What Scientific Beliefs Have Been Flat Wrong

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Father of Behavioral Economics Richard Thaler asks Edge contributors what long-held scientific beliefs were later proved to be flat wrong. He follows this by asking why they were held for so long in the first place.

While this is an interesting question in itself from a historic perspective, to me it is a lot more profound. The history of science teaches us one thing above all else, scientists are almost always wrong. Every theory that we have had since we learned to make theories has been proven incomplete. The entire edifice of science is based on the idea of continued, incremental improvement and monumental, continuous failure.

Since we have been wrong before (and for fantastic reasons that don’t take anything away from science) the real question is, which of our pet theories today will be proved to be spectacularly wrong down the road?

The flat earth and geocentric world are examples of wrong scientific beliefs that were held for long periods. Can you name your favorite example and for extra credit why it was believed to be true?

Read Wrong Scientific Beliefs (Via Edge) (Images)

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  • spa supplies

    Learning from past is human nature, if we do anything and it is perfect, then we are Gods because God only do perfect things. It is proven that so many beliefs which considered wrong later on with modification came up with best ideas, like paragliding belief became so proficient that led to the invention of aeroplane.

  • diogenes

    The belief that religion is unnecessary is a widely held concept of the scientific community.

    Without religion we will regress into an immoral valueless people as we are now doing.

    Better start going back to church.


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  • Brendan Griffen

    The term wrong for me, equates to complete logical untruth. i.e. 1 + 1 = 3, or there are square circles.

    All scientific theories have and will require modification. Aristotle wasn't *wrong*, the world IS made of elements but not the exact types he described, Newton wasn't wrong, he was right on certain scales, Einstein is only right on certain scales also.

    The way the word *wrong* is applied in the humanities is far different to the way the word is applied in the sciences. To list the things science got *wrong*, undermines what the entire enterprise of scientific discovery is about.

    More philosophically speaking, we only know certain things to be 'wrong' in the past when compared to the current paradigm, which in and of itself will be put in the same basket of *wrong* one day.... the very utility of the word *wrong* is rendered useless when your benchmark has and arguably, can never be found.  We only know what light is because of dark, similarly we only know what is wrong, because we know what is right... since we don't know what is *right*, labelling things as *wrong* is futile.

    *Improvement* is a much more useful word to use. So rephrasing 'which scientific theories have had the *most* improvement?' would be a better way to say it.

    Putting these general problems aside mine are the following;

    *Explorers and scientists showing Earth is round, not flat.
    *Helocentric model, not Universe around Earth.
    *Origin of mental health, not demons.
    *Size of universe, not isolated galaxy.
    *Blood flowing from the heart, not the brain.
    *Neuroscience disproving mind-body beliefs.
    *Evolution, not image of or by God/gods.
    *fundamentally probabilistic universe, not deterministic.
    just to name a few...

    My 2c.


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  • Science is constantly changing in accordance to how things change and evolve. Just like about 10 years ago scientists say we had 9 planets in the solar system yet today they claimed that we have one less. 

    Excellent stuff from you,I adore what you have got right here. You make it entertaining and you still manage to keep it smart. This is truly a great blog thanks for sharing…

  •  I 'm just waiting when time traveling theory will came to an end...

  • This is a tragedy in science that mostly people make fake theories and other people believe it as well.

  • Yes it's true mostly scientists made theories bluffly thinking that they might get true. 

  • There are many theories as there remain only theories and are scandals that have found such a thing, but in the end is false, with the flat earth theory that the elephants were being held for long believed that it was, but Isaias a biblical prophet thousands of years ago wrote in his book that the earth was a circle and was hanging on nothing, and so many things that scientists found an explanation in the Bible explained. what I want to make is that the Bible is not a science but it is scientifically accurate.

  • So many beliefs were proven wrong, but not completely, still the technology is improving and something like them can be invented.

  • This is simply ridiculous. What we are hearing since last 12 or 15 years and now they are saying that it is flat wrong. I don't know what these people are doing! When something is accepted globally then why are they saying that it is flat wrong?

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