

        The cause of stomach ulcers might be another. 🙂


      • Paxo says:

        “Theories have four stages of acceptance: i) this is worthless nonsense; ii) this is an interesting, but perverse, point of view; iii) this is true, but quite unimportant; iv) I always said so.
        J.B.S. Haldane, 1963

        “When a thing is new, people say: ‘It is not true.’ Later, when its truth becomes obvious, they say: ‘It is not important.’ Finally, when its importance cannot be denied, they say: ‘Anyway, it is not new.'”
        William James, 1896

        I think you are at the penultimate stage.
        These were just ideas what I thought of off the top of my head.
        I think the rejection of psycho-analysis has been a pretty big deal as is epigenetics bearing in mind I was taught Lamarckism was complete and utter nonsense when I was at college. Epigenetics has staggering implications for evolutionary biology.
        Millions to billions is a pretty big jump in the age of the Earth ( and I would dispute lots of scientist thought the Earth was millions of years old prior to Darwin. Darwin himself was troubled by the youth of the Earth in relation to his theory) and Ostrom’s work on dinosaurs was in the 1960s.

        I am sure there is important big stuff that we know which i just plain wrong rather than merely incomplete, we just don’t know it yet (I actually would bet on age of the universe/cosmic expansion/dark matter and all that, I suspect as this involves a huge extrapolations where some assumptions are bound to be wrong). Science is messy, often subjective and frequently wrong, thank God, It would probably be a bit sterile if it really worked the way some people here thought it did.


        • Fallacy Man says:

          I’m not saying that science knows everything or has never made any mistakes, but I stand by my previous comment that your examples either were not core ideas that were nearly universally agreed on, or merely added to our knowledge rather than totally refuting it.

          I’d also like to point out that Lamarkian evolution and epigenitcs are not in anyway the same thing. Lamarckian evolution proposes that the traits that we use the most get passed on (e.g. a giraffe stretching his neck his entire life will produce offspring with long necks). Epigenetics is about the environment affecting a trait, not about the traits that an organism uses getting passed on. Lamarck was and is wrong.

          The age of the earth wasn’t settled on until recently. Everyone agreed that it was old, but there wasn’t a universally accepted date until recently. We have, however thought that it was billions of years old for quite a while. For example, in 1927 Holme’s proposed that it was 1.2-3 billion years old. Also, Darwin was strongly influenced by Lyell’s “Principles of Geology” which rejected the notion of a young earth.

          I ignored psychoanalysis because its debatable if that was even science to begin with (personally, I side with Popper and say it wasn’t, but that’s a debate that I really don’t feel like having at the moment).

          Perhaps I should rephrase my thesis to avoid further confusion. The people who use the fact that science has been wrong in the past as an argument are generally doing so against topics like vaccines, evolution, etc. Topics for which we have literally thousands of studies. They are topics that we are as sure about as we possibly could be, and the opponents of those positions claim that they are not just incomplete, but rather that they are totally wrong. So when I say that few core ideas have been overthrown in the past century, I am talking about ideas with an utterly enormous level of support, and I am talking about them being completely shattered, because only that would justify that anti-scientists’ claims. So, with the possible exception of plate tectonics, none of your examples fit those criteria.


          • realthog says:

            So, with the possible exception of plate tectonics, none of your examples fit those criteria.

            Except the idea of the static universe. You’ll recall that Einstein invented the Cosmological Constant because his equations told him the universe was expanding while all the astronomers told him it wasn’t.


          • Paxo says:

            I suppose I am arguing for less dogmatism. Psychoanalysis had enormous support in the psychological community and was regarded as science. I agree with you it shouldn’t have been, but I am not a psychologist of the 1930s-1980s. The consensus of the age of the Earth at the beginning of the 20th century was c. 100 million years and unlikely to get older. e.g http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-science-figured-out-the-age-of-the-earth/.
            Shapely said Hubble’s evidence “destroyed my universe.” Not “changed” but “destroyed” (OK, that was perhaps an exaggeration but at least he wasn’t in denial about the importance of Hubble’s new evidence and the theoretical implications).
            Transgenerational epigenetics is pretty revolutionary by any definition (really not Lamarckism? I think you are in denial) and no one involved in the modern synthesis ever claimed anything like epigenetics could happen, unless you claim Kammerer and Lysenko was part of the mainstream biological consensus! Dawkins for example was in denial about epigenetics in the early 1990s (as I recall he seemed doubtful about transposons too which was weird ‘cos they were well established).
            You don’t think these things are core but they seem pretty damn paradigm busting well supported fundamental stuff to me. By induction, I presume similar things have happened in the many scientific fields I am not familiar with so these things must be pretty common.

            Well supported scientific theories should, of course, be defended against pseudoscientific naysayers but I would argue the history of science says we should keep an open mind and admit even our cherished well-supported ideas could be wrong, not just modifiable but utterly and spectacularly wrong. Even the rules of the scientific game itself change. Bayesian methods are becoming more popular etc. new types of evidence are being used e.g. even anecdotes (which BTW are far from useless, we, of course, use them all the time…how many hypotheses are generated from odd observations and seemingly unreproducible results? A Bayesian would be probably say that they are not even worthless as data, just low quality). Let us broaden our methodological minds and reflect on our own actual practise, (another example, I have never met a scientist yet actually follows rigid falsification although I have a few who thought they did until they reflected on it). Expect the unexpected and never say never.


            • Fallacy Man says:

              We’re going around in circles here, so I think that we are just going to have to agree to disagree.

              To be clear, I absolutely agree that it is always possible that science is wrong about even its most fundamental concepts, and I fully acknowledge that science has been wrong many times before, but in the past 100 years or so since science has become properly formalized, massive paradigm shifts have been rare. That’s not to say that they haven’t happened, just that they aren’t common.


  10. Paxo says:

    Oops, “pretty damn paradigm busting well supported fundamental stuff to me”, delete “paradigm busting”, that refers to the new stuff!


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