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The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe => Messages and Questions From the Panel => Topic started by: Steven Novella on June 03, 2011, 09:06:38 AM

Title: Science Blunders
Post by: Steven Novella 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.
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: Moloch 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 (http://discovermagazine.com/2000/oct/featblunders)
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: superdave 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 (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 (http://www.ted.com/talks/peter_donnelly_shows_how_stats_fool_juries.html)
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: Beleth 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.
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: Moloch 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.
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: Belgarath on June 03, 2011, 11:07:33 AM
Definitely Einstein's addition of the Cosmological constant in order to meet his aesthetics.
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: Chew 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).

Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: Belgarath 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.
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: superdave 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 (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.
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: Chew on June 03, 2011, 12:37:18 PM
Moloch's link includes Pons and Fleischmann and Mars Climate Orbiter.
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: Chew on June 03, 2011, 12:39:37 PM
Thalidomide. 

That applies only to countries other than the USA.  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frances_Oldham_Kelsey)  ;D
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: superdave 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?
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: Johnny Slick 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 (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).
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: Chew on June 03, 2011, 01:15:52 PM
- The nuclear accident at SL-1 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/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.
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: Morvis13 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/ (http://socyberty.com/history/oops-lucky-me-10-accidental-product-discoveries/)
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: chionactis on June 04, 2011, 01:00:23 AM
There are the calculations made by Lord Kelvin which caused him to mistakenly believe that the sun hadn't existed long enough to allow for the gradual process of evolution. I think I might have first heard about that in an SGU episode, actually.
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: Johnny Slick on June 04, 2011, 03:02:36 AM
- The nuclear accident at SL-1 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/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?
The Levay book mentioned above. It's not always purely sciencey but man, that is a great read. I lent it to my brother a couple years ago; otherwise I'd quote the passage here.
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: seaotter on June 04, 2011, 11:37:14 AM
Titantic may 31st 2011 was the hundred year anniversary of the launching of the unsinkable ship!
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: Beleth on June 07, 2011, 07:06:05 PM
Chionactis mentioning Kelvin above reminded me of Fahrenheit's temperature scale.  It was supposed to have 0 degrees being defined as the freezing point of sea water (which IIRC he got pretty well), but 100 degrees was supposed to be the body temperature of a healthy person... except he based it on the temperature of someone who had a slight fever instead.
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: Calinthalus on June 08, 2011, 08:22:50 AM
Nature publishing the ex.Dr. Wakefields nonsense.
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: Moloch on June 08, 2011, 08:35:03 AM
Nature publishing the ex.Dr. Wakefields nonsense.

I wasn't aware nature did, wasn't it the Lancet or are you referring to a different paper?
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: Calinthalus on June 08, 2011, 10:55:32 AM
Completely my bad.  You are correct.
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: JPM on June 08, 2011, 12:00:23 PM
Thomas Midgley Jr should get a mention for his part in leaded gasoline and CFCs.
The lesson to be learned is how important testing becomes when a product can be released into the atmosphere.
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: Chew on June 10, 2011, 08:27:29 PM
Superseded scientific theories - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Obsolete_scientific_theories)

found that page while reading about the Dust Bowl which mentioned the Rain follows the plow (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rain_follows_the_plow) theory.
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: Silly Llama on June 13, 2011, 03:11:12 PM
How about that famous cognitive dissonance work that turned out to be wrong because of the Monty Hall problem.

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/08/science/08tier.html (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/08/science/08tier.html)
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: Kessdawg on June 13, 2011, 03:33:56 PM
What about the cold fusion blunder? Fleischmann–Pons experiment.
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: Johnny Slick on June 13, 2011, 04:34:31 PM
I think that's been mentioned, but was Pons-Fleischmann really a "blunder" in the classic sense? I was under the impression that they insisted for years they really did cold fusion and that the whole incident, while residing in the grey area between bad science and hoax, was closer to the latter than the former.
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: filip on June 13, 2011, 05:18:04 PM
I don't know if its fair to classify nuclear disasters as scientific blunders. These accidents seam far removed from the scientific process.  Fukashima was caused by inadequate defenses against environmental catastrophes. Chernobyl was a result of human error toe-to-toe with inadequate design and irresponsible government. At what point is science responsible?


I don't think we can blame science for the majority of blunders in Moloch's top twenty.

Challenger Disaster: bad O ring
Piltdown chicken: hasty journalism

Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: migopod on June 13, 2011, 06:07:19 PM
I seem to recall as well that concerns about the bad o-ring were brought to the attention of higher-ups by engineers prior to the incident and that those concerns were dismissed.
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: Unlimited on June 13, 2011, 07:29:51 PM
Don't forget evolution...
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: filip on June 14, 2011, 11:33:54 PM
How about the governments liberal use of DDT during and post world war 2?
Didn't the swiss guy who discovered it get a nobel prize?
Sure it did wonders against Malaria and Typhus but it seams it was used prematurely before a proper cost benefit analysis could take place.

Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: Stovetop32 on June 18, 2011, 09:35:49 AM
How about that famous cognitive dissonance work that turned out to be wrong because of the Monty Hall problem.

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/08/science/08tier.html (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/08/science/08tier.html)

Hah!  The dissonance researchers got a goat I guess...  ;D

Neat article though.   It's wonderful to see critical thinking shine a light on the shortcomings of experimental designs.  That's scientific progress, baby! 
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: rissafett on June 19, 2011, 11:23:48 AM
Would something like the Tuskegee Project count as a "blunder" or more just a blight on medical ethics?  ???
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: Skeptic on June 23, 2011, 04:09:51 PM
The Omega 3 fish oils trial in Durham UK.  Where they didn't account for a bunch of controls and now fish oil capsules are given out to kids in schools without evidence.  The people have now retratced the claim that it was a trial.

Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: azinyk on June 23, 2011, 05:05:43 PM
Bad assumptions of pre-empirical classical thinkers: insects have 4 legs, heavier objects fall faster than light ones, women have fewer teeth than men, men have fewer ribs than women, spontaneous generation.

Bad intuition of physics: heavier-than-air flight is impossible, rocket propulsion in space is impossible, nuclear reactions will never produce enough energy to boil a cup of tea.

Worst decisions made based on mistakes:  acclimation societies (deliberately introducing foreign species to the New World), killing cats during the black plague (not that cats are especially good at killing rats), bloodletting, anti-hygiene mistakes.

Considering scientific possibility, ignoring human reality: people in the future will take food pills because they hate having to eat, people will live in modular aluminum houses because trailer parks are so desirable, people will live in domed cities because they hate fresh air and being able to see the sky.
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: catwalker on July 16, 2011, 02:45:06 PM
Probably too late now, but just for fun, what about:

1)  N-Rays (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/N_ray (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/N_ray)), which was a serious case of analyzing noise.  A visiting scientist who was unconvinced of the claims removed a key piece of gear from the setup before a demo, but it still "worked."

and

2) Refueling blunder of Air Canada 143, known as the "Gimli Glider" (www.wadenelson.com/gimli.html (http://www.wadenelson.com/gimli.html), www.damninteresting.com/the-gimli-glider/ (http://www.damninteresting.com/the-gimli-glider/)).  Apparently, this occurred as a result of Air Canada switching from the Imperial system to the Metric System.  More amazing than the recent Hudson River landing, but probably unknown outside of Canada.   

Good luck.
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: Unlimited on July 16, 2011, 07:32:51 PM
Starfish Prime!
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: Kessdawg on July 16, 2011, 07:56:30 PM
I think N-Rays might be the best pure science blunder yet.  The gimli glider is more of an engineering oops I think.
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: ♫♪ FX ♪♫ on July 16, 2011, 08:32:17 PM
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.

(http://cryptome.org/eyeball/daiichi-npp3/pict43.jpg)

Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: Jon Moody on August 22, 2011, 09:37:15 AM
The existence of parallel universes.  For instance is there a parallel universe where Neil Young knows he can't sing and doesn't?  If so, where is it and why am I here? ;D
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: ♫♪ FX ♪♫ on August 22, 2011, 11:27:04 AM
     Shut up.  ;D
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: 4tune8chance on August 23, 2011, 06:21:48 AM
The introduction of foreign species can b risky, e.g. cane toads into Australia.
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: ♫♪ FX ♪♫ on August 23, 2011, 09:45:19 AM
While not scientific, that behavior certainly is a huge blunder.
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: AlanBustany on October 02, 2011, 08:16:29 PM
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.

Euclid's Elements was SO fabulous that geometry leapt forward BUT froze for centuries.  Mathematicians got stuck for years trying to prove or disprove the fifth postulate.  It turned out to be independent.  I think the mental mistake, made by the masses not necessarily by Euclid, was to have some hidden assumptions or beliefs that could not be violated.  Maps on to many mistakes people continue to make...
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: JurijD on October 31, 2011, 07:33:57 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.

Euclid's Elements was SO fabulous that geometry leapt forward BUT froze for centuries.  Mathematicians got stuck for years trying to prove or disprove the fifth postulate.  It turned out to be independent.  I think the mental mistake, made by the masses not necessarily by Euclid, was to have some hidden assumptions or beliefs that could not be violated.  Maps on to many mistakes people continue to make...

That is, indeed, an interesting example. I do think, however, that is could be linked more to a failure in scientific/critical thinking and an almost sacred reverence for the "sages of old". Take for example Aristotle's physics and his explanation of how objects fall when thrown (namely that they fly in a line at the angle they were thrown at and then "drop" straight down when they "loose" their... erm ... "impetus"). It was taught for centuries even though everyone who ever catapulted a rock towards a castle knew that you cannot hit a target directly behind the castle wall.
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: billhunter on December 04, 2011, 11:49:19 PM
I don't know if its fair to classify nuclear disasters as scientific blunders. These accidents seam far removed from the scientific process.  Fukashima was caused by inadequate defenses against environmental catastrophes. Chernobyl was a result of human error toe-to-toe with inadequate design and irresponsible government. At what point is science responsible?
You are right that the fact of the disaster is not a blunder, but if you look into it further, putting the backup generators in the basement was a clear blunder, especially on a plant right next to the sea on a tsunami prone island. After the tsunami, the basement flooded which stopped the generators. They had electric pumps to take care of this contingency, but without power, they couldn't run the pumps. They needed the pumps to run the generators, and needed the generators to run the pumps. They had a catch 22 which kept the plant without power until it was too late.
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: Johnny Slick on December 05, 2011, 05:07:38 PM
If you want a better example of a nuclear accident caused by a science BLOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOPEEEEEEEEEEEER, I'd point to the nuclear accident from the late 1950s (which I might have already referenced in this thread). There weren't anywhere near the level of failsafes at this place, and when a guy pulled a control rod out too far (it's unclear to this day whether he did it on purpose or accidentally), it shot out the rest of the way on its own, impaled him against the roof of the building, and nearly instantly killed the other two people at the station at the time. There were two teams of guys who went in to inspect the place - they had to get out after just a minute due to the high radiation levels. If memory serves, they all ended up dying of cancer. Then a couple nurses confirmed the state of the bodies and a guy drove them far enough away from the reactor that they could be buried on their own. All 3 of them died of cancer too, I think.
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: Ah.hell on December 05, 2011, 05:55:01 PM
Another engineering blunder:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_aircraft (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_aircraft)
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: Skulker on December 05, 2011, 06:21:48 PM
If you want a better example of a nuclear accident caused by a science BLOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOPEEEEEEEEEEEER, I'd point to the nuclear accident from the late 1950s (which I might have already referenced in this thread). There weren't anywhere near the level of failsafes at this place, and when a guy pulled a control rod out too far (it's unclear to this day whether he did it on purpose or accidentally), it shot out the rest of the way on its own, impaled him against the roof of the building, and nearly instantly killed the other two people at the station at the time. There were two teams of guys who went in to inspect the place - they had to get out after just a minute due to the high radiation levels. If memory serves, they all ended up dying of cancer. Then a couple nurses confirmed the state of the bodies and a guy drove them far enough away from the reactor that they could be buried on their own. All 3 of them died of cancer too, I think.
Did you get this story from The Onion ?
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: Johnny Slick on December 05, 2011, 07:36:08 PM
Nope.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SL-1 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SL-1)

Although it took place in 1961, not technically the 1950s.
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: azinyk on December 05, 2011, 07:47:49 PM
Did you get this story from The Onion ?
It's based on a real event (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SL-1 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SL-1)), but substantially exaggerated.  All those investigators didn't die of radiation.  In fact, even the first three guys died from the explosion, not radiation poisoning.

Another engineering blunder:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_aircraft (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_aircraft)

I see that it was an unsuccessful project, and maybe a bad idea from the start, but what makes that a "blunder"?


Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: Johnny Slick on December 05, 2011, 08:06:46 PM
I didn't say radiation poisoning, I said cancer. That info is primarily from Simon LaVey's book on science blooooooooooooopers. It's entirely possible that all the cancer deaths surrounding the event are coincidence, of course.
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: Ah.hell on December 06, 2011, 12:11:35 AM
Did you get this story from The Onion ?
It's based on a real event (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SL-1 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SL-1)), but substantially exaggerated.  All those investigators didn't die of radiation.  In fact, even the first three guys died from the explosion, not radiation poisoning.

Another engineering blunder:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_aircraft (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_aircraft)

I see that it was an unsuccessful project, and maybe a bad idea from the start, but what makes that a "blunder"?
I'd figure something that looks like a bad idea from the start is a blunder.  The reports I've read indicate that the exhaust from the radioactive jet was, well, radio active.  IIRC, mostly radioactive nitrogen which decays fairly rabidly but still...  Like SL-1 it was the result of perverse incentives.  There was tons of money floating around defense aimed more or less at nuclear energy.  The Navy tapped into it successfully, but the Army and Airforce really screwed it up. 
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: Johnny Slick on December 06, 2011, 12:32:00 AM
Just to add to the radiation thing: in the Slotin criticality incident, 3 of the 7 onlookers in addition to Slotin himself (who died 9 days later of radiation poisoning) suffered immediate and/or long-term effects from the burst of radiation. Cancer is, well, pretty common in the US nowadays because people aren't dying of cholera or the whooping cough anymore, but it's also not unheard of for there to be long-term consequences of radiation exposure. It does look like there were a lot more people involved in the cleanup of SL-1 than the several that I mentioned, though.
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: Skulker on December 06, 2011, 09:11:06 AM
Nope.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SL-1 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SL-1)

Although it took place in 1961, not technically the 1950s.
Quote
when a guy pulled a control rod out too far (it's unclear to this day whether he did it on purpose or accidentally), it shot out the rest of the way on its own, impaled him against the roof of the building
Ok it wasn't the control rod itself that impaled the guy (that's the part I had a hard time believing) but one of the shield plugs on top of the reactor vessel. It sucks either way though.
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: cpmorris1001 on December 11, 2011, 10:33:06 AM
In 1894, the Times of London estimated that by 1950 every street in the city would be buried nine feet deep in horse manure. One New York prognosticator of the 1890s concluded that by 1930 the horse droppings would rise to Manhattan’s third-story windows.

 :)
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: ♫♪ FX ♪♫ on December 29, 2011, 09:09:32 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.

It may be too soon still, but it looks like the classic blunder of underestimating nature is being repeated, in a very bad way.

Quote
One of the nation's most widely planted crops — a genetically engineered corn plant that makes its own insecticide — may be losing its effectiveness because a major pest appears to be developing resistance more quickly than scientists expected.
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/45807933/ns/business-retail/ (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/45807933/ns/business-retail/)

Quote
A scientist recently sounded an alarm throughout the biotech industry when he published findings concluding that rootworms in a handful of Bt cornfields in Iowa had evolved an ability to survive the corn's formidable defenses. Similar crop damage has been seen in parts of Illinois, Minnesota and Nebraska, but researchers are still investigating whether rootworms capable of surviving the Bt toxin were the cause.
      Based on the past, I would bet on nature, rather than the scientists. 


Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: goodthink on December 29, 2011, 10:33:37 AM
Definitely Einstein's addition of the Cosmological constant in order to meet his aesthetics.


Isn't this coming back into fashion?
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: Chew on December 29, 2011, 10:44:09 AM
When Crick wrote the central dogma of molecular biology (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Central_dogma_of_molecular_biology#Use_of_the_term_.22dogma.22) he didn't fully understand the meaning of the word "dogma". Not really a science blunder; more of a D'oh!
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: Xptical on December 29, 2011, 11:26:10 AM
Definitely Einstein's addition of the Cosmological constant in order to meet his aesthetics.


Isn't this coming back into fashion?

That's what I wonder when I hear explanations of dark matter/dark energy and the Higgs boson.
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: seaotter on December 29, 2011, 08:59:20 PM
Definitely Einstein's addition of the Cosmological constant in order to meet his aesthetics.


Isn't this coming back into fashion?

Ya don't get credit for a fudge factor no matter what the reality is. It's still his greatest blunder.
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: quirk3k on December 31, 2011, 12:53:19 PM
Definitely Einstein's addition of the Cosmological constant in order to meet his aesthetics.


Isn't this coming back into fashion?

No, they are putting it on the left hand side of the equation now  :laugh:
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: pulsetsar on January 06, 2012, 11:42:46 PM
I love the whole "canals on Mars" story and how passionate those such as Percival Lowell were about what turned out to just be paradolia.
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: billiam201@yahoo.com on January 07, 2012, 09:37:07 PM
How about the massive blunders with the hubble space telescope? 

The spacings were incorrect, this problem was discovered on the ground, and this discovery was ignored. 

The hubble went into orbit, the errors were soon discovered, and had to be rapaired in space instead of onthe ground at much greater cost.

Massive blunder on multiple levels.
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: ♫♪ FX ♪♫ on January 08, 2012, 12:01:31 PM
     Geez I forgot all about that one.
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: Skulker on January 09, 2012, 04:30:17 PM
Anybody remember this one:

Quote
Metric mishap caused loss of NASA orbiter
 
 September 30, 1999
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.

The units mismatch prevented navigation information from transferring between the Mars Climate Orbiter spacecraft team in at Lockheed Martin in Denver and the flight team at NASAs Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Lockheed Martin helped build, develop and operate the spacecraft for NASA. Its engineers provided navigation commands for Climate Orbiters thrusters in English units although NASA has been using the metric system predominantly since at least 1990.
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: Anders on January 10, 2012, 09:45:21 AM
Frontal lobotomy as a cure for everything brain-related under the sun.
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: zeldamcmuffin on January 11, 2012, 09:14:38 PM
Humorism. Blood-letting in particular.
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: Moloch on January 11, 2012, 10:05:38 PM
Humorism. Blood-letting in particular.

Humorism was pre-scientific and thus wouldn't constitute a science blunder.
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: zeldamcmuffin on January 14, 2012, 02:10:55 PM
Humorism. Blood-letting in particular.

Humorism was pre-scientific and thus wouldn't constitute a science blunder.
You're right. I'm just thankful to live in a time when medicine is based on research rather than groping in the dark. How frustrating it must have been to be a doctor when the best thing you could do for a patient was nothing.

I like this question about science blunders, though. I thought about posting some other  things, but  a lot of the “blunders” I came up with were a) just poorly reported good science (e.g.:“arsenic-based life”), b) the best practice at the time, amended by  new evidence or technology (e.g.: prescribing DES for pregnant women at risk for miscarriage), or c) something I thought was true, but  on closer inspection goes against scientific consensus (e.g.: the idea that the lipid hypothesis of heart disease is invalid or at least on shaky ground). Turns out science works to weed out human error! Amazing!
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: The Lexx on February 20, 2012, 06:50:14 PM
Today there is a raging debate on whether or not fracking is a safe and effective way to produce natural gas.

However today everybody can agree that fracking with a nuclear weapon is a bad idea. But in 1967 someone thought it was worth giving it a shot. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Gasbuggy (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Gasbuggy)

I happened to stumble across the site in a trip to New Mexico. There were two placards there. The oldest one said basically this is a great new way to increase natural gas production. The newer placards said basically this is the stupidest thing ever done.

Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: OneBrownMouse on February 21, 2012, 07:03:37 PM
http://www.window.state.tx.us/border/ch09/cobalto.html (http://www.window.state.tx.us/border/ch09/cobalto.html)

El Cobalto, the worst radiation accident in North American history.  Check it.
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: ♫♪ FX ♪♫ on February 21, 2012, 10:56:22 PM
TMI released 13 million curies of radioactive gases into the atmosphere.  I guess if it's diluted, it just doesn't count.

Even so, the amount of seriously dangerous radioactive material all over the place, you might think there should be some sort of regulations about it.
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: AJF on May 10, 2012, 07:53:21 AM
Hi Steve,
You could start with anthropogenic global warming.  Most legitimate research refutes IPCC claims in that they consistently lack scientific rigor and fail in every prediction made to date.  The whole IPCC propaganda machine will survive only as memory and an example of how science is not to be done - not the least of which is by a so called consensus which never existed.  Just to name one example you might consider the 50 NASA scientist and astronauts who wrote:
“claims by NASA and GISS, that man-made carbon dioxide is having a catastrophic impact on global climate change are not substantiated, especially when considering thousands of years of empirical data. With hundreds of well-known climate scientists and tens of thousands of other scientists publicly declaring their disbelief in the catastrophic forecasts, coming particularly from the GISS leadership, it is clear that the science is NOT settled.”
See: http://www.libertariannews.org/2012/04/11/nearly-50-nasa-scientists-and-astronauts-issue-letter-rejecting-nasas-stance-on-global-warming/ (http://www.libertariannews.org/2012/04/11/nearly-50-nasa-scientists-and-astronauts-issue-letter-rejecting-nasas-stance-on-global-warming/)

Also, there is a new theory which explains the mechanism for ice age and hot house cycles which has been under the radar for about 15 years now in spite of research at CERN which confirmed that cosmic rays generate highly reflective earth cooling low level clouds.
Svensmark: The Cloud Mystery (http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=ANMTPF1blpQ.#)
The ‘hockey stick’ (a stupendously erroneous concoction) conveniently removed the medieval warm period from public attention in what was a blatant abuse of scientific privilege.  The MWP did happen and Michael Mann or the IPCC, try as they might, cannot make it go away.

AGW is not about science.  It is about money and lots of it!  Anyone at the IPCC and many other university employees who value their job, but not necessarily their integrity, know that it is about money and to keep the gravy train rolling they must insist at all costs that AGW is real.

Cheers.
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: arthwollipot on May 10, 2012, 08:02:07 AM
 :munch:
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: Trinoc on May 10, 2012, 08:58:49 AM
I think a temperance preacher just walked into the bar. I'm sure we'd all like to help him out, as soon as we find out which way he came in.
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: Skulker on May 10, 2012, 09:51:11 AM
I think a temperance preacher just walked into the bar. I'm sure we'd all like to help him out, as soon as we find out which way he came in.
:laugh: :laugh: :laugh:
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: werecow on May 12, 2012, 03:05:35 PM
Hi Steve,
You could start with anthropogenic global warming.  Most legitimate research refutes IPCC claims in that they consistently lack scientific rigor and fail in every prediction made to date.  The whole IPCC propaganda machine will survive only as memory and an example of how science is not to be done - not the least of which is by a so called consensus which never existed. 
Really? Last time I checked, there were statements to the contrary by (at least) 32 academies of science, the InterAcademy Council, the European Academy of Sciences and Arts, the International Council of Academies of Engineering and Technological Sciences, the Network of African Science Academies, the Royal Societies of New Zealand and the United Kingdom, the National Research Council, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Geophysical Union, the American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, and Soil Science Society of America, the European Federation of Geologists, the European Geosciences Union, the Geological Society of America, the Geological Society of London, the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics, the National Association of Geoscience Teachers, the American Meteorological Society, the Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society, the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences, the Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society, the UK's Royal Meteorological Society, the World Meteorological Organization, The KNMI (Royal Dutch Meteorological Institute), the American Quaternary Association, the International Union for Quaternary Research, the American Association of Wildlife Veterinarians, the American Institute of Biological Sciences, the American Society for Microbiology, the Australian Coral Reef Society, the UK's Institute of Biology, the Society of American Foresters, The Wildlife Society, the American Medical Association, the World Health Organization, the Australian Medical Association, the American Astronomical Society, the American Statistical Association, the International Association for Great Lakes Research, and many others. Oh, and yes, NASA (http://climate.nasa.gov/evidence/), of course, let's not forget that one, since you seem to think it should be taken seriously on this issue (I don't disagree). Right now there are 0 scientific bodies of any standing who take the position that climate change is not real, or not man made. The American Association of Petroleum Geologists was the last major science body to take that stance, and now they are one of only a handful to take a wishy-washy semi neutral position on the issue. Beyond that, there is social science research by people like Doran (http://tigger.uic.edu/%7Epdoran/012009_Doran_final.pdf), who showed that the level of consensus on anthropogenic climate change rises from 60% to 97% as one focuses in from general scientists to more and more climate-specialized researchers. Or Anderegg (http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2010/06/04/1003187107.abstract), who showed that
Quote
97–98% of the climate researchers most actively publishing in the field support the tenets of ACC outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and (ii) the relative climate expertise and scientific prominence of the researchers unconvinced of ACC are substantially below that of the convinced researchers.
And then there is Oreskes (2004 (http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/306/5702/1686#)/2005) who showed that out of all research with the subject 'global climate change' published in mainstream peer reviewed journals between 1993 and 2003, 75% took the mainstream position (that climate change is real and anthropogenic in origin), while 25% simply did not comment either way (because it wasn't relevant to their research).

Quote
Just to name one example you might consider the 50 NASA scientist and astronauts who wrote:
“claims by NASA and GISS, that man-made carbon dioxide is having a catastrophic impact on global climate change are not substantiated, especially when considering thousands of years of empirical data. With hundreds of well-known climate scientists and tens of thousands of other scientists publicly declaring their disbelief in the catastrophic forecasts, coming particularly from the GISS leadership, it is clear that the science is NOT settled.”
See: http://www.libertariannews.org/2012/04/11/nearly-50-nasa-scientists-and-astronauts-issue-letter-rejecting-nasas-stance-on-global-warming/ (http://www.libertariannews.org/2012/04/11/nearly-50-nasa-scientists-and-astronauts-issue-letter-rejecting-nasas-stance-on-global-warming/)

While I have great respect for astronauts, you have got to be joking if you think they even remotely qualify as climate experts. As for "NASA scientists", that can be anything from an engineer to an astrobiologist. Asking non-expert scientists about this issue is no more useful than asking lawyers to comment on the validity of evolutionary theory. That's why the research I quoted above looks specifically at what climate experts have to say about this.

Also, I don't see how paleoclimate data does anything but strongly confirm the role of CO2 as a strong driver of climate change. Here (http://www.agu.org/meetings/fm09/lectures/lecture_videos/A23A.shtml)'s a cool, understandable lecture by paleoclimatologist Richard Alley that goes into the issue in more detail.

Quote
Also, there is a new theory which explains the mechanism for ice age and hot house cycles which has been under the radar for about 15 years now in spite of research at CERN which confirmed that cosmic rays generate highly reflective earth cooling low level clouds.
Svensmark: The Cloud Mystery (http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=ANMTPF1blpQ.#)

Svensmark's hypothesis is interesting in theory, but empirical evidence gathered thus far does not support his claims. For example, Krivova 2003 (http://www.mps.mpg.de/dokumente/publikationen/solanki/r47.pdf) notes that
Quote
"between 1970 and 1985 the cosmic ray flux, although still behaving similarly to the temperature, in fact lags it and cannot be the cause of its rise. Thus changes in the cosmic ray flux cannot be responsible for more than 15% of the temperature increase"
and likewise, Lockwood 2007 (http://www.warwickhughes.com/agri/lockwood2007.pdf) points out that temperature and cosmic ray flux have for the last few decades been moving in the opposite direction from the one required. There are other problems, but I'll just point you to the skepticalscience (http://www.skepticalscience.com/cosmic-rays-and-global-warming-advanced.htm) page on this issue, which has a lot more documentation.

EDIT: Will just add this image of cosmic rays versus temperature:

(http://www.skepticalscience.com/images/krivova_2003.gif)

Oh darn, doesn't seem to work too well for the crucial period we're arguing about, does it. Oh well, that's science for you. Such a harsh mistress.
Quote
The ‘hockey stick’ (a stupendously erroneous concoction) conveniently removed the medieval warm period from public attention in what was a blatant abuse of scientific privilege.  The MWP did happen and Michael Mann or the IPCC, try as they might, cannot make it go away.

Mann et al have not "tried" to make the MWP go away. It's there in their analysis, it's just not as hot as it is today. In fact, it seems to me that where the different paleo reconstructions diverge most prominently is not the MWP, but the subsequent cold period:

(http://www.worldclimatereport.com/wp-images/gore_hockeystick_fig3.JPG)

But regardless, Mann's work has been scrutinized so many times now that it's become kind of a cult phenomenon among climate contrarians. And all the while, it's been a red herring of sorts; there's not that much relevance to today's climate change.

Quote
AGW is not about science.  It is about money and lots of it!  Anyone at the IPCC and many other university employees who value their job, but not necessarily their integrity, know that it is about money and to keep the gravy train rolling they must insist at all costs that AGW is real.
Oh yes, climate science, that's where the big money is! Forget about, oh, say, the fossil fuel industry - if you want the big bucks, go study this obscure field of science where, if you make an effort to communicate your findings to the public, you'll face death threats, public defamation of your character by blog "scientists" and politicians, and, if you're really good at it, even legal prosecution. It's super. You'll make, like, several thousands of bucks a year. Totally worth it!


Anyway, if we're gonna continue this thingy, best to do it in another thread on the global warming subforum, so as to avoid derailing this thread too much.
Quote
Cheers.
Cheers! }|:oD
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: AJF on May 13, 2012, 12:54:40 AM
The rejection of CONTINENTAL DRIFT THEORY has got to be the most classic blunder of all time - if you discount the climate change hoax of course but that really falls under fraud on an epic scale which could be considered for some other book if you were that way inclined. 

Here is an excellent summary of the emergence of continental drift theory:
http://historyweb.ucsd.edu/oreskes/Papers/Continentaldrift2002.pdf (http://historyweb.ucsd.edu/oreskes/Papers/Continentaldrift2002.pdf)

By the way werecow, your list does little to impress me.  The institutions you mention receive funding for the reports they produce and if they fail to produce an acceptable report then those funds are very likely (ie greater than 95% percent chance) to go somewhere else, something I have witnessed first hand.  In relation to the climate change, the peer review process, which SGU and others esteem so highly, is broken and this is one reason why people reject IPCC findings:
http://nofrakkingconsensus.com/2011/01/31/does-the-ipcc-follow-the-rules-insiders-say-no/ (http://nofrakkingconsensus.com/2011/01/31/does-the-ipcc-follow-the-rules-insiders-say-no/)
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: werecow on May 13, 2012, 04:19:07 AM
By the way werecow, your list does little to impress me.  The institutions you mention receive funding for the reports they produce and if they fail to produce an acceptable report then those funds are very likely (ie greater than 95% percent chance) to go somewhere else, something I have witnessed first hand.


So pretty much every major science body in the world is corrupt? Just a thought, but if you want to get more funding for your research, the last thing you should say is "the science on this is settled".
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: Johnny Slick on May 14, 2012, 03:58:20 PM
Look, libtard, either every climate-related science agency in the world is corrupt or else I'm just wrong, and I know that I can't be wrong, so draw your own conclusions. ::)
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: werecow on May 15, 2012, 06:58:25 PM
Look, libtard, either every climate-related science agency in the world is corrupt or else I'm just wrong, and I know that I can't be wrong, so draw your own conclusions. ::)

(http://thazing.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/crazy_girlfriend_meme_collection_04-e1326411147395.jpg)

Your indisputable logic just rocked my world.
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: Skulker on May 15, 2012, 09:31:16 PM
The rejection of CONTINENTAL DRIFT THEORY has got to be the most classic blunder of all time - if you discount the climate change hoax of course but that really falls under fraud on an epic scale which could be considered for some other book if you were that way inclined. 

Here is an excellent summary of the emergence of continental drift theory:
http://historyweb.ucsd.edu/oreskes/Papers/Continentaldrift2002.pdf (http://historyweb.ucsd.edu/oreskes/Papers/Continentaldrift2002.pdf)

By the way werecow, your list does little to impress me.  The institutions you mention receive funding for the reports they produce and if they fail to produce an acceptable report then those funds are very likely (ie greater than 95% percent chance) to go somewhere else, something I have witnessed first hand.  In relation to the climate change, the peer review process, which SGU and others esteem so highly, is broken and this is one reason why people reject IPCC findings:
http://nofrakkingconsensus.com/2011/01/31/does-the-ipcc-follow-the-rules-insiders-say-no/ (http://nofrakkingconsensus.com/2011/01/31/does-the-ipcc-follow-the-rules-insiders-say-no/)

Has someone escaped from the GW ghetto ?  ::)
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: Zytheran on May 15, 2012, 10:53:56 PM
The rejection of CONTINENTAL DRIFT THEORY has got to be the most classic blunder of all time - if you discount the climate change hoax of course but that really falls under fraud on an epic scale which could be considered for some other book if you were that way inclined. 

Here is an excellent summary of the emergence of continental drift theory:
http://historyweb.ucsd.edu/oreskes/Papers/Continentaldrift2002.pdf (http://historyweb.ucsd.edu/oreskes/Papers/Continentaldrift2002.pdf)

By the way werecow, your list does little to impress me.  The institutions you mention receive funding for the reports they produce and if they fail to produce an acceptable report then those funds are very likely (ie greater than 95% percent chance) to go somewhere else, something I have witnessed first hand.  In relation to the climate change, the peer review process, which SGU and others esteem so highly, is broken and this is one reason why people reject IPCC findings:
http://nofrakkingconsensus.com/2011/01/31/does-the-ipcc-follow-the-rules-insiders-say-no/ (http://nofrakkingconsensus.com/2011/01/31/does-the-ipcc-follow-the-rules-insiders-say-no/)

Has someone escaped from the GW ghetto ?  ::)

Yes. Yes indeed he has. >:(
And yes, he thinks every major science body in the world is corrupt and there is some sort of world wide conspiracy by scientists to hide the trooth becuase every scientist is in it for the money only.
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: WC on May 19, 2012, 10:48:17 PM
Has someone escaped from the GW ghetto ?  ::)
Comes now AJF (http://sguforums.com/index.php/topic,41655.msg9215984.html#msg9215984). Poe or lesser troll?
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: JD Holwick on May 21, 2012, 11:04:49 PM
not sure if this post is still active but i have a couple of favorites...

- the elephant (named tusko) who was experimented on with a large dose of LSD is a sad and negligent science study gone awry and ethically devoid i think as well.

- most people have probably heard of this one but the "little albert" experiments which were performed by john b. watson are also terrifying and extremely unethical.

i think both of these were learned from (especially the "little albert" experiments) and both are fairly horrific.

--- jdh
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: vociferous on June 13, 2012, 03:25:25 AM
This is a really tough one.  Scientists do make mistakes, but usually those mistakes are caught rather quickly by other scientists. 

Scientists do embrace incorrect paradigms, but usually those paradigms are more correct than the ones they replace and are useful.

Scientists and engineers certainly apply scientific principles wrong, maybe divide by zero and a rocket explodes in midair.

It is hard to understand exactly what you mean by blunders.  If you mean, mistaken ideas, I think they get accepted and later rejected by science all the time.  If you mean personal mistakes, that is another story.

More than likely, chemistry is the branch of science that has the most damaging and lethal mistakes, but personally, I have a particular appreciation for physics, especially nuclear physics.  You are working with really dangerous materials and the slightest mistake can be serious.  During the Manhattan project, a slipped screwdriver caused two hemispheres of Plutonium to meet and go supercritical, leading to a lethal dose of radiation.  Many other similar nuclear accidents have happened, including Currie dying of radiation poisoning.  Another example would be the "therapeutic" exposure to x-rays, although I am not sure if that was something widely practiced in medicine or just by quacks.

If you mean discarded theories, I think phlogiston, Ptolemy's orbital mechanics, and aether are my top entries, although to be clear, they make perfect sense and are perfectly good and useable theories.  They just ran up against phenomena that they could not explain.  Galileo, for example, came up with a simpler theory than Ptolemy, but not really a better one in terms of actually being able to explain astronomical observations of the day.  Modeling light as waves moving through a medium (like sound) can perfectly model almost every aspect of light, except for velocity transformations.  But, if you want to model how light moving through two slits or into and out of a prism behaves, aether is still a perfectly good theory. 

Scientists are only human, and a great example of this is Percival Lowell, who was an accomplished astronomer and all around incredibly intelligent man who deluded himself and the public into believing that he saw canals on Mars and surface features on Venus.  Despite the fact that the astronomers of the day were incredibly skeptical, he was sure he saw what he thought he saw, even when others did not. 
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: benschwab on June 14, 2012, 07:44:26 AM
As described by Dr. Feynman I like the example made by the Millikan Oil Drop Experiment.

Originally the charge of the electron was measured to be slightly smaller then what we have now measured it to be and there was a slow drift upwards in repeat experiments because scientists in good faith were unwittingly trying to agree with the established value.
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: Chew on June 14, 2012, 11:13:20 AM
During the Manhattan project, a slipped screwdriver caused two hemispheres of Plutonium to meet and go supercritical, leading to a lethal dose of radiation.

It was a hemispherical neutron reflector that slipped, not the core itself, despite what the guys on Caustic Soda said.

Quote
Many other similar nuclear accidents have happened, including Currie dying of radiation poisoning.

Marie Curie died of aplastic anemia caused by her work with radioactive material; she did not die of radiation poisoning.

Quote
If you mean discarded theories, I think phlogiston, Ptolemy's orbital mechanics, and aether are my top entries, although to be clear, they make perfect sense and are perfectly good and useable theories.

Ptolemy's epicycles were useable but they were hardly good, even in his day. An error of a few degrees after a few years made nobody happy.

Quote
They just ran up against phenomena that they could not explain.  Galileo, for example, came up with a simpler theory than Ptolemy, but not really a better one in terms of actually being able to explain astronomical observations of the day.

I was not aware Galileo had his own theory of planetary motion. Please elaborate?

Quote
Scientists are only human, and a great example of this is Percival Lowell, who was an accomplished astronomer and all around incredibly intelligent man who deluded himself and the public into believing that he saw canals on Mars and surface features on Venus.  Despite the fact that the astronomers of the day were incredibly skeptical, he was sure he saw what he thought he saw, even when others did not.

An optometrist who is an amateur astronomer recently proposed that Lowell set up his telescope's optics in such a way that it allowed Lowell to see his own arteries in his eye.
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: Johnny Slick on June 14, 2012, 12:17:20 PM
I was always under the impression that the origin of the "canals" was from a bad translation of an Italian astronomer's paper.

Otherwise...

Quote from: Chew
Marie Curie died of aplastic anemia caused by her work with radioactive material; she did not die of radiation poisoning.
I'll take Splitting Hairs for $100, Alex!
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: ♫♪ FX ♪♫ on June 14, 2012, 12:27:29 PM
      Pedantic man to the rescue.
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: vociferous on June 14, 2012, 04:35:20 PM

It was a hemispherical neutron reflector that slipped, not the core itself, despite what the guys on Caustic Soda said.

Actually, it was the screwdriver that slipped, if you want to be pedantic.



Marie Curie died of aplastic anemia caused by her work with radioactive material; she did not die of radiation poisoning.

Radiation caused her aplastic anemia, hence she died of radiation poisoning.  If someone gets shot, the shooting is listed as the primary cause of death, not blood loss or cardiac arrest, because it is what caused the injury. 

Ptolemy's epicycles were useable but they were hardly good, even in his day. An error of a few degrees after a few years made nobody happy.

Ptolemy's epicycles actually made very good predictions given the instrumentation of Galileo's day, which were just beginning to incorporate optical magnification.  It had several problems, but so did Galileo's theory of orbital motion, the failure to observe parallax being one of the most obvious. 

I was not aware Galileo had his own theory of planetary motion. Please elaborate?

You need to familiarize yourself with Galileo's published works.  He lays out several theories on mechanics which he then later incorporates into his final two works on Copernican motion of the planets around a heliocentric solar system. 


Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: Chew on June 14, 2012, 05:39:10 PM

It was a hemispherical neutron reflector that slipped, not the core itself, despite what the guys on Caustic Soda said.

Actually, it was the screwdriver that slipped, if you want to be pedantic.



Marie Curie died of aplastic anemia caused by her work with radioactive material; she did not die of radiation poisoning.

Radiation caused her aplastic anemia, hence she died of radiation poisoning.  If someone gets shot, the shooting is listed as the primary cause of death, not blood loss or cardiac arrest, because it is what caused the injury. 

I see your point. Radiation poisoning nowadays has a specific medical meaning but this was in her day before there was even such a cause of death.
 
Quote
Ptolemy's epicycles were useable but they were hardly good, even in his day. An error of a few degrees after a few years made nobody happy.

Ptolemy's epicycles actually made very good predictions given the instrumentation of Galileo's day, which were just beginning to incorporate optical magnification.  It had several problems, but so did Galileo's theory of orbital motion, the failure to observe parallax being one of the most obvious. 

I was not aware Galileo had his own theory of planetary motion. Please elaborate?

You need to familiarize yourself with Galileo's published works.  He lays out several theories on mechanics which he then later incorporates into his final two works on Copernican motion of the planets around a heliocentric solar system.

I must bow to your superior knowledge of Galilean orbital mechanics. May I ask what the parallax problem was all about?
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: Johnny Slick on June 14, 2012, 05:56:39 PM
I know! I know!

Basically, parallax is the idea that if you're standing in one place with a building a mile away from you and a tree half a mile away, and then you walk 100 feet over to your left, that building and that tree are going to be in a slightly different position within your field of view, and their relative position to each other will change as well. Think about this from the perspective of the Earth-centered universe people: if everything didn't revolve around the Earth, why is it that when you walk from Paris to Rome the stars are in the exact same places relative to each other? We know now that the answer is basically "because the stars are really, really far away"; nonetheless, the early astronomers had no real way of knowing this and in fact IIRC their instruments weren't sophisticated enough to observe stellar parallax until the 19th century.
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: Chew on June 14, 2012, 06:13:24 PM
I know! I know!

Basically, parallax is the idea that if you're standing in one place with a building a mile away from you and a tree half a mile away, and then you walk 100 feet over to your left, that building and that tree are going to be in a slightly different position within your field of view, and their relative position to each other will change as well. Think about this from the perspective of the Earth-centered universe people: if everything didn't revolve around the Earth, why is it that when you walk from Paris to Rome the stars are in the exact same places relative to each other? We know now that the answer is basically "because the stars are really, really far away"; nonetheless, the early astronomers had no real way of knowing this and in fact IIRC their instruments weren't sophisticated enough to observe stellar parallax until the 19th century.

Not that parallax problem, doofus. The parallax problem with Galileo's theory of planetary motion.
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: vociferous on June 14, 2012, 09:51:38 PM
I see your point. Radiation poisoning nowadays has a specific medical meaning but this was in her day before there was even such a cause of death.
 

Well, I am not medical expert, but I believe that radiation poisoning can refer, even today, to any of the acute or chronic diseases, injuries, and maladies caused by acute or chronic radiation exposure.  I suppose people usually use it today to refer to the acute effects since we know enough about bionuclear medicine to prevent chronic exposure from being a problem. 



 
I must bow to your superior knowledge of Galilean orbital mechanics. May I ask what the parallax problem was all about?

Well, essentially there were two competing systems, neither of which made perfect predictions.  One was Ptolemy's system of orbital mechanics, which was pretty good, but was occasionally having to have new epicycles added to it to make it more accurate in line with better observations.  The Copernican model that Galileo embraced and helped perfect, while also imperfect had the virtue of being simpler.  However, simply being simpler does not necessarily make it more correct, and during his trials, the inquisition essentially found that while Galileo's system of orbital mechanics was a better system in terms of predicting planetary motion, it had no better empirical evidence than Ptolemy's system and should not be taken literally.

In modern times, we have the virtue of knowing what the "right" answer was, but at the time of the trial, the evidence for Galileo's theory was only marginally better than the accepted theory, so let us look at the evidence.

 
 
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: Chew on June 14, 2012, 10:05:58 PM
Thanks for the primer. But I wouldn't consider the failure to detect stellar parallax as a failure of his theory since detecting it was beyond everybody's capability at the time.
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: vociferous on June 14, 2012, 11:41:49 PM
Thanks for the primer. But I wouldn't consider the failure to detect stellar parallax as a failure of his theory since detecting it was beyond everybody's capability at the time.

You have to put yourself back in time.  At the time, nobody knew what stars were.  They had no idea that most stars' distances were on the order of millions or billions of times the distance between the earth and the other planets (which looked like stars to astronomers, being called planetai, or wandering stars).

I am not even sure Galileo really had any idea why his theory failed so spectacularly.  It predicted stellar parallax, yet no matter how hard anyone tried, the could not observe it.   Trying to argue that the great stellar distances were the cause would sound like special pleading in order to preserve his theory, if anyone even made that argument. 
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: Johnny Slick on June 15, 2012, 01:19:48 AM
Thanks for the primer. But I wouldn't consider the failure to detect stellar parallax as a failure of his theory since detecting it was beyond everybody's capability at the time.
YEAH MY EXPLANATION IS RIGHT DOOFUS PUT THAT IN YOUR DOOFUS PIPE AND SMOKE IT LIKE A DOOFUS DOOFUS
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: Chew on June 15, 2012, 09:42:35 AM
Thanks for the primer. But I wouldn't consider the failure to detect stellar parallax as a failure of his theory since detecting it was beyond everybody's capability at the time.
YEAH MY EXPLANATION IS RIGHT DOOFUS PUT THAT IN YOUR DOOFUS PIPE AND SMOKE IT LIKE A DOOFUS DOOFUS

Even a broken clock is right twice a day.
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: Morvis13 on June 15, 2012, 09:46:06 AM
Thanks for the primer. But I wouldn't consider the failure to detect stellar parallax as a failure of his theory since detecting it was beyond everybody's capability at the time.
YEAH MY EXPLANATION IS RIGHT DOOFUS PUT THAT IN YOUR DOOFUS PIPE AND SMOKE IT LIKE A DOOFUS DOOFUS

Even a broken clock is right twice a day.

Unless its digital then I'm sure it is 18:88 somewhere.
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: Chew on June 15, 2012, 10:33:24 AM
Famous moments in astrometry: 61 Cygni was the second star to have its distance measured. It was measured in 1838.
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: Johnny Slick on June 15, 2012, 12:24:58 PM
Thanks for the primer. But I wouldn't consider the failure to detect stellar parallax as a failure of his theory since detecting it was beyond everybody's capability at the time.
YEAH MY EXPLANATION IS RIGHT DOOFUS PUT THAT IN YOUR DOOFUS PIPE AND SMOKE IT LIKE A DOOFUS DOOFUS

Even a broken clock is right twice a day.

Unless its digital then I'm sure it is 18:88 somewhere.
YEAH CHEWFUS YOU SHOULD PUT THAT INTO YOUR DOOFUS CHEWFUS PIPE ALONG WITH STELLAR PARALLAX
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: Chew on June 15, 2012, 01:49:56 PM
Thanks for the primer. But I wouldn't consider the failure to detect stellar parallax as a failure of his theory since detecting it was beyond everybody's capability at the time.
YEAH MY EXPLANATION IS RIGHT DOOFUS PUT THAT IN YOUR DOOFUS PIPE AND SMOKE IT LIKE A DOOFUS DOOFUS

Even a broken clock is right twice a day.

Unless its digital then I'm sure it is 18:88 somewhere.
YEAH CHEWFUS YOU SHOULD PUT THAT INTO YOUR DOOFUS CHEWFUS PIPE ALONG WITH STELLAR PARALLAX
Title: Re: Science Blunders
Post by: peristaltor on July 18, 2012, 02:26:59 PM
Just now reading Carl Zimmer's Soul Made Flesh.  I am amazed at how long people in Europe taught Aristotle's medical meanderings and Galen's anatomy based on the four humors without actually cutting open a human corpse to see for themselves.  (In their defense, it was forbidden in most places.)

Count the number of people bled to death as treatment and other unproven, untested quackery, and this might be the largest blunder of all when gauged by human suffering.