Genius Hall

of Vindication

or the Mainstream Science 
Hall of Shame


All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident. 
Arthur Schopenhauer



When a true genius appears in this world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him. 
Jonathan Swift


Some ridiculed ideas which had no supporters:

  • Ball lightning - lacking a theory, it was long dismissed as retinal afterimages

  • Catastrophism - ridicule of rapid Earth changes, asteroid mass extinctions

  • Child abuse - before 1950, doctors were mystified by "spontaneous" childhood bruising

  • Cooperation or altruism between animals - versus Evolution's required competition

  • Instantaneous meteor noises - evidence rejected because sound should be delayed by distance

  • Mind-body connection - psychoneuroimmunology, doctors ridiculed psychological basis for disease

  • Perceptrons - later vindicated as Neural Networks

  • Permanent magnet levitation - "Levitron" shouldn't have worked

 


The study of history is a powerful antidote to contemporary arrogance. It is humbling to discover how many of our glib assumptions, which seem to us novel and plausible, have been tested before, not once but many times and in innumerable guises; and discovered to be, at great human cost, wholly false. 
Paul Johnson


Links


Concepts which have proved useful for ordering things easily assume so great an authority over us, that we forget their terrestrial origin and accept them as unalterable facts. They then become labeled as "conceptual necessities", etc. The road of scientific progress is frequently blocked for long periods by such errors. 
Albert Einstein


Books

 


All great truths began as blasphemies. 
George Bernard Shaw


 Hans Alfven - Plasma Physics

The idea of parallel electric fields was proposed over 50 years ago by Nobel laureate, Hans Alfven of Sweden. Although ridiculed at the time as electric fields directed this way were believed to "short out" when oriented along the highly conducting magnetic field lines, observations gathered in space, such as those from the FAST satellite, as well as recent theoretical advances, have clearly shown that such processes produce the aurora and may indeed be widespread in nature. [Source: UC Berkely]

 

Svante Arrhenius - Ion Chemistry

His idea that electrolytes are full of charged atoms was considered crazy. The atomic theory was new at the time, and everyone "knew" that atoms were indivisible (and hence they could not "lose" or "gain" any electric charge.) Because of his heretical idea, he only received his university degree by a very narrow margin. The value of Arrhenius' work was not well understood because the idea of a connection between electricity and chemical affinity, once advocated by Berzelius, had vanished from the general consciousness of scientists in his university at Uppsalla but attention from a couple of established scientists in Stockholm helped him to get recognition for his work. Arrhenius was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1903.

 


John Logie Baird - Television camera

When the first television system was demonstrated to the Royal Society (British scientists,) they scoffed and ridiculed it. His work a crucial break-through in television technology. Today, 95% of modern TV is pre-recorded, an approach recommended by Baird. A large amount of contemporary TV utilizes the film scanning system of Rank-Cintel, which absorbed Baird's Cinema Television. Baird's single electronic gun CRT development work in 1945 was eventually followed in the design of the Sony Trinitron tube. In a manner that today seems commonplace, his initial mechanical solution was quickly supplanted by newer technology, but his inventive work continued and his legacy continues. Baird succeeded in perfecting visual transmission systems others had long abandoned. His single-minded tenacity proves that most obstacles are no greater than the limits of the imagination. [...]

 

Robert Bakker - Fast, warm-blooded dinosaurs

Robert T. Bakker is far and wide paleontology's greatest and most well known character. You probably know Bakker as the man who hypothesized that dinosaurs may have been warmblooded, or the scientist who believed that diseases caused the demise of the terrible lizards, or the author who wrote the book the Dinosaur Heresies. But, there is much more to the career of Dr. Robert Bakker. [...]

 

Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar - Black holes 

Chandrasekhar presented on white dwarfs and their size limits at the Royal Astronomical Society in January 1935, but the most famous astronomer at that time, Arthur Eddington, ridiculed his ideas. Chandra went to several famous physicists and asked them to check his calculations. All of them agreed that there was no mistake, but it still took decades before the Chandrasekhar Limit was accepted by all astrophysicists. Eventually his idea became the foundation for the theory of black holes.

Because he didn't find acceptance by astronomers in England, and political fighting and favoritism blocked his chances for a good job in India, Chandra came to the United States.  Eventually, Eddington admitted that Chandra's theory was right, and they made peace. Forty years after he first announced his theory, Chandra was awarded the 1983 Nobel Prize in physics.

 

Ernst Chladni - Meteorites 

Ernst Florens Friedrich Chladni was a Russian of German origin who was a member of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences.  In 1794 he published a book in which he argued that meteorites were in fact rocks that had fallen from the sky.  He came to that conclusion after comparing the Krasnojarsk pallasite and an iron found in Otumpa between Paraguay and Argentina.  He noted their exotic make up.  He also pointed out that not only was the metal in the two rocks identical, there were no rocks even remotely near where they were found that were similar.  He correctly stated that they had in fact fallen from the sky due to the effects of earth’s gravity and further that these rocks formed fireballs when they passed through the atmosphere. This work was not well received by the leading scientists of the day because at the time meteorites were believed to be “thunder stones” formed in storms by earth rocks being sucked up in a vacuum and being struck by lightning.  Another reason was that most meteorites were stones and not irons.  Almost to mock his critics on December 13, 1795 under a clear blue sky a 25 kilo meterorite fell on Wold Cottage in Yorkshire.  Analysis of this stone found iron that matched the iron in the meteorites discussed in Chladni’s book.   

 

C.J. Doppler - Doppler effect

Proposed a theory of the optical Doppler Effect in 1842, but was bitterly opposed for two decades because it did not fit with the accepted physics of the time (the Ether theory.) He was finally proven right in 1868 when W. Huggins observed red shifts and blue shifts in stellar spectra. Unfortunately this was fifteen years after he had died.

 

Galileo Galilei - Heliocentric Universe (Copernican viewpoint)

Galileo’s ideas about the universe at the beginning of the Scientific Revolution were first dismissed as being impossible. Upon review, however, the priests and aristocrats feared the worldview that Galileo’s universe was beginning to force upon them. Galileo was placed under house arrest until the end of his life, he received a formal apology from the Catholic Church only in the past decade, hundreds of years after his death. [The Galileo Project]


Evariste Galois - Mathematics Prodigy; Group Theory

Galois's terse style, uncompromising personality and the sheer originality of his ideas contributed to the delay in the publication of his papers and failure to get appropriate recognition for his work. There was also a certain amount of bad luck. One manuscript was lost when the reviewer died. Throughout his short life his mathematical insights were poorly understood. He was killed in a duel when he was just 21. Galois' brother and his friend Chevalier copied his math papers and sent them to mathematicians including Gauss and Jacobi. Galois had wished that Gauss and Jacobi would review his work, but no record of any comments exists. The mathematician Liouville did review his work and announced to the Academy that he had found in Galois' papers a concise solution

...as correct as it is deep of this lovely problem: Given an irreducible equation of prime degree, decide whether or not it is soluble by radicals.

He published Galois' papers in his journal in 1846. The theory that Galois outlined in these papers is now called Galois theory.

 

Luigi Galvani - bioelectricity

Galvani's experiments were ridiculed because they countered established views. According to Galvani, "They call me the frogs' dance instructor." His innovative experiments helped to establish the basis for the biological study of neurophysiology. The paradigm shifted from the view of Descartes and his contemporaries. Nerves were not water pipes or channels, as had been thought, but electrical conductors. Information within the nervous system was carried by electricity generated directly by the organic tissue.

 

William Harvey - circulation of blood

He annouced his discovery that blood circulated around the body in 1616 causing the scientific community of the time to ostracize him. He had challenged Galen's view, popular for 1400 years, that blood was continually being made and used up. Harvey's theory was  met with much resistance because by implication it threw doubt on the value of blood letting, a very popular treatment of the day. 


Sir Hans Adolf Krebs - ATP energy, Krebs cycle

Krebs displayed great flexibility in following surprising results. A humble and occasionally sardonic man, Krebs suggested to a meeting of the American Philosophical Society in 1970 that the way to impress upon governments the value of scientific exploration would be to do away with the vast amount of wasteful and gratuitous research he described as ”occupation therapy for the university staff.” Krebs received the 1953 Nobel Prize in Physiology.


Karl F. Gauss - nonEuclidean geometery

Kept secret his discovery of non-Euclidean geometry for thirty years because of fear of ridicule. Lobachevsky later published similar work and WAS ridiculed. After Gauss' death his work was finally published, but even then it took decades for Noneuclidean Geometery to win acceptance among the professionals.

Binning/Roher/Gimzewski - Scanning-tunneling microscope

Invented in 1982, surface scientists refused to believe that atom-scale resolution was possible, and demonstrations of the STM in 1985 were still met by hostility, shouts, and laughter from the specialists in the microscopy field. It's discoverers won the Nobel prize in 1986, which went far in forcing an unusually rapid change in the attitude of colleagues.

R. Goddard - Rocket-powered space ships

Goddard first obtained public notoriety in 1907 when he fired a powder rocket in the basement of the physics building at WPI. School officials then took an immediate interest in Goddard's work and, to their credit, did not expel him for the incident. In this 1920 publication, Goddard outlined the possibility of a rocket reaching the moon and exploding a load of flash powder on its surface to mark the rocket's arrival. The bulk of his scientific report to the Smithsonian was a dry explanation of how he used the $5000 grant in his research. The press picked up Goddard' s proposal about a rocket flight to the moon and sparked a journalistic controversy concerning the feasibility of such a concept. Goddard was widely ridiculed, causing him to deeply resent the press corps, a view that he held for the rest of his life.


Goethe - Land color theory

 

T. Gold - Deep non-biological petroleum deposits; deep mine microbes

 

J. Lister - Sterilizing

 

Lynn Margulis - Endosymbiotic organelles

In 1970 Margulis was not only denied funding but subjected to intense scorn by reviewers at the NSF. "I was flatly turned down," Margulis said, and the grants officers added "that I should never apply again." Textbooks today quote her discovery as a plausible theory; that plant and animal cells are really communities of cooperating bacteria.

Julius R. Mayer - The Law of Conservation of Energy

Mayer's original paper was contemptuously rejected by the leading physics journals of the time.

B. Marshall - ulcers caused by bacteria, helicobacter pylori

Stomach ulcers are caused by acid. All physicians knew this. Marshall needed about ?? years to convince the medical establishment to change their beliefs and accept that ulcers are a bacterial disease.

B. McClintlock - Mobile genetic elements, "jumping genes", transposons

J. Newlands - pre-Mendeleev periodic table

George S. Ohm - Ohm's Law

Ohm's initial publication was met with ridicule and dismissal. His work was called "a tissue of naked fantasy." Approx. ten years passed before scientists began to recognize its great importance.

Fernando Nottebohm - Regenerating neurons

After twenty years as a ridiculed minority, Nottebohm's work with songbird brains was finally taken seriously, and the biologists of today now recognize that the age-old dogma was wrong: brains DO regenerate neurons after all.

Louis Pasteur - Germ theory of disease

Stanford R. Ovshinsky - amorphous semiconductor devices

Physicists "knew" that chips and transistors could only be made of expensive slices of single-crystal silicon. Ovshinsky's breakthrough invention of glasslike semiconductors was attacked by physicists and then ignored for more than a decade. Ovshinsky was bankrupt and destitute when finally the Japanese took interest and funded his work. The result: the new science of amorphous semiconductor physics, as well as inexpensive thin-film semiconductor technology (in particular the amorphous solar cell, photocopier components, and writeable CDROMS sold by Sharp Inc. and other Japanese companies.)

Ignaz Semmelweis - Surgical cleanliness, puerperal fever

Semmelweis intuits that germs are leading to infections and death in surgical settings. He studies the phenomena and makes dramatic improvements in patient care that save thousands of lives. Instead of accolades, he is seen as bringing criticism on the medical establishment. He is demoted and ridiculed. In 1865 he suffers a mental breakdown and is committed to a mental institution. There, at age 47, he cuts his finger. Ironically, he dies of puerperal fever a few days later.

Nikola Tesla - Earth electrical resonance, now called "Schumann" resonance; brushless AC motor

An AC motor which lacks brushes was thought to be an instance of a Perpetual Motion Machine.

Peyton Rous - Viral cause of cancer

F. Sherwood Rowland - Danger of Chlorofluorocarbons

first warned that chemicals called cholorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, were destroying the ozone layer. They were ridiculed for their work for years before being vindicated by the discovery of a massive hole in the ozone layer over Antarctic. Rowland, along with Mario Molina and Paul Crutzen, won a Nobel Prize in 1995 for their work.

 

William James Sidis - Prodigy

Accomplished prodigy that was widely regarded as a dysfunctional failure because he collected subway transfers. Sidis published a number of thought-provoking and scholarly works and, in spite of myths to the contrary, seems to have been well-adjusted.

 

Warren S. Warren - Anomolies in MRI theory

Warren and his team at Princeton tracked down a Magnetic Resonance anomaly and found a new facet to MRI theory: spin interactions between distant molecules, including deterministic Chaos effects. Colleagues knew he was wrong, and warned him that his crazy results were endangering his career. Princeton held a "roast", a mean-spirited bogus presentation mocking his work. Warren then began encountering funding cancellations. After approx. seven years, the tide of ridicule turned and Warren was vindicated. His discoveries are even leading to new MRI techniques. See: SCIENCE NEWS, Jan 20 2001, V159 N3, "Spin Control".

Alfred Wegener - Continental drift

Wilbur and Orville Wright - Flying machines

After their Kitty Hawk success, The Wrights flew their machine in open fields next to a busy rail line in Dayton Ohio for almost an entire year. American authorities refused to come to the demos, and Scientific American Magazine published stories about "The Lying Brothers." Even the local Dayton newspapers never sent a reporter (but they did complain about all the letters they were receiving from local "crazies" who reported the many flights.) Finally the Wrights packed up and moved to Europe, where they caused an overnight sensation and sold aircraft contracts to France, Germany, Britain, etc.

George Zweig - Quark theory

Zweig published quark theory at CERN in 1964 (calling them 'aces'), but everyone knows that no particle can have 1/3 electric charge. Rather than receiving recognition, he encountered stiff barriers and was accused of being a charlatan.

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