Example of a theory that was right after 20 years of failures?

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Is there a historical example of a theory that physicists all over the world pursued and developed in a concerted and organized research for more than 20 years without results, but then turned out to be correct?

I get frequently as an answer the heliocentric vs. geocentric model, it took thousand of years. But I don't think this is a good example since at those times there was nothing such as a concerted global and organized effort and academic as research centers as we have nowadays. Science as we know it was still not born.

Some others tell me about gravitational waves. But this does not fit with the above question. Gravitational waves are not a 'theory' but a prediction of a theory that was already confirmed.

Some other again cite the standard model of particle physics. I don't think this is correct, it is a theory that grew throughout the decades, but it turned out to be correct 'piecewise' very soon until it took form as we know it today.
 

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  • #2
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I think the helio- versus geocentric model is a bad choice, as geocentrism was based on ignorance rather than unknown facts. Those who wanted to know knew. But how about string theory? That's a concentrated effort for around 50 years now and there is still the possibility it might be "true". Black holes could be another candidate. Their existence changed from crackpottery to everywhere around!
 
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  • #3
A.T.
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Is there a historical example ...

I get frequently as an answer ...

Some others tell me ...

Some other again cite ...
Is there a deeper point here? Or is just a semantic game of dismissing examples based on interpretations of the question.
 
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  • #4
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a prediction of a theory that was already confirmed
Sure. So you disqualify the Higgs ? And what about Majorana 'particles' ?

you a law student :wink: ?
 
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I think the helio- versus geocentric model is a bad choice, as geocentrism was based on ignorance rather than unknown facts. Those who wanted to know knew. But how about string theory? That's a concentrated effort for around 50 years now and there is still the possibility it might be "true". Black holes could be another candidate. Their existence changed from crackpottery to everywhere around!
String theory still needs to be confirmed or disconfirmed. So, not the example I was looking for.
Well, yes, geocentrism was based on ignorance. But one must also admit that it was not just that easy to finally proof the heliocentric system to be the correct one. It took a lot of effort to prove it without doubts.
As to black holes ... well yes... might be an example if we date it back to Laplace. In the frame of GR however it is like gravitational waves. GR is no longer a point in question, some of its predictions needed longer time for final proof due to technological limitations. But the theory as such found very soon confirmation.

Is there a deeper point here? Or is just a semantic game of dismissing examples based on interpretations of the question.
Just trying to find the right semantics (without games) to frame a question.

Sure. So you disqualify the Higgs ? And what about Majorana 'particles' ? you a law student :wink: ?
Higgs is part of the SM. Have Majorana particles been finally confirmed? No, trying to find out how some dynamics in the history of science goes.
 
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Just trying to find the right semantics (without games) to frame a question.
For a trivia game?
 
  • #7
Vanadium 50
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Trivia? Of course not! It's a a semantic game of dismissing examples based on interpretations of the question.

Marco, if you are serious, put some time into telling us exactly what you mean. Otherwise this will be an endless loop of us providing examples and you swatting them away with a "no, that's not what I really meant".
 
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  • #8
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Newton’s particle theory of light.

Just trying to find the right semantics (without games) to frame a question.
It does sound like you are trying to find the right semantics such that the answer is a pre-concluded “no”. In other words, you want the answer to be “no” so you are adding enough broad caveats to get the “no” answer by judicious application of the caveats.
 
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  • #9
CWatters
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Think it took 100+ years to go from the first poor measurement of the Sun - Earth distance to measuring it using the transit of Venus.

Problem is you can keep measuring it more and more accurately so does it count?
 
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Yes, I suspect the answer is no, because I can't find any example that shows the contrary and that's why I ask. I suspect that if a theory needs more than 20 years to produce predictions that could be verified then it is wrong. But since I'm not a historian of science I'm willing to reconsider this if I find an example that does. The above examples are interesting however, I think that black holes, the Higgs bosons or Majorana particles are not 'theories' but predictions of a theory. I mean a 'theory' that involves some sort of paradigm change and on which the community of scientists worked for a longer time than 20 years without experimental proof but then turned out to be correct. For instance, just to make a not too notorious example (i.e., not the usual qm or relativity), what about classical statistical mechanics? This somehow involved also a sort of paradigmatic change. When did it begin to be pursued (no, I don't think Democritus' atomism is the starting point) and when got it its first empiric confirmation that substantiated it? Maybe I found myself an example?
 
  • #11
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I think QCD is an example. However, your restrictions and conditions remain unclear. Your distinction between theory and prediction of a theory sounds quite deliberate. Latest here I would stop reading your article: pseudo philosophical mumbo-jumbo.
 
  • #12
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Maybe atomic theory? Predicted (though obviously not in its present form) no later than Democritus (~4th century BC), still under debate as late as the beginning of the 20th century. Finally accepted after Perrin's experiments in 1909 confirming Einstein's predictions on Brownian motion.
 
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  • #13
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If you aren't going to tell us what "counts" and what doesn't, perhaps you could give us a half dozen examples, along with the time scale you think is relevant.

I'm beginning to think along Dale's lines: you have decided the answer is "no", so you are defining the criteria so that the answer turns out to be no.
 
  • #14
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I vote for Majorana. 1937 !

[edit]
Have Majorana particles been finally confirmed?
If no then no ?
If yes then no too
Majorana particles are not 'theories' but predictions of a theory
In short: no ?
 
  • #15
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Maybe I found myself an example?
Vanitas vanitatum, omnia vanitas ?:)
 
  • #16
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I can't find any example that shows the contrary
You were given several examples, including Newton's particle theory of light, which to me is an absolute clincher. But I suspect that you will find some way to exclude it, not because it is not a perfectly valid example, but because you only want a "no" answer and will not accept even reasonable and legitimate "yes" answers.

However, you did not specifically respond to Newton's particle theory of light, so what is your excuse for excluding that one? Perhaps since no physicists in Antarctica were involved it fails the “all over the world” caveat.
 
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  • #18
DaveC426913
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I suspect that you will find some way to exclude it, not because it is not a perfectly valid example, but because you only want a "no" answer and will not accept e0en reasonable and legitimate "yes" answers.
This is not necessarily in bad faith, whatever it may appear. He has a hypothesis, but is not sure what criteria he needs to examine in order to form a theory.

Think of it as OP trying to find the edge of a moving target. He's trying to find what the longest time a theory can go being dismissed whole still being vindicated.
His method is to "sample" various historical theories and test whether they fall inside or outside the line.
 
  • #19
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This is not necessarily in bad faith, whatever it may appear. He has a hypothesis, but is not sure what criteria he needs to examine in order to form a theory.

Think of it as OP trying to find the edge of a moving target. He's trying to find what the longest time a theory can go being dismissed whole still being vindicated.
His method is to "sample" various historical theories and test whether they fall inside or outside the line.
Possibly, but it doesn't seem that way to me. He is not "sampling" the theories and including the duration to success as a measurement, but rather he is excluding the data points from consideration altogether. That is a big scientific "no-no", one of the first that they teach as bad scientific behavior.
 
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  • #20
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Why 20 years? Perhaps ideas at the edge of physics today could take 100 or 1000 years for the technology to allow experimental confirmation. Perhaps advancing particle physics requires building a particle accelerator that rings the sun (see https://disipio.wordpress.com/2016/11/03/why-dont-we-build-a-particle-accelerator-orbiting-the-sun/) . Does not mean these theories are wrong, just reflects the reality that physics is a mature science and most everything ‘easy’ that could be developed and experimentally proven within a decade or two has been found.
 
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