Author Topic: Science Blunders  (Read 19352 times)

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Offline Steven Novella

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Science Blunders
« on: June 03, 2011, 09:06:38 AM »
All,

For an article I am writing I need the biggest science blunders of all time. I would appreciate any suggestion.

These should be blunders where a huge mental mistake was made, hopefully with a lesson that can be learned.
Steven Novella
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Offline Moloch

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Re: Science Blunders
« Reply #1 on: June 03, 2011, 09:21:29 AM »
Here is a great article with 20 blunders from between 1980-2000: http://discovermagazine.com/2000/oct/featblunders

Online superdave

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Re: Science Blunders
« Reply #2 on: June 03, 2011, 10:04:12 AM »
Here is a great article with 20 blunders from between 1980-2000: http://discovermagazine.com/2000/oct/featblunders

This list was pretty good.  I would add the tacoma narrows bridge.  Columbus tremendously underestimating the radius of the earth.  Thalidomide. 

At about 13:45 in this ted talk the speaker discusses how a woman was almost convicted of murder due to a misunderstanding of statistics. (yeah i know not earth shattering but that list really stole all the good ones!)

http://www.ted.com/talks/peter_donnelly_shows_how_stats_fool_juries.html
« Last Edit: June 03, 2011, 10:10:18 AM by superdave »

Offline Beleth

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Re: Science Blunders
« Reply #3 on: June 03, 2011, 10:17:38 AM »
My favorite one is the presupposition of ether, and how it was later proven that it didn't exist.
I expect to pass through this world but once;
any good thing therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any fellow creature, let me do it now;
let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.
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Offline Moloch

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Re: Science Blunders
« Reply #4 on: June 03, 2011, 10:47:40 AM »
phlogiston is great too, although that might be dipping back into simply pre-science instead of science blunders.

Offline Belgarath

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Re: Science Blunders
« Reply #5 on: June 03, 2011, 11:07:33 AM »
Definitely Einstein's addition of the Cosmological constant in order to meet his aesthetics.
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Offline Chew

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Re: Science Blunders
« Reply #6 on: June 03, 2011, 11:27:43 AM »
Galileo's refusal to believe planets orbited in ellipses; he believed they were perfect circles.

Galileo's theory of tides (sloshing of ocean basins because of Earth's rotation and revolution).

"3 out of 2 Americans do not understand statistics." -Mark Crislip

Offline Belgarath

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Re: Science Blunders
« Reply #7 on: June 03, 2011, 12:06:53 PM »
This may/may not fit, Steve, but how about Pons and Fleishmann discovering cold fusion?

I don't know if it was a blunder or it was a fabrication.
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Online superdave

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Re: Science Blunders
« Reply #8 on: June 03, 2011, 12:22:47 PM »
http://articles.cnn.com/1999-09-30/tech/9909_30_mars.metric.02_1_climate-orbiter-spacecraft-team-metric-system?_s=PM:TECH

Quote
CNN NASA lost a 125 million Mars orbiter because a Lockheed Martin engineering team used English units of measurement while the agencys team used the more conventional metric system for a key spacecraft operation, according to a review finding released Thursday.

Offline Chew

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Re: Science Blunders
« Reply #9 on: June 03, 2011, 12:37:18 PM »
Moloch's link includes Pons and Fleischmann and Mars Climate Orbiter.
"3 out of 2 Americans do not understand statistics." -Mark Crislip

Offline Chew

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"3 out of 2 Americans do not understand statistics." -Mark Crislip

Online superdave

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Re: Science Blunders
« Reply #11 on: June 03, 2011, 12:44:40 PM »
Moloch's link includes Pons and Fleischmann and Mars Climate Orbiter.
darn.
Am I famous enough for any of my personal science blunders to count?

Offline Johnny Slick

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Re: Science Blunders
« Reply #12 on: June 03, 2011, 12:47:50 PM »
Does Lysenkoism count? I don't know whether you'd want to stick that into science or anti-science propaganda though.

Simon LeVay wrote a really good book on this subject a few years ago called When Science Goes Wrong. A few of the highlights I remember (some of which I think you've touched upon in the podcast):

- A patient going to China to get a stem cell transplant in a patient's brain which ended up killing the patient. On autopsy, the "stem cells" had grown hair follicles.

- A group of researchers in South America enter a volcano they insist is dormant despite seismic events which point to a contrary conclusion... and the volcano erupts while they are inside of it.

- The nuclear accident at SL-1 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SL-1). If you do include this, I *highly* recommend the first paragraph on it from the book, which is the most awesome paragraph ever written in the history of mankind.

- That floating point error in programming on the Mars(?) spacecraft which caused the craft to descend at the wrong angle and die.

****

Additionally, I think the Slotin incident bears some sort of mention. Slotin, of course, was a nuclear physicist who conducted a nuclear experiment which involved separating two halves of a critical mass of beryllium using his thumb and a screwdriver. The screwdriver slipped and Slotin (and I believe several others in the lab) received doses of radiation which turned out to be fatal (although Slotin's actions immediately after the criticality incident lessened the damage caused to others).
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Offline Chew

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Re: Science Blunders
« Reply #13 on: June 03, 2011, 01:15:52 PM »
- The nuclear accident at SL-1 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SL-1). If you do include this, I *highly* recommend the first paragraph on it from the book, which is the most awesome paragraph ever written in the history of mankind.

From what book?

Quote
- That floating point error in programming on the Mars(?) spacecraft which caused the craft to descend at the wrong angle and die.

The Ariane 5 rocket shortly after lift-off.
"3 out of 2 Americans do not understand statistics." -Mark Crislip

Online Morvis13

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Re: Science Blunders
« Reply #14 on: June 03, 2011, 01:18:13 PM »
How about the tope 10 accidental product discoveries?

http://socyberty.com/history/oops-lucky-me-10-accidental-product-discoveries/
Murphy's Law: Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.
Morvis' Law: Anything that does go wrong is my fault.