[CNI researchers and experiencers might sometimes have the mistaken notion that they are singled out for ridicule by mainstream science, but the following article shows that mainstream science is actually resistant to new or unusual ideas of all kinds. CNI News thanks Dan Drasin for forwarding this item, which appeared in "New Scientist" magazine on April 6, 1996, written by Arturo Sangalli of Champlain Regional College, Lennoxville, Quebec, Canada.]
Science is said to be about searching for truth but the harsh reality is that those whose views clash with established theories often find themselves ridiculed and denied funds and publication.
The experience of the American astronomer Halton Arp is an example of how the system operates. Arp, who was trained by the astronomer Edwin Hubble, has been systematically marginalised for reporting observations of quasars and galaxies that throw doubt on the widely held view that the Universe is expanding.
"The ludicrous climax came about ten years ago," the Indian astrophysicist Jayant Narlikar has written, "when Arp was denied the use of telescopes in major observatories. The reason given was that his findings did not make sense and were therefore a waste of time. In other words, telescopes are meant only to confirm the established ideas and not turn up anomalous data" (Times of India, 30 July 1994).
In the 17th century, the Roman Catholic church condemned another telescope buff, the Italian polymath Galileo, for his scientifically correct but religiously incorrect claim that the Earth moves around the Sun. These days, it is no longer religious dogma that prevents new ideas from replacing old misconceptions. The resistance comes from within the scientific community itself.
"The 'purity' of science is being closely guarded by a self-imposed inquisition called the peer review," writes the independent-minded British scientist James Lovelock in his book SMALL SCIENCE. Protesters are not imprisoned, but this inquisition can wreck their careers by censoring publications and refusing funds for research. By comparison, he says, the [Catholic] Inquisition was a more honest way of dealing with dissenters.
Dissidents are effectively silenced by fellow scientists in many ways. Although outsiders can resort to alternative channels to get attention, the fact that they do not communicate their ideas in "serious" journals or prestigious meetings undermines their credibility. Paul Marmet was a respected Canadian physicist until he began questioning the orthodox explanation of quantum mechanics. He bitterly complains in his book ABSURDITIES IN PHYSICS, "Some centuries ago they burned [Giordano] Bruno and imprisoned Galileo. In our century, a dissident of the Copenhagen interpretation is rejected and called a crank.
"If even Nobel prizewinners are ridiculed for challenging mainstream ideas, how on earth would the young Albert Einstein, who was merely a clerk in a patent office, have been taken seriously today?"
Of course, not every dissident is an Einstein waiting in the wings. Crackpots can be a real nuisance and the line has to be drawn somewhere. The Academie Francaise did precisely that in 1775 by declaring that it would not examine anymore solutions to the problem of squaring the circle. And many countries have laws stating that no patent will be granted for the invention of perpetual motion machines.
In THE STRUCTURE OF SCIENTIFIC REVOLUTIONS the American philosopher Thomas Kuhn argued that scientists investigating a certain subject share a common set of principles, or paradigm, which they use to explain all the phenomena they and others observe. They will not be convinced by any evidence that their paradigm is wrong: they will not engage in rational argument and may even refuse to listen. And yet, many major advances only occurred because someone had the courage to question prevailing wisdom. According to Kuhn, nothing short of the intellectual equivalent of a political revolution can bring about a change of paradigm.
Cosmology's predominant paradigm is the big bang theory, which advocates that an expanding Universe was created some 15 billion years ago from a pinpoint of extremely dense matter. Many respectable scientists however, including the Swedish Nobel laureate Hannes Alfven, are simply not convinced that things happened that way. "The big bang theory is alive and well but it may not survive the next few centuries of testing. A little caution seems in order," he warned.
But do scientific writers and journalists always exercise that little caution? Or do they take for granted that the prevailing paradigm is always right? In a field such as cosmology, taking sides may not have any immediate impact. After all, the way doctors treat cancer, or engineers build bridges is unlikely to be affected by the rate of expansion of the Universe. But on other issues, such as global warming, the message the public gets may be crucial in influencing political decisions concerning us all. Silencing dissidents and nonconformists is not just an academic question.
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