[Orac note: A combination of power outages, travel to Seattle, and trying to write something for my not-so-super-secret other blog conspired to leave me with nothing for this morning. So I thought I'd resurrect this old gem, which hasn't been reposted in at least four years. I actually did try to remove the dead links (this post dates back nearly 12 years in some form or another), but I probably missed a couple. I also changed the post a little, just to remove clearly outdated stuff. In the mean time, be assured that, with no more travel planned and our power restored, things should get back to normal here at the old blog, with no further (foreseen) outages. Oh, wait. I still have to troubleshoot my iMac, which was running at the time of the last outage and now won't boot properly. Damn, I hope I don't have to reformat the hard drive and start from scratch.]
Certain recent commenters reminded me of a topic I first wrote about here on Respectful Insolence, way, way back in the deep, dark days of Blogspot and ugly web design. It's a favorite tactic used by alternative medicine aficionados (not to mention pseudoscientists, pseudohistorians, and other cranks). Purveyors of pseudoscience frequently invoke Galileo and other scientists like Ignaz Semmelweiss, who were at first rejected by the scientific orthodoxy of the time and had to fight to get their ideas accepted. The implication, of course, is that their ideas, whatever they may be (alternative medicine, intelligent design, Holocaust denial, psychic abilities, etc.), are on the same plane as those of Galileo or Semmelweiss. Frequently, they will add a list of famous scientists or experts who made predictions about the impossibility of something or other and were later found wrong, so much so that the statements sound ridiculous today. For example, here's a famous list that had been been making the rounds on Usenet for years even 12 years ago. Some of these quotes may in fact be urban legends (and, in fact, I'd be grateful to anyone who points out urban legends in here to me), but let's for the moment assume they are all legitimate quotes:
..so many centuries after the Creation it is unlikely that anyone could find hitherto unknown lands of any value. - Committee advising Ferdinand and Isabella regarding Columbus' proposal, 1486
I would sooner believe that two Yankee professors lied, than that stones fell from the sky. - Thomas Jefferson, 1807 on hearing an eyewitness report of falling meteorites.
Drill for oil? You mean drill into the ground to try and find oil? You're crazy. - Drillers who Edwin L. Drake tried to enlist to his project to drill for oil in 1859.
Louis Pasteur's theory of germs is ridiculous fiction. - Pierre Pachet, Professor of Physiology at Toulouse, 1872
[Orac's note: This one is particularly amusing to me, given that so many alternative medicine proponents reject Pasteur's theory in favor of Beauchamps. Here, they seem to want to have it both ways. They reject Pasteur when arguing against antibiotics, claiming that bacteria are not the cause of disease, or attacking vaccines as useless and harmful. However, they have no problem invoking this quote. Of course, they don't seem to realize that their use of this quote implicitly acknowledges that Pasteur's theories, although initially quite controversial, were ultimately proven correct.]
The abdomen, the chest, and the brain will forever be shut from the intrusion of the wise and humane surgeon. - Sir John Eric Ericksen, British surgeon, appointed Surgeon-Extraordinary to Queen Victoria 1873.
[Orac's note: As a surgeon, I have to point out that, at the time, this was not an entirely unreasonable statement. Operating in the abdomen was risky in the extreme, with a high rate of death from peritonitis that could approach 50% in some operations (that is, until the invention of antibiotics). In fact, I sometimes wonder how the great surgeons of 140 years ago managed to operate on anyone's abdomen and have the patient actually survive the procedure. Operating in the chest was also out of the question, given the problem of reinflating the lung afterward, and certainly the brain was completely off-limits. In any case, there was no way Sir Ericksen (or anyone else) could be faulted for failing to forsee the advancements in anaesthesia, antibiotics, surgical technique, and patient care that would ultimately allow such surgery to succeed and even become routine (although one does have to point out that surgeons were already operating in the abdomen reasonably successfully at the time).]
Such startling announcements as these should be deprecated as being unworthy of science and mischievious to to its true progress. - Sir William Siemens, 1880, on Edison's announcement of a sucessful light bulb.
We are probably nearing the limit of all we can know about astronomy. - Simon Newcomb, astronomer, 1888
Fooling around with alternating current is just a waste of time. Nobody will use it, ever. - Thomas Edison, 1889
[Orac's note: It's well-known that Thomas Edison wanted to promote the use of direct current rather than alternating current. It was a battle of rival technologies (sometimes called the War of Currents), not unlike the war between Betamax and VHS, but on a much larger scale. Edison ultimately lost.]
The more important fundamental laws and facts of physical science have all been discovered, and these are now so firmly established that the possibility of their ever being supplanted in consequence of new discoveries is exceedingly remote.... Our future discoveries must be looked for in the sixth place of decimals. - physicist Albert. A. Michelson, 1894
Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible. - Lord Kelvin, president, Royal Society, 1895.
It is apparent to me that the possibilities of the aeroplane, which two or three years ago were thought to hold the solution to the [flying machine] problem, have been exhausted, and that we must turn elsewhere. - Thomas Edison, 1895
The demonstration that no possible combination of known substances, known forms of machinery, and known forms of force can be united in a practicable machine by which men shall fly for long distances through the air, seems to the writer as complete as it is possible for the demonstration of any physical fact to be. - astronomer S. Newcomb, 1906
Airplanes are interesting toys but of no military value. - Marechal Ferdinand Foch, Professor of Strategy, Ecole Superieure de Guerre.
Caterpillar landships are idiotic and useless. Those officers and men are wasting their time and are not pulling their proper weight in the war. - Fourth Lord of the British Admiralty, 1915, in regards to use of tanks in war.
Professor Goddard does not know the relation between action and reaction and the need to have something better than a vacuum against which to react. He seems to lack the basic knowledge ladled out daily in high schools. - 1921 New York Times editorial about Robert Goddard's revolutionary rocket work.
[Orac's note: Why the New York Times would be considered an "expert" in rocketry such that it would be of interest to use it as an example of an "expert" making a statement that is later proven wrong, I have no idea. This quote is at best irrelevant.]
The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular? - David Sarnoff's associates in response to his urgings for investment in the radio in the 1920s.
"All a trick." "A Mere Mountebank." "Absolute swindler." "Doesn't know what he's about." "What's the good of it?" "What useful purpose will it serve?" - Members of Britain's Royal Society, 1926, after a demonstration of television.
This foolish idea of shooting at the moon is an example of the absurd lengths to which vicious specialisation will carry scientists. -A.W. Bickerton, physicist, NZ, 1926
Who the hell wants to hear actors talk? - H.M. Warner, Warner Brothers, 1927.
Stocks have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau. - Irving Fisher, Professor of Economics, Yale University, 1929.
[Orac's note: Of course, we had the same sort of idiotic statements coming from "experts" during the Internet bubble of the 1990's; for example, this book predicting that the Dow would reach 36,000. How many times did we hear that the Internet "changed everything" and that the stock market had no where to go but continually up?]
There is not the slightest indication that nuclear energy will ever be obtainable. It would mean that the atom would have to be shattered at will. -- Albert Einstein, 1932
The energy produced by the atom is a very poor kind of thing. Anyone who expects a source of power from the transformation of these atoms is talking moonshine. - Ernst Rutherford, 1933
The whole procedure [of shooting rockets into space]...presents difficulties of so fundamental a nature, that we are forced to dismiss the notion as essentially impracticable, in spite of the author's insistent appeal to put aside prejudice and to recollect the supposed impossibility of heavier-than-air flight before it was actually accomplished. Richard van der Riet Wooley, British astronomer, reviewing P.E. Cleator's Rockets in Space, Nature, March 14, 1936
Space travel is utter bilge! -Sir Richard Van Der Riet Wolley, astronomer
I think there is a world market for maybe five computers. - Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943
Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons. - Popular Mechanics, forecasting the relentless march of science, 1949
[Orac's note: Heh heh. This statement isn't an incorrect prediction. Think about it. Most computers don't weigh more than 1.5 tons these days, do they?]
I have traveled the length and breadth of this country and talked with the best people, and I can assure you that data processing is a fad that won't last out the year. - The editor in charge of business books for Prentice Hall, 1957
Space travel is bunk. -Sir Harold Spencer Jones, Astronomer Royal of Britain, 1957, two weeks before the launch of Sputnik
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
We don't like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out. - Decca Recording Co. rejecting the Beatles, 1962.
But what... is it good for? - Engineer at the Advanced Computing Systems Division of IBM, 1968, commenting on the microchip.
There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home. - Ken Olson, President, Chairman and Founder of Digital Equipment Corporation, 1977
The concept is interesting and well-formed, but in order to earn better than a 'C,' the idea must be feasible. - A Yale University management professor in response to Fred Smith's paper proposing reliable overnight delivery service. (Smith went on to found Federal Express Corp.)
I'm just glad it'll be Clark Gable who's falling on his face and not Gary Cooper. - Gary Cooper on his decision not to take the leading role in Gone With The Wind.
A cookie store is a bad idea. Besides, the market research reports say America likes crispy cookies, not soft and chewy cookies like you make. - Response to Debbi Fields' idea of starting Mrs. Fields' Cookies.
If I had thought about it, I wouldn't have done the experiment. The literature was full of examples that said you can't do this. - Spencer Silver on the work that led to the unique adhesives for 3M "Post-It" Notepads.
So we went to Atari and said, 'Hey, we've got this amazing thing, even built with some of your parts, and what do you think about funding us? Or we'll give it to you. We just want to do it. Pay our salary, we'll come work for you.' And they said, 'No.' So then we went to Hewlett-Packard, and they said, 'Hey, we don't need you. You haven't got through college yet.' - Apple Computer Inc. founder Steve Jobs on attempts to get Atari and H-P interested in his and Steve Wozniak's personal computer.
You want to have consistent and uniform muscle development across all of your muscles? It can't be done. It's just a fact of life. You just have to accept inconsistent muscle development as an unalterable condition of weight training. - Response to Arthur Jones, who solved the "unsolvable" problem by inventing Nautilus.
640K ought to be enough for anybody. - Bill Gates, 1981
[Orac's note: Of course, in 1981, Gates was correct. No one really needed more than 640K in a personal computer. There wasn't much you could actually do with more than that in 1981...]
So, again, what's the point of alties or other pseudoscientists invoking Galileo or any of the hideously incorrect prognostications listed above? Again, obviously, this technique seeks to denigrate the experts who reject the altie's claims as not knowing what they're talking about or as close-minded, unable to have the vision that they do. It also deceptively tries to associate the quack, crank, pseudoscientist, or pseudohistorian with the theories and findings of great visionaries that went against conventional wisdom and were thus rejected by the experts of the day--and then later shown to be correct. It's a transparent ploy, about which Michael Shermer once said, "Heresy does not equal correctness."
Some call it the Galileo gambit (although in actuality Galileo is probably a bad example for pseudoscientists to use, given that he was persecuted by the Church, and not by his fellow scientists). Others call it the Semmelweis gambit. Whatever you call this particular gambit, I always like to note in response that history is indeed full of tales of the lone scientist working in spite of his peers and flying in the face of the doctrines of the day in his or her field of study. No doubt there are still a fair number of such scientists today. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending upon your point of view), the vast majority of them turn out to be utterly wrong. They disappear into the mists of history, leaving not even a footnote in the grand history of science (although they might leave behind some crappy articles in the peer-reviewed scientific literature). As Shermer so correctly put it in his book Why People Believe Weird Things (a book I highly recommend to anyone interested in improving his or her critical thinking skills):
For every Galileo shown the instruments of torture for advocating scientific truth, there are a thousand (or ten thousand) unknowns whose 'truths' never pass scientific muster with other scientists. The scientific community cannot be expected to test every fanstastic claim that comes along, especially when so many are logically inconsistent.
For every Galileo, Ignaz Semmelweis, Nicolaus Copernicus, Charles Darwin, Louis Pasteur, etc., whose scientific ideas were either ignored, rejected, or vigorously attacked by the scientific community of his time and then later accepted, there are untold numbers of others whose ideas were either ignored or rejected initially and then were never accepted--and never will be accepted. Why? Because they were wrong! The reason the ideas of Galileo, Semmelweis, Copernicus, Darwin, Pasteur, et al, were ultimately accepted as correct by the scientific community is because they turned out to be correct! Their observations and ideas stood up to repeated observation and scientific experimentation by many scientists in many places over many years. The weight of data supporting their ideas was so overwhelming that eventually even the biggest skeptics could no longer stand. That's the way science works. It may be messy, and it may take longer, occasionally even decades or even longer, than we in the business might like to admit, but eventually in science the truth wins out. In fact, the best way for a scientist to become famous and successful in his or her field is to come up with evidence that strongly challenges established theories and concepts and then weave that evidence into a new theory. Albert Einstein didn't end up in the history books by simply reconfirming and recapitulating Newton's Laws. Semmelweis and Pasteur didn't wind up in the history books by confirming the concept that disease was caused by an "imbalance of humours" (although Semmelweis probably did hurt himself by refusing to publish his results for many years; his data was so compelling it remains puzzling why he did not do so). I daresay that none of the Nobel Prize winners won that prestigious award by demonstrating something that the scientific establishment already believed. No! They won it by discovering something new and important!
Unfortunately, to most lay people who don't have a strong background in science, the scientific method, or the history of science, such trickery can sound convincing on the surface. For example, you have a quack like Hulda Clark claiming she has a cure for cancer and AIDS and then claiming that the scientific establishment can't accept it. Add a dash of paranoia about big medicine and big pharma "suppressing" her "cure," and it's a potent brew of deception. This ploy is particularly appealing to Americans, because our whole national psyche has in its core a tendency to root for the outsider, the underdog. Alties, pseudoscientists, and cranks tap into that deep-seated sympathy we tend to have for the persecuted outsider and use it to their advantage. It's the same with creationists, who use every well-deserved debunking they get as evidence that they are a "threat" to the established scientific order. The only way to combat such deceptive comparisons is to point out again and again Shermer's dictum that "heresy does not equal correctness" and try to keep the discussion on the hard evidence.
I think it's appropriate to finish with another Michael Shermer quote:
They laughed at Copernicus. They laughed at the Wright brothers. Yes, well, they also laughed at the Marx Brothers. Being laughed at does not mean you are right.
Use it the next time an alt med believer tries to imply that the fact that the scientific establishment mocks their ideas means that they must be on to something. Except do what I do and use the Three Stooges instead of the Marx Brothers.
Especially Curly. Nyuck, nyuck, nyuck.
There is not the slightest indication that nuclear energy will ever be obtainable. It would mean that the atom would have to be shattered at will. — Albert Einstein, 1932
I have no idea whether that quote is authentic, but seven years later Einstein signed a letter to President Roosevelt advising the latter of then-recent advances in the fission of uranium by Fermi and Szilard (according to Wikipedia, the latter actually wrote the letter):
Some recent work by E. Fermi and L. Szilard, which has been communicated to me in manuscript, leads me to expect that the element uranium may be turned into a new and important source of energy in the immediate future.
Einstein, whose pacifistic views were well-known, understood the military implications of these experiments, as well as similar experiments being conducted in Germany at the time:
I understand that Germany has actually stopped the sale of uranium from the Czechoslovakian mines which she has taken over. That she should have taken such early action might perhaps be understood on the ground that the son of the German Under-Secretary of State, von Weizsacker, is attached to the Kaiser-Wilhelm Institute in Berlin, where some of the American work on uranium is now being repeated.
Even if the quote in question is genuine, note that Einstein changed his opinion on the basis of experimental results that were obtained between 1932 and 1939. That's how science works: if your opinions don't fit the facts, you change your opinions.
To its credit, after Apollo 11 successfully landed on the moon, the New York Times published a retraction.
As for Thomas Watson's comment, he was speaking in 1943, when computers used vacuum tubes. It is not surprising that he would have thought and said that.
My nomination for best Galileo Award in recent times goes to Linus Pauling for his rejection of quasicrystals (structures that are ordered but not periodic)
Pauling said, "There is no such thing as quasicrystals, only quasi-scientists.", according to Dan Schechtman (who got a Nobel for discovering the phenomenon in 2011) .
Although meeting initial disbelief from some scientists, Schectman's discovery was deemed worthy for quick publication and was confirmed within a decade by others. I don't know of any evidence that Pauling ever accepted that quasi crystals were real.
This is ironic to me on two levels. First, Pauling, although the premier authority in this field, apparently was unaware of some earlier work that showed that such things were mathematically possible. Also of course, Pauling's scientific stature is often cited as a reason to believe in Vit C cures. This shows that he wasn't infallible even in his own area of expertise.
Of course, we had the same sort of idiotic statements [as Prof. Fisher's] coming from “experts” during the Internet bubble of the 1990’s
And likewise during the real estate bubble of the 2000s (which may have peaked after Orac first wrote this post). When that bubble popped in 2007, Goldman Sachs' then CFO David Vinier made the following infamous statement:
We were seeing things that were 25-standard deviation moves, several days in a row.
As the link notes, the probability of such a move happening even once, let alone "several days in a row", is so ridiculously small as to make one suspect there was something wrong with the model Goldman Sachs was using. Even assuming the most pathological probability distribution for which a standard deviation can be defined (let alone the Gaussian distribution that they were most likely using), the highest possible likelihood for seeing three consecutive such moves is once per 244 million trading days, or about once in a million years.
I've long since lost the reference on this, but apparently several models in use at the time did not allow the rate of increase in real estate values to be negative. This despite the early 1990s crash in real estate that caused prices to drop in California and New England.
Spencer Silver on the work that led to the unique adhesives for 3M “Post-It” Notepads.
Fascinating story, Mr. Art Fry was also instrumental in the "3M Post-it Notepads".
Getting personal, I was an adhesive chemist at the H.B. Fuller Company (Minnesota) and co-invented a replacement for natural rubber latex in medical packaging.
The inventive latex-free medical adhesive is immensely successful but unrecognized because publicity would expose decades of unintended harm from latex-based medical products.
Indeed, the resulting phrase "not manufactured with natural rubber latex" may be the only reward for such an endeavor.
@ Orac and his minions,
Q. How does a parent protect their child from atypical immunity and allergy-induced regressive autism.
A. Avoid medical products that have natural rubber latex warnings.
Is there a "natural-latex Gambit"? :-)
And you wonder why I've put you back into permanent moderation. I was thinking of releasing you again, but then you had to go and indulge your latex perseveration. Oops! In permanent moderation you stay!
And then there is the "everything that can be invented has been invented." statement attributed to Charles H. Duell the Commissioner of US patent office in 1899. But that may be apocryphal.
Galileo is probably a bad example for pseudoscientists to use, given that he was persecuted by the Church
Galileo is an excellent example for pseudoscientists. He was wrong.
He got into trouble with the Church for several reasons, more political that heretical, overall. The reason he could not get out of trouble was that it was obvious that his theory was indefensible.
When confronting a paranoid autocrat such as Urban VIII plus the Roman the Inquisition, it really helps to have a theory that works, at least to some extent.
It also helps to have powerful and knowledgeable allies. Galileo had made a lot of enemies over the years including, IIRC, the leadership of the pontifical observatory, that is, some of the best astronomers in Europe at the time.
Conceptually he and Copernicus and Kepler and a few others were correct that it was a heliocentric solar system. The problem was proving it and Galileo's theory just did not work. A theory that predicts one tide a day is not credible.
It a pity Shermer is perpetuating the Galileo myth.
Clearly you've forgotten how much I detest pedantry. :-) (Through gritted teeth.)
A theory that predicts one tide a day is not credible.
I'd be interested to see a link on this, because I have never heard this part of the story.
It may be obvious to us today why there are two tides a day: not only does the moon pull harder on the side of the Earth facing it than on the center of the Earth, it pulls harder on the center of the Earth than on the side facing away. But this would not have been so obvious to Galileo. Calculus would not be invented for another 80 years or so after Galileo built his first telescope, and the inverse square law wasn't known yet--I think Newton did both of those things, but the latter was based on Kepler's work if not done by Kepler himself.
Galileo also assumed that orbits were circular, as did Copernicus and everybody else up to that point--it was Kepler who noticed that the orbits were elliptical rather than circular. In fairness, the measurements available at the time weren't precise enough to distinguish the two, and of course a circle is the limiting case of an ellipse as the eccentricity goes to zero (all of the planets known at the time are in orbits with small eccentricities).
Galileo could prove that the geocentric model was incorrect: among other things, it predicted that Venus would never be observed more than half full, and Galileo saw Venus in such a phase.
Not that there weren't things Galileo got wrong. For instance, he observed an eighth-magnitude star one night, recorded its position, observed it again a few nights later, found it wasn't quite in that location, assumed he had mistranscribed the location, and thought nothing further of it. Three and a half centuries later, it was realized that the "star" in question was actually Neptune--if Galileo had followed up that observation, he would have beaten Leverrier and Adams by more than two centuries.
You mean Sir John. Knights (and baronets) are addressed by the honorific 'Sir', followed by their given name and not their family name if their name is not given in full. The same rule applies to women who have been similarly recognised, where the honorific is 'Dame'.
Apologies for the off-topic comment, but I've never understood why so many people make this mistake. Even setting aside commonplace modern examples, if you think of the tales of King Arthur, you don't refer to Sir Lancelot as Sir du Lac, do you?
Of course, as a republican (please note the small 'r'!), I would prefer that these medieval award practices were consigned to history. But since they're not, I'll settle for complaining about another form of their misuse!
I am Mentifex (Latin for "Mindmaker"). I outrank all quack, kooks, cranks and pseudoscientists. Look upon my Google search results and despair. And yet at http://ai.neocities.org/perlmind.txt I have created true artificial intelligence. At http://medium.com/p/657ee242a781 my AI work has made "AI Patents up for grabs."
A cookie store is a bad idea. Besides, the market research reports say America likes crispy cookies, not soft and chewy cookies like you make. – Response to Debbi Fields’ idea of starting Mrs. Fields’ Cookies.
Apparently they were right--hard, crunchy cookies seem to be a large majority of what's on sale.
America also seems to think that cutting chocolate cake into square pieces somehow magically converts it into brownies. They're wrong about that, too.
@ Eric Lund #6:
Galileo's theory of the tides (remember as a Mediterranean, he would never have really seen one) was based on sloshing due to the rotation of the Earth--so he used his theory as confirmation of that as well. In common with most scientists up to and past Newton's time, he rejected the idea that the moon could have some occult effect on the waters of the ocean as rank superstition.
As far as heliocentricism and Galileo go, it should be noted that Shaquille O'Neal and a few other NBA prats are spreading flat earth conspiracy theories far and wide in the news in the last few days. It's enough to make those of us who know something about anything real hang our heads in dismay.
These people have public soapboxes far in excess of their intellectual worth.
OK, just one more:
I daresay that none of the Nobel Prize winners won that prestigious award by demonstrating something that the scientific establishment already believed. No! They won it by discovering something new and important!
Carlo Rubbia leaps immediately to mind. Who-all wins the Nobel for discovering the Higgs boson would add to the list....
viggen @10: But, but they've all been on airplanes! Like, you can see the world isn't flat.
There must be something else to it, something about rejecting the man or something.
(Flat earthers should have their GPS taken away, because if the Earth isn't round (ish) then how could there possibly be satellites around it?)
Lots of the items in the list are merely opinions on what public acceptance of some "thing" will be. The public is a idiot, fickle and unpredictable. Anyone who underestimates what absurdity can be successfully and profitably fobbed off on the public hasn't been paying attention.
One specific on public - the term "microchip", as far as I can tell, was an invention of the popular media or Hollywood. It popped up rather suddenly and not in electronics industry trade magazines.
What changed the truthiness state for many of the items were advances more in technology than significant new finding in science.
I want to see a list of "brave maverick doctors" from the past half century or so who have been proven to be correct in some significant matter against substantial well-accepted ideas of the time. Prusiner I suppose might be regarded as one, but I think it's a stretch.
"Quotes attributed to famous people who have been dead at least 40 years are severely misquoted 30% of the time and falsely attributed a further 30%."
-- V. Lenin
Barry Marshall and H. pylori as the cause of peptic ulcers.
At least if he was going to be reckless as a "maverick" doctor, he was reckless with his own health.
@Justatech: Of COURSE you can have satillites when the earth is flat; they just circle the edge of the world!
Of COURSE you can have satillites when the earth is flat; they just circle the edge of the world!
Yeah, but the math don't work.
Back in my Air Force days, I traveled a bit, and sometimes, we be setting up satellite communications - anywhere between 6 telephone channel SHF stations and single channel, push-to-talk carry on your back radios.
All of them had antennas that had to be pointed at the satellite, and, of course, you needed some one, somewhere else on the earth to talk to, who also had an antenna pointed at the satellite.
We'd have to look at a map and figure out our Lat/Long, then plug that and a bunch of other stuff into a calculator, and out would come the azimuth and elevation to the satellite (now you just need an app)
To understand what was going on, we had training aids - a globe and a bunch of string. After a couple hours it starts to make sense. But on a flat earth, it wouldn't.
Prior to a trip, we'd figure out our look angles and check each others work, coordinate times, and make reservations on the satellite (seriously). Then, once we reached out destinations, we'd talk to each other.
These were people I knew and worked with. We'd been to each others houses, we'd drink beer together. We knew each other by voice. I knew who I was talking to.
We were only able to talk because the math worked, and if you pointed your antenna correctly. If there's a conspiracy to hide the flat earth, me and every other SATCOM literate person on the planet has to be in on it.
I like Carl Sagan’s take on this topic best: “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.”
To bring this back on topic -
I would sooner believe that two Yankee professors lied, than that stones fell from the sky. – Thomas Jefferson, 1807 on hearing an eyewitness report of falling meteorites.
According to the historians at https://www.monticello.org/site/blog-and-community/posts/who-liar-now
But otherwise, I believe it is safe to say that what we have here is a little bit of irony (and I hope my seventh-grade English teacher, Mrs. Early, would agree): Benjamin Silliman's statement that Jefferson said "that it was easier to believe that two Yankee Professors could lie than to admit that stones could fall from heaven" is itself a lie. By a Yankee professor.
@ Johnny: well, I was being facetious ;)
Still, your experience is a great example for people who never fly in air planes, or have never watched a ship's mast disappear over the horizon.
Oh, please don't think that I think you were in any way serious. In fact, I think 95%+ of the flat earthers don't really believe it either, and are just trolling the rest of us.
Barry Marshall and H. pylori as the cause of peptic ulcers.
I was going to mention Marshall as well. The fact that it is so hard to identify these brave maverick doctor's whose dismissed ideas turn out to be correct just goes to show how poor the Galileo Gambit is as a predictor.
The whole Galileo Gambit is part and parcel of the extreme confirmation bias exhibited. They reject science because it produces conclusions that disagree with their favourite belief; however, if a scientist or even a quasi-scientist comes up with something they like, then it is lauded as 'The Answer' no matter how bad it is. In order to overcome the cognitive dissonance this produces, they then have to manufacture a reason as to why their hero is ignored by everyone else. And down the rabbit hole of the Galileo Gambit we go.
Johnny, you are going to love to hear about this flat earther's explanation on how satellites work:
In fact, I think 95%+ of the flat earthers don’t really believe it either, and are just trolling the rest of us.
Oh, I know a guy who definitely believes it; granted, we met in the psych ward. His motivation seems to be extreme Biblical literalism.
@JP#28: clearly someone who didn’t read Isaiah 40:22: “It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers; that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in.” The flat earth isn’t even supported by extreme Biblical literalism.
The fact that it is so hard to identify these brave maverick doctor’s whose dismissed ideas turn out to be correct just goes to show how poor the Galileo Gambit is as a predictor.
I have a WAG that for every "crazy" idea that turns out to be correct, there are at least 99 crazy ideas that really are crazy. In medicine, Orac would know the details much better than I. In physics, with which I am more familiar, we have such gems as N-rays, Velikovskian orbital mechanics, cold fusion reactions that don't produce energetic neutrons, and cometesimals bombarding the Earth, just to name a few. And of course there are various medical-type crackpots who wave their hands while mumbling the word "quantum"; I'd say few if any of them know enough math to be able to solve the Schrödinger equation for even a toy problem such as you find in undergraduate level textbooks.
Marshall does seem to fill the bill quite well. From the Wikipedia article "The work of Marshall has produced one of the most radical and important changes in medical perception in the last 50 years."
One of the things that seems to come up quite often, not really part of the Galileo Gambit but tossed around in, if I may be so bold, complementary fashion are the tales of deathbed recantations. "Pasteur recanted on his deathbed! Germ theory is false." It boggles my mind that twits that make such statements don't understand that it wouldn't have mattered if Louis had traveled far and wide for months before he died loudly proclaiming he'd been wrong.
On the topic of GPS, for those that like to tinker: Receiver circuit boards using u-blox modules (Neo 6M seems popular, though there are newer variants) can be had for around US$20. I've played with some and they perform spectacularly well. U-blox has free demo software that I find interesting because it shows where the individual satellites actually are relative to Earth's surface. I haven't seen anything else that gives as good a "feel" for what's going on as well as the u-blox demo.
I confess to assuming a flat Earth for my script to assemble pathway segments in Google Earth. Saves 'rithmetic. Haven't ridden my bike off edge so far. 'course I wear a helmet, just in case.
"For every Galileo, Ignaz Semmelweis, Nicolaus Copernicus, Charles Darwin, Louis Pasteur, etc., whose scientific ideas were either ignored, rejected, or vigorously attacked by the scientific community of his time and then later accepted, there are untold numbers of others whose ideas were either ignored or rejected initially and then were never accepted–and never will be accepted. Why? Because they were wrong!"
You seem to consider that being wrong or right is what determines the acceptance of ideas. What about astrology, homeopathy, religions? Those fallacies are accepted by many people. In contrast, there are probably many ideas that are ignored for a century, are not accepted yet, but are correct.
Actually, what you call right or wrong depends on the fact that YOU accept them or not.
In that sense, this circular reasoning is more detrimental to science than a pure probabilistic view where new ideas are more likely to be wrong than right. It is laziness disguised as reasoning.
I have a WAG that for every “crazy” idea that turns out to be correct, there are at least 99 crazy ideas that really are crazy.
Wife and Girlfriend?
Flat earthers are a deliberate ploy by the CIA to belittle every other TRUTH movement by making them appear to be birds of a feather, dontchaknow?
@Rebecca Fisher - not sure if you're serious or not (not enough coffee yet here in New Jersey, USA), but WAG stands for wild-a**ed guess.
@ 9 Orac
Sorry for the pedantry but the Galileo Gambit highly annoys me. It is similar to the claim that Medieval Europeans possibly, including Ferdinand and Isabella, thought the world was flat until Columbus came along.
I suppose it is too much to expect the standard issue anti-vaxer or climate change denialist to know any real history but it tends to drive me crazy!
# 10 Eric Lund
It may be obvious to us today why there are two tides a day:
It did not matter why. There are two tides a day. Anyone living on the Atlantic seaboard can look out the window and see them.
My suspicion is that because Galileo never left Northern Italy he did not realise how much of a problem this was. Mediterranean tides are in the centimetre range, not metres.
I’d be interested to see a link on this, because I have never heard this part of the story.
I am not sure that I remember the original source(s). It might have been in one of Stillman Drakes books such as Galileo at Work or perhaps Galileo : pioneer scientist. Drake has as least 3 or 4 books and a lot of articles out on Galileo. It could be from another source. I am missing at least one major work on the details of Galileo's trial in my references and I cannot seem to trace it.
After paging through the local university's catalogue listings on Galileo looking for it, I am beginning to wonder if Galileo is the most written-about “scientist” in history. For heaven's sake Bertolt Brecht wrote a play about him!
The best I can dig up at the moment is Thony's blog posting in his blog “The Renaissance Mathematicus”. Note while the writer admires (grudgingly acknowledges?) Galileo's scientific achievements he is not an admirer of Galileo as a person. https://thonyc.wordpress.com/2013/05/13/gopnik-galileo-and-ed-yong-gali…
My lake does not have much in the way of tides either.
jrkrideau (# 36) writes,
Here's some climate change history (i.e., patent) that may cheer you up!
David Bendah's idea is inventive but will it be accepted?
As I put it:
"They laughed at Einstein!"
"Yeah, but they also laughed at Bozo."
One of the themes I'm seeing with these quotes is that they are describing the opinion of one person (or several people) at the very beginning of a new technology when it is unreliable.
I would think airplanes were silly, dangerous toys too if they still had the failure rate of the very early days of aviation. There's a reason that military pilots of the first world war were called "60 minute men"; that's how long you lasted in the air, on average.
But here's the thing: at the beginning of WWI airplanes weren't used much and were terrible. By the end of WWI they were used extensively and huge technological leaps had been made. So yeah, that guy was wrong, but he was also overruled.
And it's weird to talk about science being wrong when it's clearly a *marketing* failure. Of course there was no need for a computer in the home in 1977, there was no *application* for the computer in the home then. The best was Nieman Marcus' kitchen computer (for keeping recipes and the household budget) that required a week's training and a huge sum of money. No one with that kind of money did their own cooking then, so why bother? (I was once gifted with a Nieman Marcus kitchen computer for keeping my recipes. It was just as useless now as then and I returned it.)
Of course there was no need for a computer in the home in 1977, there was no *application* for the computer in the home then.
That was about the time the Apple II first became available. It was more of a toy than a must-have device; my family did not get a computer until 1982. It was a Commodore 64, the hot home computer of the day because it had 64 kB of RAM, four times as much as any competing product. (More evidence that Gates' comment about 640K being enough for anybody made sense at the time.)
The future that technological enthusiasts were envisioning in the 1960s and 1970s with respect to computers is that each home would have a terminal connected to a central computer somewhere. That was how mainframes worked back in the day, and was how I connected to Unix boxes when I had need to do so as an undergraduate. Housewives would order food and such from these terminals and have it delivered to the house. Come to think of it, this notion isn't so different from what we have today with ordering stuff via the World Wide Web.
@MJD: Yes, we're so happy to see a garbage patent application by a convicted scam artist. That's so relevant.
I provided a perfect example (comment #38) to support Orac's post entitled, "Just because your quackery is rejected by the establishment does not make you Galileo or Semmelweis."
How is this not relevant?
Jeesz.....even when I don't write about the hazards of natural rubber latex I get slammed.
Show me just a little support and I'll stay, I promise.
Because the patent application is just a scam, not quackery, and because you have a history of misusing the patent system to support your nutty ideas.
..so many centuries after the Creation it is unlikely that anyone could find hitherto unknown lands of any value. – Committee advising Ferdinand and Isabella regarding Columbus’ proposal, 1486
False quote, dating back to the 19th century fabulist Washington Irving (responsible for the false impression that Europeans believed in a flat earth before Columbus). In reality, no written record remains of the Talavera Commission, but it is known that they provisionally rejected the proposal because Columbus's estimates of the size of the Earth were incorrect (in part, because he didn't realize that a different definition of mile was used in an earlier estimate). Using the (more) correct estimate, no ship at the time would have been able to make the trip.
To follow up on W. Kevin Vicklund's observations at #45, Columbus was a master at an art we've become very familiar with here: Cherry-picking.
He chose the largest estimate he could find for the length of Eurasia (which would tend to be overestimated if you walked all the way), and accepted Marco Polo's word that "Cipangu" was 3000 miles past that.
He coupled this with Posidonius' estimate of the Earth's circumference, taken by observing the rising and setting times of stars (instead of the sun's altitude at noon on the equinox like Eratosthenes), so atmospheric refraction resulted in an estimate of ~18,000 miles instead of ~25,000.
As I remember hearing, Columbus wasn't on a voyage of discovery anyway, he was on a trade mission. He knew where he was going, and was just proposing an alternate route, right? There just happened to be an inconveniently placed continent in the way.
Yes, and it saved his ass. His crew was ready to string him up because they were having serious problems with their supplies of food and water, cabin fever, and health issues related to lack of Vitamin C (which is not an excuse for prn to pipe in; scurvy is a an actual deficiency of vit C that is treated with vit C).
"Professor Goddard does not know the relation between action and reaction and the need to have something better than a vacuum against which to react. He seems to lack the basic knowledge ladled out daily in high schools. – 1921 New York Times editorial about Robert Goddard’s revolutionary rocket work.
[Orac’s note: Why the New York Times would be considered an “expert” in rocketry such that it would be of interest to use it as an example of an “expert” making a statement that is later proven wrong, I have no idea. This quote is at best irrelevant.]"
Not merely was the NYT editorial writer not an expert in rocketry, he didn't even understand action and reaction. It's the fact that the rocket is pushing exhaust out the back (the action) that makes the rocket go forward (the reaction), not whether or not there is something else (air, say) to be pushed at by the rocket exhaust. Basic mechanics: conservation of momentum.
@W Kevin Vicklund #45: (love your gravatar b.t.w.)
Washington Irving (responsible for the false impression that Europeans believed in a flat earth before Columbus).
It was a surprise for me to learn that in the Middle Ages and before people knew the Earth was round. It's shocking how persistent that falsity is, even today.
I’d say few if any of them know enough math to be able to solve the Schrödinger equation for even a toy problem such as you find in undergraduate level textbooks.
Ahemm...Do you mean the Arthur Lunn equation?
not sure if you’re serious or not (not enough coffee yet here in New Jersey, USA), but WAG stands for wild-a**ed guess.
In English-speaking countries WAG is a term used to describe the female partners of members of sporting teams. It arose initially in the British tabloid press to refer to the partners of the English football team circa the time of Posh and Becks and has since been adopted by the tabloid press of Australia and New Zealand to collectively describe the partners of their male sporting teams.
It is often used in a slightly derogatory fashion.
MI Dawn @ 35
Thanks! That's a new one on me. I'd only ever come across the acronym in reference to the partners of the England football team.
Not merely was the NYT editorial writer not an expert in rocketry, he didn’t even understand action and reaction.
Reminds me of the Internet movie reviewer who was gleefully slamming "The Core" for its scientific inaccuracy, and said that they were ignorant of what would really happen if the Earth's core stopped spinning (the premise of the film): gravity would stop and we'd all be flung off into space!
... It's one thing to be that wrong. It's another thing to be that wrong, and be sure at the same time that you are the one qualified to mock others for their wrongness.
@Chris Preston and Rebecca Fisher: and YOUR definition is one I'd never heard of! That's the way it goes...2 countries separated by the same language (I was an adult before I knew a "jumper" was a "sweater" in the USA. I kept reading books set in the UK and wondering why all those people were running around in (American version) jumpers...lol)
It’s the velocity that does it.
Do fuck off, Travis. Perhaps you could learn the difference between force and momentum while you're at it.
The good news is that Travis is really scraping the bottom of the barrel for old commenters whose addresses he can figure out. :-)
@Chris Preston and Rebecca Fisher: and YOUR definition is one I’d never heard of! That’s the way it goes…2 countries separated by the same language
Likewise for me--I've been a Yank all my life.
Another example: Several years ago I was informed by a British co-worker that "passing on the inside" is a major no-no in the UK. I thought: isn't that how you're supposed to do it? Of course, I assumed "inside" was with respect to the center line, which would mean passing on the left in countries where you drive on the right, and vice versa. In the UK "inside" is defined with respect to the curb (even on roads like motorways that do not have one). Once he explained that to me, the rule made a lot more sense.
Also, in the US you should always drive on the pavement, because that refers to the actual road surface. In the UK, you should never drive on the pavement (unless circumstances absolutely force you to do so), because that refers to what Americans call the sidewalk.
I've never run across that definition of WAG in Canada, but then I couldn't care less about football of any variety.
In the UK “inside” is defined with respect to the curb
I thought it was in the U.S., as well – one clear sign of being "outside" the flow of traffic is having oncoming vehicles in your windshield.
Do the mirrors work the same way over there?
@Narad: You are also "outside" the traffic flow if you are driving on the sidewalk, or on the shoulder (paved or otherwise) of a road that has one. (Except in Massachusetts, where the shoulder is generally called a "breakdown lane" and often used like a normal lane--in some cases this is even legal.)
Like many American drivers, I grew up in a suburban area, and like most suburban areas in the US, there were plenty of multilane highways--surface streets, not just freeways/motorways. Often these multilane surface roads are divided highways (dual carriageways, in UK parlance), where if you are looking at oncoming traffic, either you or the oncoming driver has seriously goofed. And of course almost all motorways have two or more separate roadways each with two or more travel lanes--at least in the US, the exceptions are rare (though I live in the state with the only single carriageway interstate outside Alaska, whose interstates are not freeways).
I hadn't paid much attention to the technical jargon of road design, beyond what I needed to know as a driver. My thought process was that "inside lane" means "fast lane", which is how the term is used in Olympic sports: in track and field, the expected fastest runners are normally assigned to the lanes closest to the center of the track, while in swimming, the expected fastest swimmers are assigned to lanes 4 and 5, in the center of an eight-lane pool. This is also the way the term is used colloquially, at least in the US: a person who has some advantage in a competition is said to have "the inside lane" or "the inside track".
I've never heard of WAG, but SWAG (scientific wild-a$$ guess) is common around here.
Also, in the US you should always drive on the pavement, because that refers to the actual road surface. In the UK, you should never drive on the pavement (unless circumstances absolutely force you to do so), because that refers to what Americans call the sidewalk.
American English is just weird and stupid. Footpaths are pavements because they are paved (surfaced with flat stones or bricks). Roads are tarmacs.
@HDB: I dated an Aussie for a while, and he's the one who made me rather bi-lingual. By the time I met him, I'd figured out most car and tool terms I'd come across (bonnet, spanner) but I saw a "footpath" as a type of hiking trail, not a sidewalk until he cleared up that piece of confusion. But our first few dates had a lot of laughs when our words didn't mean the same thing!
Footpaths are pavements because they are paved (surfaced with flat stones or bricks).
Not in the US, they aren't. Most of the sidewalks in my town are paved with the same kind of stuff used on roads. Some of them are concrete surfaces (you see that on roads, too, but it's out of favor as such roads are more expensive to repair and maintain).
Those Shermer and Sagan quotes ("They laughed at...") are suspiciously similar. Anyone know whose came first?
I believe Sagan said it first. Shermer would have repeated it, giving credit to Sagan.
At least that's how I remember it.
Anyone know whose came first?
They laughed at Galileo, they laughed at Darwin, they laughed at Edison … and they laughed at Punch and Judy.
The apostolic chain of succession goes
1. Sladek (written 1973-74, published 1974). Objects of laughter: Galileo, Darwin, Edison; Punch & Judy.
2. Sagan (written as articles 1974-79; collected 1979). Objects of laughter: Columbus, Fulton, Wright brothers; Bozo the Clown.
3. Shermer (2002). Objects of laughter: Copernicus, Wright brothers; Marx Brothers.
4. Bailin & Battersby (2016). Objects of laughter: Copernicus, Wright Brothers, Snow's theory of cholera, homeopathy.
Extrapolation predicts that the next appearance of the trope will be in 2030, and will involve Ben Stiller.
Extrapolation predicts that the next appearance of the trope will be in 2030, and will involve Ben Stiller.
Not Jenny McCarthy? Fun fact: Ben Stiller's parents showed up at my wedding.
If someone has Orac's email address, please call him. Travis J Schwochert is being a total bellend again.