Photograph of Alfred Wegener, the scientist

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Most people probably have not heard of Alfred Wegener. Wegener (1880-1930) was a German scientist who worked in meteorology and astronomy. But he is most famous today for being the first scientist to propose (in 1913) the theory of continental drift, the position that continents do not remain in one position but move vast distances over geological time. Continental drift is universally accepted today, but Wegener’s theory was ridiculed and his reputation suffered during and after his lifetime. Professional geologists did not believe a non-geologist could come up with an good theory. I remember reading a children’s book on science when I was a child–the book said that Wegener’s theory of continental drift had no real evidence in its favor. Wegener died a broken man because of the dirt heaped on his reputation by the scientific establishment.

But in the late 1950s and early 1960s, more and more scientists accepted continental drift due to advances in developing a theory behind it. Eventually plate tectonics, the view that continents float on semi-molten plates that can move vast distances over millions of years, was accepted. Wegener, who was long dead, would have been proud. But why would scientists, who are supposed to be open-minded, reject Wegener so strongly?

The reason is that science is not nearly as objective as it claims to be. It is, to a large extent, a political enterprise. Some theories are “in”; others are “out” in the political circles of the scientific establishment. Today, with millions of dollars of government grants at stake, few scientists are willing to question the establishment, lest they get ostracized, lose grant money, and fail to receive tenure due to lack of publications if they work in higher education. The pressure on an innovative scientist can be enormous.

More cases could be named: the failure of most psychologists to accept the existence of seasonal affective disorder despite strong evidence that it is a real entity. Another example is the failure of oceanographers and meteorologists to accept the existence of single large waves that sometimes occur in fair weather and topple ships. This was thought to be a sailor’s myth until the existence of such waves was revealed in a satellite photograph. The existence of psi (ESP and psychokinesis) has overwhelming evidence to support it, but the majority of psychologists claim that parapsychology is a pseudoscience. This is not because they examine the evidence fairly, but because they have a prior philosophical bias against the existence of these abilities. These psychologists then use their political influence to stop funding for psi research. An examination of much of the skeptical literature of psi reveals a selective reading of parapsychological literature. Some skeptics present such a distorted picture of parapsychology that the only reasonable conclusion is that they are either self-deceived, or worse, they lack integrity.

In the life of the state, there is often a battle between politics and truth. This is the same with science. The scientific community is like a new priesthood, declaring what is heretical and what is orthodox. The problem is that many of scientific heretics have been right.

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