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Thread: Scientific Lunatics who were not Lunatics.

  1. #1 Scientific Lunatics who were not Lunatics. 
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    Quasi science is not always quasi, and quasi scientists may not be esteemed a legitimate for hundreds of years (1,800 years in Aristarchus of Samos' case. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aristarchus_of_Samos

    In an attempt at promoting open-mindedness, can you folks help me list scientists once labelled lunatic or just plain wrong who were either proven right in their lifetimes or later?

    I'll start with Michael Faraday. I read his life story in a biography, a book I believe was entitled The Life of Michael Faraday. He endured derision and condemnation for his theories, and derided and condemned personally because he had inferior math skills as well as a lower social class, but he was a hands-on guy who proved his theories and of course was finally highly honoured. An excellent bio is at http://www.absoluteastronomy.com/topics/Michael_Faraday

    Another example is Daniel Schechtman who discovered quasi crystals. He was condemned and campaigned ferociously against and degraded by no less than Linus Pauling, who at the time had two nobels. Schechtman was awarded his own Nobel for quasi crystals. Pauling went so far as to call Schechtmas a "quasi scientist." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dan_Shechtman


    Last edited by Aristarchus in Exile; November 9th, 2011 at 12:15 PM.
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    The theory of relativity was penned by a patent office clerk and flight was attained by two bicycle mechanics. Not sure if at one time they were considered lunatics however lunatics are excellent sources of derision it appears.


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    Quote Originally Posted by zinjanthropos View Post
    The theory of relativity was penned by a patent office clerk
    Yeah, right. And quantum electrodynamics was developed by a part-time safebreaker.

    Oh no, I remember. They were both highly qualified physicists.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Aristarchus in Exile View Post
    Quasi science is not always quasi, and quasi scientists
    I don't know how you define "quasi science"; new theories that aren't yet mainstream?

    This problem probably applies to most new theories (and the people who develop them). It's the whole paradigm shift thing.

    Things that occur to me immediately... plate tectonics, many aspects of quantum mechanics, antimatter, dark matter, neutrinos, Neptune, relativity, H. pylori as the cause of duodenal ulcers, prion proteins as a cause of infectious disease, the germ theory of disease (and the associated hygiene practices for disease prevention), etc. etc.... (I'll leave you to look up the names, which are pretty irrelevant - it is the ideas that matter.)

    Of course, there are plenty of ideas on the other side of the balance, which we shouldn't forget: phlogiston, caloric, aether, Lamarckian evolution, various models of the atomic structure, ...

    In the end (and it may take time) science will find the best model.

    ... on the other hand, pseuduo-science is always pseudo-science ...
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    Quote Originally Posted by zinjanthropos View Post
    The theory of relativity was penned by a patent office clerk and flight was attained by two bicycle mechanics. Not sure if at one time they were considered lunatics however lunatics are excellent sources of derision it appears.
    The only places lunatic derision is considered politically correct today is internet discussion forums. However, the sun has set, the day is gone, I shall make no further comment because lunatics might rule the night.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Strange View Post
    They were both highly qualified physicists.
    OMG, say it ain't so!!!! Einstein's a physicist...hallelujah. Shakespeare once said "what's in a name?" and it appears to be quite a bit. If warp drive is discovered by a vacuum salesman working in his basement are you going to call him a scientist? Your reaction to my post was what I was hoping for, so thanks.
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    Quote Originally Posted by zinjanthropos View Post
    If warp drive is discovered by a vacuum salesman working in his basement are you going to call him a scientist?
    If he is doing science, yes. Otherwise, no.

    Your reaction to my post was what I was hoping for, so thanks.
    I have no idea what that means so I will assume it is a good thing: your welcome.

    (just so it is clear, my point was that some people use the "Einstein was a patent clerk" story to argue that anyone can come up with a brilliant new theory even if they don't have any background in the subject - which is obviously nonsense)
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    Quote Originally Posted by Strange View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by zinjanthropos View Post
    If warp drive is discovered by a vacuum salesman working in his basement are you going to call him a scientist?
    If he is doing science, yes. Otherwise, no.

    Your reaction to my post was what I was hoping for, so thanks.

    I have no idea what that means so I will assume it is a good thing: your welcome.

    (just so it is clear, my point was that some people use the "Einstein was a patent clerk" story to argue that anyone can come up with a brilliant new theory even if they don't have any background in the subject - which is obviously nonsense)
    There is such a thing as intuition .. and let's not forget Einstein saying "Imagination is more important than knowledge."
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    Quote Originally Posted by Aristarchus in Exile View Post
    There is such a thing as intuition .. and let's not forget Einstein saying "Imagination is more important than knowledge."
    So what. You couldn't derive the Einstein equation by intuition. It may have taken imagination to see there was a new way to think about the physics of space, time and gravity but it took a serious scientist to work it all out.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Strange View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Aristarchus in Exile View Post
    There is such a thing as intuition .. and let's not forget Einstein saying "Imagination is more important than knowledge."
    So what. You couldn't derive the Einstein equation by intuition. It may have taken imagination to see there was a new way to think about the physics of space, time and gravity but it took a serious scientist to work it all out.
    We return to what a serious scientist is. Faraday was not considered a serious scientist by his peers until he succeeded .. and even then he could not explain it through math because he was weak in calculus, so was Faraday a serious scientist? Schenkman was considered a quasi-scientist by Pauling until Pauling examined the evidence for himself. If Pauling had not examined the evidence he might have gone to his grave considering Schenkman a quack. Einstein? I understand a close friend of his did a lot of math for him as he was weak in math, so, was Einstein a serious scientist?
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    Quote Originally Posted by Aristarchus in Exile View Post
    Einstein? I understand a close friend of his did a lot of math for him as he was weak in math
    You understand wrong. This seems to be another popular myth: Einstein was just a humble patent clerk who couldn't do math but still came up with the theory of relativity. No he was a serious physicist (who just happened to work for a while in the patent office - we all have to earn a living) and had to work hard to master tensor calculus, etc. But then, who doesn't.

    , so, was Einstein a serious scientist?
    Of course. And so was Faraday (because he used experiment, data, the scientific method, etc.)

    Yes, paradigm shifts can take time to be accepted. Obviously. But that doesn't mean that every wacko with a weird idea is a genius. 99% of them are just wackos talking nonsense.
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    I worded my former post conservatively, I should have written it "I have read in biographical material that Einstein had help with math from a friend." But I wanted to avoid calls for verification which I don't have right now. I realize he was not just a patent clerk, he was a physicist, but probably every physicist has is weak points, and math, according to bios, was weak in math.

    As far as which scientist might be a wackos - all I can say is judge not, lest ye be judged .. I think even the small history presented in this thread this far should confirm the dangers of judging.

    In searching for hard evidence of Einstein's math weakness I found this paragraph relating to the 'judge not' exhortation: "In a 1905 paper,[71] Einstein postulated that light itself consists of localized particles (quanta). Einstein's light quanta were nearly universally rejected by all physicists, including Max Planck and Niels Bohr. This idea only became universally accepted in 1919, with Robert Millikan's detailed experiments on the photoelectric effect, and with the measurement of Compton scattering." "
    Last edited by Aristarchus in Exile; November 11th, 2011 at 07:31 PM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by zinjanthropos View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Strange View Post
    They were both highly qualified physicists.
    OMG, say it ain't so!!!! Einstein's a physicist...hallelujah. Shakespeare once said "what's in a name?" and it appears to be quite a bit. If warp drive is discovered by a vacuum salesman working in his basement are you going to call him a scientist? Your reaction to my post was what I was hoping for, so thanks.
    Einstein had a PhD in physics when he published his papers on relativity. He was working as a patent clerk to support himself during his PhD studies, and continued the job for a while after he graduated while he looked for a teaching job with a university.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Aristarchus in Exile View Post
    I'll start with Michael Faraday. I read his life story in a biography, a book I believe was entitled The Life of Michael Faraday. He endured derision and condemnation for his theories, and derided and condemned personally because he had inferior math skills as well as a lower social class, but he was a hands-on guy who proved his theories and of course was finally highly honoured. An excellent bio is at Michael Faraday: Facts, Discussion Forum, and Encyclopedia Article
    Faraday's work was before science as we know it today was practiced. Back then it was basically just a lot of "gentleman experimenters" who tinkered around and wrote each other letters about their work.
    Another example is Daniel Schechtman who discovered quasi crystals. He was condemned and campaigned ferociously against and degraded by no less than Linus Pauling, who at the time had two nobels. Schechtman was awarded his own Nobel for quasi crystals. Pauling went so far as to call Schechtmas a "quasi scientist." Dan Shechtman - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    He had a PhD and published his work in peer-reviewed journals. The fact that most other scientists disagreed with him doesn't place him on the same level as cranks/nuts/etc. like you might find littering the internet...
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    Quote Originally Posted by Scifor Refugee View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Aristarchus in Exile View Post
    I'll start with Michael Faraday. I read his life story in a biography, a book I believe was entitled The Life of Michael Faraday. He endured derision and condemnation for his theories, and derided and condemned personally because he had inferior math skills as well as a lower social class, but he was a hands-on guy who proved his theories and of course was finally highly honoured. An excellent bio is at Michael Faraday: Facts, Discussion Forum, and Encyclopedia Article
    Faraday's work was before science as we know it today was practiced. Back then it was basically just a lot of "gentleman experimenters" who tinkered around and wrote each other letters about their work.
    Another example is Daniel Schechtman who discovered quasi crystals. He was condemned and campaigned ferociously against and degraded by no less than Linus Pauling, who at the time had two nobels. Schechtman was awarded his own Nobel for quasi crystals. Pauling went so far as to call Schechtmas a "quasi scientist." Dan Shechtman - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    He had a PhD and published his work in peer-reviewed journals. The fact that most other scientists disagreed with him doesn't place him on the same level as cranks/nuts/etc. like you might find littering the internet...
    Scifor I recommend you read more scientific history. Science as practiced today has been practiced for thousands of years. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Science Of course, even scientists can't agree on what true science is, so any question about science is open to personal flavour.

    Faraday was a true scientist by any definition. Shechtman seemed to be accepted as a scientist by most scientists other than Pauling. I suspect pride on Pauling's part.

    It was philosophers who first suggested that our galaxie was only one of many .. seeing some of the fuzzy patches of light thought to be nubulas as galaxies beyond the borders of our own.
    Last edited by Aristarchus in Exile; November 16th, 2011 at 12:15 PM.
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    But the fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses.
    They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright Brothers.
    But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown. ~Carl Sagan
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    Quote Originally Posted by brane wave View Post
    But the fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses.
    They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright Brothers.
    But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown. ~Carl Sagan
    Sagan was jealous that he didn't make as much money as Bozo.
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    Quote Originally Posted by brane wave View Post
    But the fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses.
    They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright Brothers.
    But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown. ~Carl Sagan
    Columbus deserved to be laughed at.
    brane wave likes this.
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    The heated mind resents the chill touch & relentless scrutiny of logic"-W.E. Gladstone


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    Quote Originally Posted by Strange View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Aristarchus in Exile View Post
    Einstein? I understand a close friend of his did a lot of math for him as he was weak in math
    You understand wrong. This seems to be another popular myth: Einstein was just a humble patent clerk who couldn't do math but still came up with the theory of relativity. No he was a serious physicist (who just happened to work for a while in the patent office - we all have to earn a living) and had to work hard to master tensor calculus, etc. But then, who doesn't.

    , so, was Einstein a serious scientist?
    Of course. And so was Faraday (because he used experiment, data, the scientific method, etc.)

    Yes, paradigm shifts can take time to be accepted. Obviously. But that doesn't mean that every wacko with a weird idea is a genius. 99% of them are just wackos talking nonsense.
    Maybe Einstein came up with the answer before he had the skill set to work it out the long way. After all, to me, education in my time was to be given all the answers before I understood the questions.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Aristarchus in Exile View Post
    Scifor I recommend you read more scientific history. Science as practiced today has been practiced for thousands of years. Science - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    Please define, in your own words, what science is and identify which elements of this definition have been practiced for thousands of years.

    I ask for this because any definition of science that I am familiar with would consider the development of modern science has been a gradual process over the last few hundred years. One can trace back lines of reasoning that have elements in common with the scientific method, but to make the claim you do is unusual to the point of likely being wrong.
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    Quote Originally Posted by John Galt View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Aristarchus in Exile View Post
    Scifor I recommend you read more scientific history. Science as practiced today has been practiced for thousands of years. Science - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    Please define, in your own words, what science is and identify which elements of this definition have been practiced for thousands of years.

    I ask for this because any definition of science that I am familiar with would consider the development of modern science has been a gradual process over the last few hundred years. One can trace back lines of reasoning that have elements in common with the scientific method, but to make the claim you do is unusual to the point of likely being wrong.
    In my own broad definition science is the search for and/or accumulation of and/or application of knowledge. The most successful scientific people in history, Einstein as one example, use intuition and imagination as tools as important as microscopes and telescopes.

    I had this debate on another science forum, so I know that some scientifically minded people think there is one or more narrow definitions, but I think those people have lost the search and are living a culture of exclusivity, thinking themselves superior to the child who turns over a rock on a riverside to find out what is underneath, or the child who looks at the stars and sees knowledge. I have a very hard time being patient with people who think themselves so exclusive, and easily rage against them inside my own quiet sphere. At the same time I recognize as degenerate and harmful my own pride that tells me that I am right and not to be corrected, so I dare not condemn those in the same boat, asking only that we can have patience with each other and be truly open minded.
    Last edited by Aristarchus in Exile; November 17th, 2011 at 04:17 PM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by FeedbackPath View Post
    Maybe Einstein came up with the answer before he had the skill set to work it out the long way. After all, to me, education in my time was to be given all the answers before I understood the questions.
    Einstein might of had a glimmer of an idea early, but it wasn't until he got a knowledge base that he could do anything with it. Until then, he couldn't even know if that gliimer was in any way valid or just pie in the sky.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Janus View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by brane wave View Post
    But the fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses.
    They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright Brothers.
    But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown. ~Carl Sagan
    Columbus deserved to be laughed at.
    Why, just because by sailing west he could find India?
    Instead he found America, the south to be precise.
    Columbus was a great mariner and visionary, he put his reputation
    on the line to find a sea path to the east.
    To suggest that he should be laughed at is beneath contempt.
    nokton.
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    Quote Originally Posted by John Galt View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Aristarchus in Exile View Post
    Scifor I recommend you read more scientific history. Science as practiced today has been practiced for thousands of years. Science - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    Please define, in your own words, what science is and identify which elements of this definition have been practiced for thousands of years.

    I ask for this because any definition of science that I am familiar with would consider the development of modern science has been a gradual process over the last few hundred years. One can trace back lines of reasoning that have elements in common with the scientific method, but to make the claim you do is unusual to the point of likely being wrong.
    Thankyou John, reason, at last.
    nokton.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Janus View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by FeedbackPath View Post
    Maybe Einstein came up with the answer before he had the skill set to work it out the long way. After all, to me, education in my time was to be given all the answers before I understood the questions.
    Einstein might of had a glimmer of an idea early, but it wasn't until he got a knowledge base that he could do anything with it. Until then, he couldn't even know if that gliimer was in any way valid or just pie in the sky.
    Einstein's own words:
    Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited.

    I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination.

    When I examine myself and my methods of thought, I come to the conclusion that the gift of fantasy has meant more to me than any talent for abstract, positive thinking.

    The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.


    My own words: In my opinion Einstein was one of the greatest scientists in history, however, he was also a classic example of how the best can be wrong, how what he considered knowledge was not knowledge at all.

    An example - Einstein once said that atoms could never be torn apart. However .. he was also smart enough to know he could be wrong.

    Another Example - Relativity - it always was and still is theory, thrown into doubt now by faster than light neutrinos. It never was knowledge.

    The beauty about Einstein was that he knew he could be wrong and usually admitted it; another striking thing is his attitude about religion's relationship to science: Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind. Einstein Quotes At this time I don't personally agree with that quote as I doubt if faith can be proven by science, but things in a faith or in a book can sometimes be proven by science (the explosion of the universe at the end of time.)
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    Quote Originally Posted by Aristarchus in Exile View Post
    Einstein's own words:
    Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited.
    Although, interestingly, he didn't say imagination is more important than mathematics.

    But of course imagination is important: the best scientists are very creative. However, that has to be tempered with the rigour of the scientific method: does this idea fit the evidence, does it fit within the existing framework of maths and physics, etc.

    For example Kekulé came up with idea for the benzene ring after a day-dream about a snake swallowing its tale. What an imagination! However, he had this daydream after having studied the nature of carbon bonds for many years. So it was an "informed dream". Also, if he then sat down, done the calculations and found that the idea didn't work then he would have abandoned it no matter how imaginative it was.

    The beauty about Einstein was that he knew he could be wrong
    All scientists know that.
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    Quote Originally Posted by nokton View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Janus View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by brane wave View Post
    But the fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses.
    They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright Brothers.
    But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown. ~Carl Sagan
    Columbus deserved to be laughed at.
    Why, just because by sailing west he could find India?
    Instead he found America, the south to be precise.
    Columbus was a great mariner and visionary, he put his reputation
    on the line to find a sea path to the east.
    To suggest that he should be laughed at is beneath contempt.
    nokton.

    Because he believed that the world was much smaller than it was. Despite popular belief, the dispute wasn't over whether or not the world was round or not but its size. The accepted figure at the time was that arrived at by Eratosthenes which was quite close to the correct answer. Columbus believed it was much smaller, which was why he thought you could sail West to India.

    Columbus was not only wrong in his initial belief, but more than that, even as the evidence continued to mount that he had in fact come across a new land mass and not the Indian subcontinent, he refused to accept it and went to his death bed still claiming to have sailed to India. Discovering something by serendipity is one thing, but to refuse to accept that what you found was not what you were looking for is another.
    "Men are apt to mistake the strength of their feelings for the strength of their argument.
    The heated mind resents the chill touch & relentless scrutiny of logic"-W.E. Gladstone


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    Would this better in the history sub-forum?
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