# Biggest recent mistakes in physics or any science.

by Whalstib
Tags: biggest, mistakes, physics, science
 P: 119 Any ideas? I was prompted as I found a very nice 1970 50th Ed. of the CRC Chemistry and Physics Handbook for $1 today! At fist I was thinking how much of this can be regarded as accurate today? After a moments thought I figured the vast majority of it is probably quite accurate. I mean how often to physics formulas and the like change nowadays? Perhaps in chemistry they are measuring down to 100 significant figures on atomic weight or something equally so precise it doesn't matter much in the general scheme of things. Which led me to my post. Have there been any taken for granted serious science premises that have been refuted or refined to a great deal? I was reading the history of the age of the earth and it kept getting older as radioactivity was discovered but the likes of Lord Kelvin albeit based on current knowledge "accurate" was WAY off! But how about recently? has the computer age refined any ideas so drastically to take note? Will I have information in my 1970 handbook which is archaic and useless? Anyway I think I like my$1 deal and leafing through it has plenty I don't understand and probably won't but know where to look! Thanks, Warren
 Mentor P: 5,350 I understand what you're asking and I'm not to sure of the answer. One thing to remember is that many measurements of the past were accurate in the sense of being the most accurate possible. That's all our science is today as well but often is vastly more accurate which has led to uncovering many incorrect but accurate conclusions of the past. My main study isnt actually physics but biology. Biology has arguably (preparing to get shot down...) advanced more than any other science over the past 50 years. There's nothing that has overturned well established previous beliefs but every few years we seem to discover how little we know. When we come close to thinking we've nailed a subject a whole other field opens up beautifully intertwined with the previous revealing we didnt know as much as we thought! Classic example, we thought that DNA gave rise to RNA which gave rise to Protein. Proteins could then influence DNA, we basically thought that RNA was just a messenger in the system. In the past decade we've discovered a whole world of RNA regulation of DNA and Proteins. That's fairly standard in biology, once you have something nailed down it slips from your grasp at the last
 P: 2,281 I think the Catholic Church's stand against Galileo was a pretty big one.
P: 119

## Biggest recent mistakes in physics or any science.

 Quote by nismaratwork I think the Catholic Church's stand against Galileo was a pretty big one.
Not quite Simplicio,

A more accurate example might be found with Kepler who doubted Galileo. In fact many prominent scientists of the day were skeptical.

The lesson, don't insult the man who holds the keys.....

W
P: 119
 Quote by ryan_m_b I understand what you're asking and I'm not to sure of the answer. One thing to remember is that many measurements of the past were accurate in the sense of being the most accurate possible. That's all our science is today as well but often is vastly more accurate which has led to uncovering many incorrect but accurate conclusions of the past.
yes this is my point. My example of the age of the world was accurate BEFORE and understanding of radioactivity. It was based on cooling rates and of course if something is radio active it won't cool as predicted. Very simple explanation but you get the picture.

So has science gotten to such a point of accuracy that little changes? Is there little difference between the 1970 CRC Handbook and the 2011 ed.?

W
 P: 2,163 That's how I was able to determine my age. When I was younger, they said the earth was 2.5 billion years old and now they say it's 4.5 billion years old. That makes me 2 billion years old.
P: 2,281
 Quote by Whalstib Not quite Simplicio, A more accurate example might be found with Kepler who doubted Galileo. In fact many prominent scientists of the day were skeptical. The lesson, don't insult the man who holds the keys..... W
True, but I was struck by the fact that science is constantly being hounded by people enamored of old beliefs. Hell, there's a flat-earth society... I'm not sure that there IS a biggest mistake.

Wait... I take that back. Castle Bravo is probably the biggest mistake, in terms of sheer miscalculation of yield.
P: 119
 Quote by nismaratwork True, but I was struck by the fact that science is constantly being hounded by people enamored of old beliefs.
Right!

We tend to think it's cranks outside of or on the fringes of science but as Kepler proved science makes mistakes.

I also found an old copy of "The World We Live In" by Time/Life back in ~1957. Most of it for the depth it goes to is quite accurate considering the audience, but the geology is humorously flawed. of course pre-plate tectonics so still working within a framework of acceptable science.

Perhaps mistakes was too strong a phrases, misconceptions as most were based on accepted science for the most part.

When I get through with the cover to cover review of both the 2011 CRC and 1970 CRC I will be better able to comment<G!>

W
P: 2,281
 Quote by Whalstib Right! We tend to think it's cranks outside of or on the fringes of science but as Kepler proved science makes mistakes. I also found an old copy of "The World We Live In" by Time/Life back in ~1957. Most of it for the depth it goes to is quite accurate considering the audience, but the geology is humorously flawed. of course pre-plate tectonics so still working within a framework of acceptable science. Perhaps mistakes was too strong a phrases, misconceptions as most were based on accepted science for the most part. When I get through with the cover to cover review of both the 2011 CRC and 1970 CRC I will be better able to comment W
The beauty of science is that at its best, it admits its mistakes and seeks to find all possible answers as to how they were made, and what the truth might be.

Conditional knowledge may not be as calming as certainty, but it's been quite the boon to humanity. Bit of a kick in the pants for other animals though...
 PF Gold P: 638 I'm not particularly proud of bloodletting. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bloodletting Edit: I misread and misunderstood your post. Consider the above irrelevant.
PF Gold
P: 693
 Quote by Whalstib Have there been any taken for granted serious science premises that have been refuted or refined to a great deal? I was reading the history of the age of the earth and it kept getting older as radioactivity was discovered [...]
I can't think of an example of a mistake.

But there have been surprises.

In cosmology, there is the discovery that at some point in the Universe's history the rate of expansion has started to increase.
(However, I don't think the estimates of the age of the Universe were much affected by that finding)

In particle physics it was long taken as established that neutrinos are massless. If neutrinos would have a rest mass then that rest mass would be far smaller than the mass of any other particle. It was deemed by far more likely that neutrinos just don't have a rest mass.
However, the phenomenon of neutrino oscillation puts a lower limit on neutrino mass. So the textbooks have to be rewritten on that one. (Incidentally, it's my understanding that neutrino mass does not involve the Higgs mechanism.)

As ryan_m_b mentions, molecular genetics has been particularly rich in surprises.
Before the human genome project estimates of the number of genes in the human genome ranged from 50,000 to 100,000 genes. Findings from the human genome project indicate there are somewhere in between 20, 000 and 25,000 genes.

A very large percentage of human DNA (and DNA of related creatures) consists of long repetitive sequences, that have long been regarded as superfluous DNA. It was thought of as a result of overdiligent copying of DNA,or whatever. It was often referred to as 'junk DNA'. However, the genome projects show that many parts of this DNA material are highly conserved over the course of evolution. Similar stretches of DNA are found in the mouse genome.
And as far as we know: structures that are highly conserved over the course of evolution are very important structures. So while the function of the long repetitive sequences is still unknown, the evidence suggest it shouldn't be viewed as 'junk DNA'.
P: 2,281
 Quote by Dembadon I'm not particularly proud of bloodletting. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bloodletting Edit: I misread and misunderstood your post. Consider the above irrelevant.
A good idea though... maybe Transorbital Lobotomy would trump that however, if medicine were to be included in the OP.
P: 2,281
 Quote by Cleonis I can't think of an example of a mistake. But there have been surprises. In cosmology, there is the discovery that at some point in the Universe's history the rate of expansion has started to increase. (However, I don't think the estimates of the age of the Universe were much affected by that finding) In particle physics it was long taken as established that neutrinos are massless. If neutrinos would have a rest mass then that rest mass would be far smaller than the mass of any other particle. It was deemed by far more likely that neutrinos just don't have a rest mass. However, the phenomenon of neutrino oscillation puts a lower limit on neutrino mass. So the textbooks have to be rewritten on that one. (Incidentally, it's my understanding that neutrino mass does not involve the Higgs mechanism.) As ryan_m_b mentions, molecular genetics has been particularly rich in surprises. Before the human genome project estimates of the number of genes in the human genome ranged from 50,000 to 100,000 genes. Findings from the human genome project indicate there are somewhere in between 20, 000 and 25,000 genes. A very large percentage of human DNA (and DNA of related creatures) consists of long repetitive sequences, that have long been regarded as superfluous DNA. It was thought of as a result of overdiligent copying of DNA,or whatever. It was often referred to as 'junk DNA'. However, the genome projects show that many parts of this DNA material are highly conserved over the course of evolution. Similar stretches of DNA are found in the mouse genome. And as far as we know: structures that are highly conserved over the course of evolution are very important structures. So while the function of the long repetitive sequences is still unknown, the evidence suggest it shouldn't be viewed as 'junk DNA'.
How about particle "swarms" after high energy collision... that was a bit of a shock (to me at least).
PF Gold
P: 638
 Quote by nismaratwork A good idea though... maybe Transorbital Lobotomy would trump that however, if medicine were to be included in the OP.
Technically, medicine would qualify, as the OP's subject reads "... or any science." However, the practice of bloodletting was mostly used before scientific medicine. Not to mention it was scientific medicine itself that helped to disprove the effects of the practice as it pertained to various ailments in the 19th century.
 P: 235 When I think big mistakes in science for the past year, I remember the NASA announcement of the Arsenic-tolerant bacteria. I felt like the paper made the big mistake of inflating the importance scope of its findings. http://www.ironlisa.com/WolfeSimon_etal_Science2010.pdf http://science.nasa.gov/science-news...2dec_monolake/ I also remember a recent paper by Roger Penrose citing evidence in the WMAP for cyclic cosmology. My take is that the statistics in this paper tasted like fudge, a mistake atypical for a guy like Penrose. http://arxiv.org/abs/1011.3706 http://telescoper.wordpress.com/2010...clic-universe/
 P: 2,281 Good call on that first one (didn't read the second yet)... man was that overhyped!!! I was waiting for an alien snail or something, but noooooOOOooooo.... @Dembadon: Good point, although the fact that leeches have found a valuable place in microsurgery now is ironic beyond belief; talk about the old and the new coming together!
 Emeritus Sci Advisor PF Gold P: 11,154 Not quite a mistake, and not really after the 70's, but this one's close: Parity. Until 1957, virtually everyone in the particle physics (and probably the broader physics) community, essentially took it for granted that parity conservation was universal. Sometime in the mid-50's, Yang and Lee did a survey of the literature, and found that this had yet to be experimentally verified in the case of the weak interaction, and that such an experiment would be worth doing. Most of the community probably didn't want to bother setting up a very difficult experiment only to show the obvious. Finally they managed to find a sympathetic ear, and Wu's Co-60 experiment shattered a few decades worth of complacence. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parity_...rity_violation
 P: 235 Another great blunder in 2010 was committed by Walter Wagner. He filed a lawsuit against CERN to stop the LHC from starting up. He claimed the particle accelerator constituted a "credible threat of harm". This is a joke to anyone who has ever seen cosmic rays in a bubble chamber. http://www.physorg.com/news203573289.html

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