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Why Does Science Keep Changing Its Mind?

from: http://www.npr.org/blogs/krulwich/2011/04/14/135351303/the-triceratops-panic-why-does-science-keep-changing-its-mind?sc=fb&cc=fp

You may have missed it, but last summer triceratops lovers printed t-shirts to defend their favorite dinosaur. I didn't buy one, but a bunch of people did.

Triceratops T-Shirt
Mojave

And here's why: People who don't know a lot about science treasure what they do know, what they learned early as children, like:

a) Eskimos have lots of words for snow.
b) Wait 20 minutes after lunch before going swimming.
c) There are nine planets, and the ninth one is Pluto.
d) The biggest dinosaur ever was the Brontosaurus.
e) Triceratops was the one with the three horns.
f) T-rex was awesome.

One of the nice things about growing up is you don't have to spend time thinking about planets, digestion or awesome dinosaurs if you don't want to, because what you were taught was "science" so those things are supposed to stay that way forever.

And then, suddenly, there is "news." Someone in authority says, "Wait a second! New information has come to our attention, and that thing we told you was true may not be true any more. Or not as true. Please pay attention so we can un-teach what we told you."

"WHAT?" is a lot of people's first reaction. "I thought you knew this. I believed you..."
And then they get mad.

 

more

 

 

 
MamaK88

Asked by MamaK88 at 12:45 PM on Apr. 14, 2011 in Religion & Beliefs

Level 33 (62,090 Credits)
This question is closed.
Answers (10)
  • Thanks for posting that, it was a fun read! :)

    Perhaps I'm the odd one out, but I don't really mind that Pluto was demoted to just a dwarf planet. To me it's more interesting to now have this new category of planets to teach my kids about. I also think that the Pluto example makes it a tiny bit easier for religious zealots to begin to grasp the idea that it's okay that science changes, and that it's not so much that science was "wrong", but that we are learning more all the time and the more we discover the more it makes sense that things will change.
    Eek_a_Geek

    Answer by Eek_a_Geek at 7:01 PM on Apr. 14, 2011

  • I dont' see this as a disadvantage at all, although I do miss Pluto being on the list.

    Science is all about learning and discovery. Old hypotheses are tested as new informaiton comes along. We'd get nowhere if at some point in time, leaders declared that all the science written down at this point in time is the absolute truth.
    anng.atlanta

    Answer by anng.atlanta at 2:27 PM on Apr. 14, 2011

  • It just logic and common sense that science would grow, adapt and evolve as more and more technologies are developed.
    SpiritedWitch

    Answer by SpiritedWitch at 2:39 PM on Apr. 14, 2011

  • History has the same problem. sometimes a piece of info comes out that changes history (like the almost solid proof that Jefferson had kids with Sally Hemmings) and ppl lose their minds b/c it threatens the status quo. i think w/ science ppl are so convinced its right no matter what it confuses them that it could possibly now be wrong. kinda how it was a huge problem when it was discovered that the Sun didnt revolve around Earth.

    tho i'll admit i am one who gets pissy when they change dinosaur names (i can barely watch Dinosaur Train w/out scoffing at the names that i learned differently). and DH & i are convinced the only reason Pluto got demoted is b/c a planet similar in size was discovered and that the scientific community was jealous & didnt want to give this guy credit. but its all in good fun!
    okmanders

    Answer by okmanders at 3:04 PM on Apr. 14, 2011

  • Something is "true" only as long as the facts support the premise. When the facts change, science has to change with it.

    --

    Yep ^

    We get used to things being the way we learned it originally, and I know it's generally hard for many people to change. If you EXPECT that it might change or that this is the best explanation we have RIGHT NOW for these facts or artifacts, etc., it's easier. It is hard to get used to Pluto not being a planet and changing dinosaur names, but I don't really get worked up about it. Personally, I think M-theory and super string theory are more mind boggling ideas, and the concepts are hard to grasp and get used to. I have a degree in Anthropology, so I was always somewhat used to finding that everything we thought we knew occasionally being redefined as new evidence is found. I saw this article earlier, and almost posted it myself but I ran out of time before I had to go out this morning. :-)
    pam19

    Answer by pam19 at 3:28 PM on Apr. 14, 2011

  • I liked the article! Coming from a Buddhist perspective, to me that has to do with attachment to a pet theory or certain perceived order of things. People can attach to all kinds of stuff- the name of a brontosaurus, Pluto as a planet, etc. Then they cling to it when the order gets shaken up. Whereas science in order to progress CAN'T attach to these things... they have to be verifiable. If they don't stand up to scrutiny, they have to be discarded. I think the article is pretty much saying the same thing.

    The brontosaurus kerfuffle will go in time thought... I have three dinosaur-mad kids who only know it as an apatosaurus!
    Freela

    Answer by Freela at 3:28 PM on Apr. 14, 2011

  • Because science isn't perfect,or rather,the scientists aren't.They don't have all the answers.
    MistyBlueMom

    Answer by MistyBlueMom at 9:45 AM on Apr. 15, 2011

  • From the article:

    The lesson here is that when science slips from the academy into popular culture, people love, honor and protect what they know, what they've learned. What they don't understand is all science knowledge is tentative. Something is "true" only as long as the facts support the premise. When the facts change, science has to change with it.

    People don't want their eternalities to change. They hate that. But, in the end, science has to win. There are 5 year olds all over the world now growing up with Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune and Uranus, but not that other guy, the one with the name of Mickey Mouse's pet dog. In fifty years, Pluto may be just a dog again.

    That's how it goes.
    MamaK88

    Comment by MamaK88 (original poster) at 12:47 PM on Apr. 14, 2011

  • Because when it comes to the science of the past - there are no hard true positives because witnesses are long dead.
    twinsplus2more

    Answer by twinsplus2more at 1:07 PM on Apr. 14, 2011

  • Don't know--don't really care, but that's just me.
    popzaroo

    Answer by popzaroo at 2:52 PM on Apr. 14, 2011