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The Major Theoretical Blunders That Held Back Progress In Modern Astronomy 129

Posted by samzenpus
from the more-you-don't-know dept.
KentuckyFC (1144503) writes "The history of astronomy is littered with ideas that once seemed incontrovertibly right and yet later proved to be bizarrely wrong. Not least among these are the ancient ideas that the Earth is flat and at the center of the universe. But there is no shortage of others from the modern era. Now one astronomer has compiled a list of examples of wrong-thinking that have significantly held back progress in astronomy. These include the idea put forward in 1909 that telescopes had reached optimal size and that little would be gained by making them any bigger. Then there was the NASA committee that concluded that an orbiting x-ray telescope would be of little value. This delayed the eventual launch of the first x-ray telescope by half a decade, which went on to discover the first black hole candidate among other things. And perhaps most spectacularly wrong was the idea that other solar systems must be like our own, with Jupiter-like planets orbiting at vast distances from their parent stars. This view probably delayed the discovery of the first exoplanet by 30 years. Indeed, when astronomers did find the first exo-Jupiter, the community failed to recognize it as a planet for six years. As Mark Twain once put it: 'It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.'"
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The Major Theoretical Blunders That Held Back Progress In Modern Astronomy

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  • by jeffb (2.718) (1189693) on Monday May 26, 2014 @10:13AM (#47092139)

    Yes, The Academy laughed at your ideas. They also laughed at The Three Stooges.

    Sometimes, reviewers reject radical ideas that turn out to be correct. Far more often, though, they reject radical ideas because they're demonstrably ridiculous. You might be the next unsung genius, with the crazy idea that will make all the pieces fall into place. It's far more likely that you're a crackpot.

    Suppose one rejected idea in 1000 is actually a revolution in waiting. (I suspect that ratio is generous at best.) Now, suppose we publish one (or ten) rejected ideas in every issue of our journal. How many of those rejected ideas will turn out to be worthwhile? How long will people put up with the "alternative views" section of our journal before they just start skipping them?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      It's even worse when you're asked to fund ideas, rather than just publish them. How many radical proposals can you fund before some congress critter looks at the failure rate of federal grants, and concludes scientists are wasting money padding their paychecks with dead end projects (bridges to nowhere in politispeak) and the funding should be eliminated.

      • by pepty (1976012) on Monday May 26, 2014 @12:32PM (#47092971)
        The first idea presented is awfully weak:

        In an article on the future of astronomy published in 1908, he wrote: “It is more than doubtful whether a further increase in size is a great advantage.” His argument was that factors other than size had a much bigger influence on astronomical data, factors such as climate. “It seems as if we had nearly reached the limit of size of telescopes, and as if we must hope for the next improvement in some other direction,” he said. Loeb says Pickering’s views had a major impact on observational astronomy on the east coast compared to the west coast of the US. Just as Pickering was publishing his controversial idea, the 60-inch telescope at the Mount Wilson Observatory near Los Angeles, saw first light. And while astronomers in the east were arguing the toss about size, this telescope was gathering the data that would eventually make it one of the most productive in astronomical history. What’s more, at exactly that time, the Mount Wilson observatory received funding to build a 100-inch telescope and this was completed in 1917. And this was in turn superseded by the 200-inch telescope at nearby Mount Palomar in 1947 which remained the largest telescope in the world until 1993.

        Pickering was right: a bigger telescope is not the answer when your site has poor climate, due to diminishing returns. Plus, from the article's own evidence, people kept building larger telescopes - they just put them in better places.

    • by ceoyoyo (59147)

      Reviewers reject radical ideas that are insufficiently supported by evidence. Yes, the more radical the idea, the more evidence it needs to support it.

      Contrary to popular belief, "I think ${crazy_idea}" isn't enough to get a paper published. Except in arts journals. And medicine.

      • But this is the attitude that led researchers after Millikan to replicate his erroneous results, massaging their more correct results to look more like his, because he was such an authority.

    • The first reason to listen to new ideas is that our present understanding(s) -- theories -- of the universe are majorly flawed.

      Wikipedia's List of the Unsolved Problems in Physics has hundreds of questions -- most of them just the flaws in the most "mainstream" theories.

      What is your plan for fixing these broken theories? My plan is here [just-think-it.com].
    • by phantomfive (622387) on Monday May 26, 2014 @01:06PM (#47093185) Journal

      Suppose one rejected idea in 1000 is actually a revolution in waiting. (I suspect that ratio is generous at best.) Now, suppose we publish one (or ten) rejected ideas in every issue of our journal. How many of those rejected ideas will turn out to be worthwhile? How long will people put up with the "alternative views" section of our journal before they just start skipping them?

      I don't see this as a call to accept 'alternative views.' IIRC the first discovery of an exoplanet showed up in a scientific journal. The problem wasn't the radicalness of the idea (who doubted there were exoplanets?); the problem was that making unfounded assumptions about exoplanets prevented their discovery for years before the journal article was actually published.

      The author's purpose in writing is to point out that when data is scarce, it is a mistake to assume you know the answer. How can you be sure that every solar system is like ours? It is a cognitive bias to assume you know the answer when data is scarce. The author is saying, "hey, look out! When data is scarce pay careful attention to not make assumptions!"

      • by TapeCutter (624760) on Monday May 26, 2014 @08:11PM (#47095901) Journal
        I seem to recall that when I was at HS in the 70's, astronomers were claiming it was physically impossible to ever detect an exoplanet but they were confident that they existed. The reason they thought it was impossible was because of atmospheric distortion, "wobble mirrors" had not been invented. The author has a reasonable point but I think Asimov [tufts.edu] has a much better one based on the same observation that widely held scientific beliefs are often shown to be wrong by future generations. I agree with Asimov that we have the basic mechanics of the universe correct.

        I have been interested in astronomy since primary school, back in the 60's the astronomy books in the adult section of the local library were still speculating about canals on Mars and tropical jungles on Venus, black holes were widely viewed as a "mathematical curiosity". Our knowledge about the universe has exploded like no other time in history, Hubble happy snaps are posted on the walls of libraries and the home encyclopedia has been replaced by the home computer. If I want to take an astronomy course from the best universities on the planet I can simply fire up youtube and start watching the lectures, less than a decade ago that was not possible, just finding the right text books was a challenge.

        Scientific knowledge has experienced exponential growth in the last half century, I feel privileged to have been born at a time where I can witness scientific discovery unfolding before my eyes on a regular basis. Communication technology is undeniably the major driver of that growth and I'm proud of the small role I've played building that technology.
        • I was going to quote the parts you said that I liked, but there were too many so I'm just going to say, "you have some good points."

          I hope Asimov is wrong though, because I hope we can discover FTL travel, and I can stand on other worlds. Unfortunately he probably is right.

          There have been some areas of science that were wrong in recent memory, but when you look at them, you see a lack of data. Linus Pauling put a lot of effort into proving vitamin C can cure cancer, but if the data had been available, h
          • Except gravity at the scale of galaxies doesn't behave like gravity we see around us in the solar system. Hence we invent a new unobserved substance, Dark Matter, to model it. For now...

          • ... because I hope we can discover FTL travel...

            Personally, I prefer living in a universe where causes precede effects. We've verified relativity often enough to be pretty sure of its accuracy, and while it doesn't explicitly rule out FTL, it does tie it to causality. So we have three options: [a] relativity is (very) wrong. [b] FTL is possible, or [c] causality is preserved.

            Relativity has been tested on small scales and large. We've built bombs and reactors that take advantage of the mass-energy equivalence, and our GPS systems need to account for a co

    • Lee Smolin has another view, saying that science progresses by testing every crazy idea before you get on to the right one. I think you're way too concerned with the social aspect of looking like a crackpot, and the social rewards of scapegoating others as crackpots. Science shouldn't care about what is likely based on assumptions. It should try to devise tests for things and see how well models can explain. Bringing emotional words like "ridiculous" into the process is fundamentally unscientific and says m

    • by Darinbob (1142669)

      A crazy idea must be proven, and by more than just creating a home made video and uploading it.

    • by ezzthetic (976321)

      ... They also laughed at The Three Stooges.

      I, for one, would like to see some evidence that anyone actually laughed at The Three Stooges.

    • by wwphx (225607)
      Clark's Law: When a distinguished but elderly scientist says something is possible, he's probably right. Corollary: When a distinguished but elderly scientist says something is not possible, he's probably wrong.
      • That is equivalent to saying that anything a distinguished but elderly scientist speaks of is probably possible. Not to mention that the corollary does not follow from the law. It's not even implied.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 26, 2014 @10:17AM (#47092163)

    For example Los Alamos scientists figured out gamma ray bursts from stars, from anomalies in their earth watching satellites.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vela_(satellite)#Role_of_Vela_in_discovering_gamma-ray_bursts

    • by Anonymous Coward

      The vast majority of what goes on involving astronomy and cosmology happens outside of NASA.
       
      Too many people around here think that if NASA died tomorrow that we'd be thrust back into some dark age... they're really not as important as what people make them out to be. I've met a number of professional astronomers and I've yet to meet anyone from NASA.

  • Interesting facts (Score:5, Informative)

    by advid.net (595837) <slashdot@a d v i d . n et> on Monday May 26, 2014 @10:22AM (#47092185) Journal

    Thanks for the story

    You may also point the the original article (PDF version [arxiv.org]), there is an handful of examples more.

    • by Sique (173459) on Monday May 26, 2014 @11:03AM (#47092417) Homepage
      And the original article does not make the avoidable blunder of including a the concept of a flat earth in the list of avoidable blunders. Because the flat earth concept actually has been avoided from the beginning.
  • by QuietLagoon (813062) on Monday May 26, 2014 @10:26AM (#47092205)
    ... the more we realize what we do not know.

    .
    Isn't this what science is about? Discovery, exploration, learning.

    Of course mistakes will be made along the way. The fact that we can look back and see those mistakes for what they are is a part of the scientific process.

    This is a good thing.

  • by CrimsonAvenger (580665) on Monday May 26, 2014 @10:26AM (#47092207)

    From TFS:

    Then there was the NASA committee that concluded that an orbiting x-ray telescope would be of little value. This delayed the eventual launch of the first x-ray telescope by half a decade

    Who cares??? We slowed something down by a whole FIVE YEARS! It's not like this encompassed someone's entire career or anything. Or even most of someone's career.

    Well, except for the guy who got run over by a truck during the five year delay. His career was pretty much ruined. Of course, being run over by a truck pretty much ruins your career even if there is an X-Ray telescope already in operation....

    • by Thanshin (1188877) on Monday May 26, 2014 @10:45AM (#47092319)

      That was also my first reaction.

      Beware thee who tries to compile a list of examples of wrong-thinking that have delayed an IT project for five years. For printing this book will consume all paper, all trees, and mean the end of life as we know it.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      We slowed something down by a whole FIVE YEARS

      But the first planet thing was ignored for six. Okay not ignored, but wasn't wildly recognized until other planets were found. So, until there was better confirmation. Basically this article is complaining that scientists make careful decisions instead of rushing to conclusions like an internet news website.

  • by CharlieG (34950) on Monday May 26, 2014 @10:36AM (#47092257) Homepage

    Gee, the telescope size limit. Guy proposes that they shouldn't be bigger - everyone on the west coast ignores him, build bigger. It may have held back a small group of astronomers, but...
    X ray Observatory. It delayed things 5 WHOLE YEARS! GASP. Yes, I realize that the /. crowd is heavily biased to young males, but guys, it is to the point the average college student doesn't graduate in 5 years. I've got bottles of booze that I haven't had a drink out of older than that, and projects sitting on my workbench longer than that. One of my dad's HOBBY projects took 3 hours a night, every night for 8 years.. The only one I'd call at ALL significant is the 30 years

    • by DerekLyons (302214) <`fairwater' `at' `gmail.com'> on Monday May 26, 2014 @12:01PM (#47092775) Homepage

      It delayed things 5 WHOLE YEARS! GASP. Yes, I realize that the /. crowd is heavily biased to young males, but guys, it is to the point the average college student doesn't graduate in 5 years.

      It's not so much that it's biased towards young males, it's that it's heavily biased towards people who have the attention span of the MTV generation and who don't really grasp delayed gratification. They grew up with instant availability of anything digital via the internet, and if it's a physical thing it's available quickly because two day shipping is now the norm.
       
      That's a generalization of course, and there are exceptions... But I'm fifty and many people that I've met that are under about thirty five or so don't readily grasp timescales longer than a week or two. They know that such things exist, but they don't really think on that timescale.
       

      I've got bottles of booze that I haven't had a drink out of older than that, and projects sitting on my workbench longer than that. One of my dad's HOBBY projects took 3 hours a night, every night for 8 years..

      Indeed. I just made tentative travel plans for 2015 (high school reunion) and solid plans for 2016 (SSBN crew reunion)... Some of us from high school are already pondering as far out as 2021 (our 40th anniversary). I'm halfway through my six year plan to re-make my workshop. I just started a five year long project experimenting aging vodka with toasted and charred chips of various woods, and I just set down a batch of my custom whisky blend aimed at being ready for for the holiday season. Etc... etc...
       

      The only one I'd call at ALL significant is the 30 years

      Set against the scale of human history, thirty years is nothing. Five years is less than nothing.

      • by CharlieG (34950)

        Ah, you're a bubblehead, eh? Thanks for your service! I worked on the Mk48 ADCAP for a while (civilian)

    • by Anonymous Coward

      You don't understand, this is Slashdot. With our infinite hindsight everything is obvious, every misstep is the product of gross incompetence and we would have never have had made those kind of mistakes. Most here have never made a notable contribution to anything yet we continue to sit on high and make judgements over others like some kind of gather of the wise and learned.

  • by stenvar (2789879) on Monday May 26, 2014 @10:38AM (#47092277)

    It turns out that the history of astronomy is littered with ideas that once seemed incontrovertibly right and yet later proved to be bizarrely wrong.

    Yes. In different words, there was "scientific consensus" on them. Remember that next time people throw that phrase around to convince you of the correctness of some idea.

    “Because Jupiter is considerably farther out from the center of the solar system, time allocation committees on major telescopes declined proposals to search for close-in Jupiters for years based on the argument that such systems would deviate dramatically from the architecture of the solar system and hence are unlikely to exist.”

    And this is why it takes so long to overturn false scientific consensus. Scientific "conspiracies" aren't conspiracies of evil masterminds, they are merely mobbing using peer reviews and grant committees.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by geekoid (135745)

      Another person who doesn't understand science, or what scientific consensus means, posts attack on scientific consensus.

      Stultus.

      "Yes. In different words, there was "scientific consensus" on them."
      no.
      " with ideas that once seemed incontrovertibly right "
      not scientific consensus, they where untested ideas. Don't be changing the meaning to fit you incorrect world view.

      And what the post says about Jupiter isn't true at all. A small set of astronomers decide it wasn't worth funding, meanwhile on the west cost t

      • by stenvar (2789879)

        not scientific consensus, they where untested ideas. Don't be changing the meaning to fit you incorrect world view.

        Those ideas were as untested as current ideas that people claim there is a "scientific consensus" on. The error is yours in trying to misrepresent a vaguely defined collection of poorly tested ideas as a "scientific consensus".

        A small set of astronomers decide it wasn't worth funding, meanwhile on the west cost they where being built.

        And in that case, people who believed in something decided to

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by mpe (36238)
      Yes. In different words, there was "scientific consensus" on them. Remember that next time people throw that phrase around to convince you of the correctness of some idea.

      There are some people who just won't get that "scientific consensus" is an oxymoron. Sometimes in general other times in quite spoecific cases.

      And this is why it takes so long to overturn false scientific consensus. Scientific "conspiracies" aren't conspiracies of evil masterminds, they are merely mobbing using peer reviews and grant c
    • by thrich81 (1357561) on Monday May 26, 2014 @12:29PM (#47092953)

      Here's the deal on 'scientific consensus' -- it's not always right, but it is the best guess at the time, supported by the majority of the evidence by smart people who know the subject. Anything else is more likely, not certainly, but more likely, to be wrong. You place your bets, you take your chances. If I need treatment for my cancer or degenerative disease, I'm going with the scientific consensus. If I'm designing a bridge or airplane that will carry passengers, I'm going with the scientific consensus. If I'm making a long term investment (in land in Florida as a random example), I'm going the scientific consensus. If I'm writing my own crackpot blog or political screed or investment scam newsletter, then maybe I don't go with the scientific consensus ...

      • Here's the deal on 'scientific consensus' -- it's not always right, but it is the best guess at the time, supported by the majority of the evidence by smart people who know the subject.

        You're right, and I agree that it's generally a safe bet to go with the "scientific consensus."

        The issue is that a lot of people (including around here) seem to subscribe to what I'd say is a relatively naive form of logical positivism [wikipedia.org], otherwise known as that sitcom hit "Everybody Loves Popper." I love Popper [wikipedia.org] too, but Popper's mechanisms to explain scientific progress are a little muddy. According to the naive idea of falsifiability, all scientific theories have to "falsifiable" and theoretically all o

      • by stenvar (2789879)

        Here's the deal on 'scientific consensus' -- it's not always right, but it is the best guess at the time, supported by the majority of the evidence by smart people who know the subject

        Even when that is the case, a "best guess at the time" is insufficient as a basis for government or decision making.

        If I need treatment for my cancer or degenerative disease, I'm going with the scientific consensus. If I'm designing a bridge or airplane that will carry passengers, I'm going with the scientific consensus. If I'

        • Even when that is the case, a "best guess at the time" is insufficient as a basis for government or decision making.

          So you don't know much about governments or decision making, as well as not knowing much about science.

          Governments, and other decision-making entities, are rarely acting on certainty. Certainly setting tax rates and minimum wages and such is important, but you will find eminent people wildly disagreeing about their effects. The "best guess at the time" is more solid than lots of stuff de

          • by stenvar (2789879)

            Governments, and other decision-making entities, are rarely acting on certainty.

            I'm sorry you have trouble understanding basic English. Nowhere did I claim that governments "acted on certainty". And since you seem easily confused, nowhere did I claim that decisions required certainty either.

            What I said was that acting on a "best guess at the time" is "insufficient". By that I mean that making decisions based on your "best guess at the time" is an irrational and potentially harmful decision rule in general;

    • by forand (530402)
      What is described in both the summary and article are not scientific consensus. Scientific consensus is NOT the "merely mobbing using peer reviews and grant committees." Scientific consensus is just that, you look at what researchers are concluding in their studies and you see if there is a mountain of evidence pointing to a similar conclusion: e.g. virtually everyone who throws up something sees it fall back down points to gravity. But there is almost always someone who sees something really odd: e.g. one
      • by stenvar (2789879)

        Scientific consensus is NOT the "merely mobbing using peer reviews and grant committees."

        Please quote accurately. I didn't say it was "merely" that, or even that it was that. I said that erroneous scientific consensus was hard to overturn because scientists, like any other group of people, are engaging in a form of mobbing. You have to be extremely naive to believe that scientists, uniquely among all human professions and groups, would be immune to this.

        Peer reviewers do not get to kill papers because they

  • Earth is flat? (Score:5, Informative)

    by BradMajors (995624) on Monday May 26, 2014 @10:51AM (#47092355)

    The scientific community never believed the earth was flat.

    • by cusco (717999)

      Of course not, there wasn't anything like a "scientific community" until the mid-19th century. Prior to that pretty much all scientific work was done by or for wealthy hobbyists, or engineers actually hired to do something else (like Leonardo da Vinci). Our current culture and level of technology is a direct result of that change.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        There was a scientific community before the mid-19th century. Who do you think the Royal Society was writing to?
        As to it being open to the wealthy when you consider how funding works that's still largely true today.

      • by hankwang (413283)

        OK, replace "scientific community" by "anyone literate and educated".

        There are well known midieval symbols for a sperical earth. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

        The notion of a spherical earth dates from around 400 B.C.

        • The notion of a spherical earth dates from around 400 B.C.

          Indeed.

          Eratosthenes (276 BCâ" 195 BC) did a pretty good job of calculating the actual size of the Earth. The wikipedia article on this [wikipedia.org] is pretty well done. Given the tech he had at his disposal, I think his assumptions and calculations are pretty amazing.

  • by tinytim (25110) on Monday May 26, 2014 @11:12AM (#47092477) Homepage

    Is this author saying that when scientists have to prioritize limited personel, time, and money based on incomplete information they sometimes arrive at a suboptimal solution? Shameful.

    They should probably wait until they know everything about what they'd like to study before they start studying it - that would really speed things up.

  • by calidoscope (312571) on Monday May 26, 2014 @11:19AM (#47092513)
    TFA had the 200 inch Hale telescope on a fictional geogrphical location, Mt. Palomar. The real name is Palomar Mountain. A minor detail, and very common error, but it is the same kind of error the author was complaining about.
    • I disagree that one could consider this an error. It is a mountain, and its name is "Palomar". The order is scientifically irrelevant.
  • by NotSoHeavyD3 (1400425) on Monday May 26, 2014 @11:31AM (#47092583)
    Tycho Brahe considered the idea that the Earth wasn't the center of the universe and actually moved. However when he tried to measure stellar parallax he found he couldn't. So given the evidence he had he either had to go with the Earth doesn't move or the stars are really far away.(Apparently he considered the simpler explanation to be the Earth doesn't move.)
    • by AthanasiusKircher (1333179) on Monday May 26, 2014 @05:07PM (#47094859)

      Tycho Brahe considered the idea that the Earth wasn't the center of the universe and actually moved. However when he tried to measure stellar parallax he found he couldn't. So given the evidence he had he either had to go with the Earth doesn't move or the stars are really far away.(Apparently he considered the simpler explanation to be the Earth doesn't move.)

      Yep -- and scientists of his day didn't just make this decision arbitrarily. Parallax wasn't measured accurately until the 1800s, after over two centuries of looking for it. Other evidence that pointed to a stationary earth:

      (1) A rotating earth should have Coriolis forces influencing trajectory of projectiles -- but they were not observed. (Again, not observed until the 1800s.)

      (2) Stellar diameters appeared to be fixed. If the stars were just beyond the planets in distance (as they were assumed to be), they should appear to change diameter as the earth gets closer or farther from them. (Again, not explained properly until the 1800s.)

      (3) Perhaps most importantly, the motion of the earth required propulsion, according to the physics of the time. The planets and the sun and moon were assumed to be in perpetual motion because of some "aetherial" matter property that was special to celestial bodies. Normal terrestrial matter, since the time of Aristotle, was observed to come to a natural state of rest (Newton's first law was not yet known). Forces acting at a distance, as was later postulated by Newton's theory of universal gravitation -- were considered mystical, "occult," and non-scientific. So there was really no easy mechanism to explain how the earth stayed in continous motion, according to the physics of the time.

      So yeah, according to the science of the time, the simpler explanation was that the earth doesn't move.

      (By the way, these were critical elements that later came up during the debates that Galileo had with other scientists of the day. He didn't really have good explanations for most of them, and it wasn't until really Newton's theory of gravity that the theoretical apparatus was really present to make the truth of heliocentrism viable within contemporary physics.)

      • Mod parent up. Excellent post.

        I'd add only one point: Tycho Brahe did not observe with a telescope. (He died before the telescope was invented and used for astronomy.) He used a quadrant, a device with a viewing sight (with no optics) attached to a pair of calibrated circular arcs that allowed him to measure the polar and azimuthal angular direction of the sight. Tycho Brahe was an outstanding observer, but he could not achieve the accuracy required to view the proper motion of the stars due to the moti

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 26, 2014 @11:42AM (#47092645)

    I am curious about which astronomers espoused a flat earth considering that around 2,200 years ago the Greek scientist Eratosthenes not only espoused a spherical earth but calculated both the circumference and the axial tilt with great accuracy for his day. Certainly well before Eratosthenes it was realized that as a ship approached an island or a headland that the mountains, hills, etc. appeared before buildings in the harbor, etc. and that s a ship approached land the top of the mast would be seen first then more of it and then the ship itself. They also noticed that the moon appeared spherical and the earth's shadow on the moon during an eclipse appeared to be a shadow of a sphere.

    The notion that learned people in the late 1490's thought that earth was flat was popularized by Alfred Lord Tennyson in his poem "Columbus".

    So again, can anyone name an astronomer who thought the earth was flat?

  • And this was in turn superseded by the 200-inch telescope at nearby Mount Palomar in 1947 which remained the largest telescope in the world until 1993.

    Not true - in 1975, BTA-6 [wikipedia.org] in the Soviet Union became the biggest at 236 inches, though it never worked properly.

    • by arobatino (46791)

      Oops - as pointed out above, the correct name of the site is Palomar Mountain, not Mount Palomar. Sorry about that.

  • "It's when your quote just ain't so." - Oscar Wilde

    http://wellnowbob.blogspot.com... [blogspot.com]

  • Isn't this just called "scientific progress"? When you have little evidence, you won't be able to make brilliant predictions. Gather more evidence, and you can make better predictions. For example:

    But instead of rubber stamping the idea, the panel made a monumental error. It concluded that most sources of x-rays would be flaring stars and that consequently, the scientific motivation for an X-ray telescope was weak.

    On the basis of the limited evidence available at the time, weren't they right to conclude that an X-ray telescope probably wasn't worth the cost? It's all very well looking back now and shaking our fists at our incompetent ancestors, but weren't they just doing the best they could?

    That Newton was such an idiot be

    • by Triklyn (2455072)

      i think it's what you call hindsight... and selection bias. The same way people tend to think stuff was manufactured more ruggedly in the past... because only the rugged stuff survived to be remembered.

      The author completely fails to mention the shitty ideas that people were completely justified in dismissing.

  • by sk999 (846068) on Monday May 26, 2014 @09:40PM (#47096371)

    After creating the theory of General Relativity, Einstein came up with the first cosmological model - one that was static. This was 1916. De Sitter came up with an alternative, but also seemingly static, model in 1917. (De Sitter called them Models A and B). Later, Friedmann (1922, 1924) and Lemaitre (1927) came up with models of expanding universes, but Einstein judged both of them to be bad physics, even going so far as to writing a paper claiming that Friedmann's calculations were in error (a claim he later retracted.) Einstein's influence was so great that these models lay buried until 1930. Einstein wanted the universe to be static (and closed) so he could preserve his beloved Mach's principle. In the end it was a combination of Eddington, de Sitter, Hubble, and Lemaitre who broke the logjam.

    It is also tempting to criticize Einstein for the introduction of the "cosmological constant", but since today it is considered to be one possible form of Dark Energy (the Lambda-CDM model), in this instance he gets a pass.

    • So, one exceedingly eminent scientist managed to convince almost everybody for eight years, in a situation where there really wasn't much evidence? I don't see that as a real problem.

      • by sk999 (846068)

        The evidence was accumulating even before General Relativity was published and was largely in place by 1923 - all of Slipher's galaxy velocities (41 total), which were published in Eddington's book on GR. The predominance of positive velocities (i.e., redshifts) was well known. Had Einstein properly appreciated Friedmann's work in 1922 and at least made others aware of it, it is likely that the connection between a model of an expanding universe and the positive velocities would have been made around that

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