Beware of the expertsIn January, the venerable Royal Society celebrated 350 years of exploring the natural world by convening for the theme “The Detection Of Extraterrestrial Life And The Consequences For Science And Society.” The media loved this stuff, coming as it did from arguably the world’s premier forum for mainstream science. Reax ranged from Far Out to Visionary, even though UFOs were conspicuously excluded from the conversation.
By Billy COx
By Billy COx
But conventional wisdom ain’t always what it’s cracked up to be, as a Royal Society president proved in 1986. Lord William Thomson Kelvin may have attained immortality for developing the foundation of Absolute Zero, but he blundered big time when he veered into aeronautics. “I have not the smallest molecule of faith,” he said just seven years before the Wright Brothers changed the world at Kitty Hawk, “in aerial navigation other than ballooning or of expectation of good results from any of the trials we hear of.”
There’s a long and perversely satisfying litany of such gaffes in Science Was Wrong: Startling Truths About Cures, Theories and Inventions ‘They’ Declared Impossible. Assembled by veteran UFO researcher Stan Friedman and Kathleen Marden, niece of celebrated UFO abductee Betty Hill and co-author of Friedman’s book Captured!, the agenda here is predictable enough. But often fun, especially when the pompous certitude of authority figures makes them look like idiots. E.g.:
“Television won’t matter in your lifetime or mine,” Radio Times editor Rex Lambert, 1936; “There is practically no chance communications space satellites will be used to provide better telephone, telegraph, television, or radio service inside the United States,” T. Craven, FCC commissioner, 1961; “To affirm that the aeroplane is going to revolutionize naval warfare of the future is to be guilty of the wildest exaggeration,” Scientific American, 1916.
Science Was Wrong also revisits the struggles of true innovators to persuade the mainstream to accept reality. From Edward Jenner’s campaign for vaccination as an effective tool against smallpox to the ridicule provoked by Ignaz Philipp Semmeweis’s arguments that infections could be reduced if physicians would just wash their hands between patients, the authors address the consequences in store for those who challenge the status quo.
Not surprisingly, Science Was Wrong strays into UFOs, much of which was covered in Friedman’s 2008 book Flying Saucers and Science. It also takes a curious shot at global warming. While the book accurately describes the numerous holes in the CO2 data and its impact upon climate change, the Man v. Nature debate on the origin of this controversy is far from settled. Raising this issue in the same pages with quack-science eugenics — in which the crimes committed against humanity were intentional and unambiguous — seems beyond premature. It damages its own credibility.
Still, Science Was Wrong can be a decent reference for those who mistake institutional science for honest inquiry. Fortunately — or maybe, unfortunately — there aren’t as many of those subscribers around as there used to be.