General Question

Rememberme's avatar

What are some examples of science proven wrong?

Asked by Rememberme (661 points ) November 30th, 2009

I am looking for some classic examples of science which were widely believed to be true (by science) until one day something new was discovered and changed everything.

For example (although this is a bad example because i cant remember everything) People used to believe something about the clear vapor you see above a fire.

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70 Answers

Capt_Bloth's avatar

The earth is flat
the universe revolves around the earth
drinking murcury is cool
diseases are caused by bad blood

Val123's avatar

The earth was flat.
The sun revolved around the earth.
Although, those were probably more long held assumptions than scientific theory.
I know there was on theory from….I forget who. A Greek philosopher/scientist that the universe was actually contained in some sort of bowl overhead.
Leaching

Val123's avatar

@Capt_Bloth Jinx! You owe me a coke!! (OK, I stole leaching..I saw your last answer when it came up just before I was done, and I jumped on it!)

rawrgrr's avatar

Telekinesis/Psychics will be proved scientifically later on.

Sarcasm's avatar

Butter/carbs are good for you. Wait, no, bad for you. No, wait, good. Err, no, hold on, scratch that, they’re bad.

Gokey's avatar

Humans were evolved from ground dwelling apes. Instead, we evolved from tree dwellers.

Gokey's avatar

Whoops. I’m thinking that wasn’t really a classic theory.

filmfann's avatar

“Everything our parents was good for us was bad for us. Red meat, sunlight, college…”
Woody Allen.

toomuchcoffee911's avatar

Cigarettes won’t kill you.

Chatfe's avatar

When I was taking biology in college, we were taught that mammals couldn’t be cloned… Then Dolly the sheep came along. Science isn’t wrong as much as it just revises its understanding of the world. Of course politics and currents of thought play into this as well.

the100thmonkey's avatar

Classical Newtonian mechanics.

dpworkin's avatar

Science is never right. That is the nature of science. It remains open to change if the empirical data warrant the acceptance of change. That’s what makes it scientific and not a matter of faith or belief. Heliocentrism was “proven” wrong, but then so were Newtonian mechanics, and the excitement about the LHC is at least partly based on the possibility that some of today’s widely held beliefs will have to be revised in the face of new data.

75movies's avatar

DDT is the most fantastic insecticide ever.

Val123's avatar

@pdworkin Good answer. Science NEVER declares itself empirically right. They come up with theories that are subject to change.

Qingu's avatar

Some of those examples (i.e. the earth is flat) can’t really be said to have been believed by “science.” Unless you’re taking an extremely broad definition of what science is.

A recent example looks to be Dawkins’ gene-centric view of evolution. Dawkins was extremely opposed to any other selection mechanism for evolution. But now it looks like group selection is a viable selection mechanism, and (I’m less clear on this), selection in embryo development.

@pdworkin and @Val123, you are playing word games with the word “right.” Are you seriously suggesting that it’s not “right” to say that the earth revolves around the sun?

It is more accurate to say that everything proven in science is taken with the assumption that some later evidence could prove it wrong. If you don’t think science can be right, you don’t think anything can be right except perhaps meaningless formal logic constructions.

Qingu's avatar

@Gokey, um. Humans did evolve from ground dwelling apes. Those apes, in turn, evolved from tree dwellers.

Val123's avatar

@Qingu I believe it’s right. But I think scientist will suggest it is a theory, still, and that there may be other, unknown gaps to fill in.

MacBean's avatar

I just read/heard something somewhere that the Earth was really never believed to be flat. I’ll figure out where when House is over.

Qingu's avatar

@Val123, in science, the word “theory” doesn’t mean it’s “not right” or “there might be gaps.”

Scientists use the word “theory” in a different way than normal people use it. Causing confusion for all.

Qingu's avatar

@MacBean, it’s not true. The ancient Mesopotamians (including the Hebrews) clearly believed the earth is flat; it’s in their recorded cosmology. So did the ancient Greeks, before the classical/philosophical era when they figured out it was round.

If you were a pre-scientific bronze ager, you would almost certainly think the earth was flat. Unless you had access to tall mountains overlooking flat horizons and had an extremely open mind.

Val123's avatar

@MacBean Me too! I’m outta here for the next hour!

sliceswiththings's avatar

So you know how when you drop buttered bread it always lands butter side down?
And you know how when you drop a cat, it always lands on its feet?

Well science proved wrong: tie a piece of bread butter side up onto the back of a cat. Drop it. One of these rules has to be broken. Done.

75movies's avatar

Both my cat and the buttered bread landed on their side. Hmmm… I’ll try again.

dpworkin's avatar

You have to make sure to butter the correct side. If you butter the wrong side, it will not work.

Ivan's avatar

This question is misleading on about 16 different levels.

Capt_Bloth's avatar

@sliceswiththings I just tried this with my cat, butter side up on his back. He and the bread are spinning just above the floor. Maybe you used margarine?

Fernspider's avatar

So many buttery cats, so little time…

erniefernandez's avatar

Science, technically speaking, is never wrong or right. Science never asserts that something is absolutely true, but rather, that a given point is justifiable to such-and-such a degree for such-and-such a reason.

As soon as an old theory is trumped by a new one, science prevails! So, it always wins, as long as we’re learning.

Your question, with all due respect, betrays a limited understanding of precisely what scientific discovery/understanding is and how it works.

erniefernandez's avatar

Correction: Scientists and scientific theories. Science itself is an abstraction; an idea, and therefor it would be inaccurate to talk about science doing-or-not-doing specific things.

75movies's avatar

Some day we will learn that life exists not just on this pale blue dot but absolutely everywhere in the universe. We’ll just need to find new ways to look.

Val123's avatar

I’m just tromping along, giving GA, because you guys are makin me laugh on a Monday night!
Look…margarine is lighter than butter. That must be factored into the equation. So must the size, age, and width of the cat. What kind of serious esperiment do you think you have here?

DrBill's avatar

Nothing traves faster than light

YARNLADY's avatar

@Ivan I only counted a dozen.

Shuttle128's avatar

Newton’s three laws of motion and the law of gravitation.

Awww, @the100thmonkey already said that.

Val123's avatar

@DrBill But what if it could…....? It’d turn into butter, right?

sliceswiththings's avatar

Good call, it was actually Earth Balance, and my 18-year-old cat doesn’t land on her legs every time anymore. There are many confounds in this experiment.

sliceswiththings's avatar

P.S. @Capt_Bloth I love the mental image of the spinning bread-cat:)

Val123's avatar

@sliceswiththings You must take the confounds into consideration! Along with the width and agility of the cat and whether you are working with light margarine or really, truly heavy butter. Important: One can not discount the confounds in science. (You know, the confounds may be profound when dealing with science….)

Qingu's avatar

@DrBill, are you referring to quantum entanglement? Because then it depends on your interpretation.

Shuttle128's avatar

Can’t believe I forgot to say Phrenology!

Although, you might say it was pseudoscience from the start…..it was accepted as scientific for far too long though.

Also, ether.

@pdworkin Science can be right. There is nothing that stops science from possibly being right; however, we cannot know if science is right. We could have a theory that continues to provide correct answers for a very long time and never know if it is 100% correct. There can always be a situation that is not explained by the theory that could exist but has not been observed yet.

sliceswiththings's avatar

Ha @Val123 glad you’re thorough. I’ll have to include all this in the error analysis section of my lab report.

Another similar time that science was disproved (only the cat landing on its feet half): when my brother was in junior high he told his friends about this cat gravitational phenomenon. To demonstrate, he held our cat by the legs and held her upside down about a foot off the ground. He dropped her and she fell flat on her back. Oops.

dpworkin's avatar

I agree that Science can be “right”. I was attempting to critique the question. Perhaps I could have been more clear.

Val123's avatar

@sliceswiththings Did you know Mark Twain was a scientist? Yes. He came up with this profounding theory “A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way.”

mattbrowne's avatar

- adults don’t grow brain cells
– gas giant orbits are not close to their star
– global warming is not happening
– fish are not the ancestors of humans
– mountains don’t grow

Val123's avatar

Looky looky looky Mattt! http://phet.colorado.edu/sims/my-solar-system/my-solar-system.swf Um, I set the mass of the purple planet to 1000….oops!

mattbrowne's avatar

@Val123 – Wow, I love the animation when setting the number of bodies to 3 and 4. Gee, am I glad that our solar system is less erratic! Playing with mass it’s wonderful to simulate binary star systems. Great link !!

Val123's avatar

@mattbrowne Well, now I know why I’m not God. I have made a total mess of things, and I can’t straighten it out!

dpworkin's avatar

That would seem to qualify you perfectly.

Val123's avatar

@pdworkin LOL!! Well, YOU try out for God, using the link above! See how well YOU do!

mattbrowne's avatar

When you get the job @Val123 please terminate Heisenberg’s erratic uncertainty principle, will ya? It’s time to end this mess.

dpworkin's avatar

And do something about turbulence.

the100thmonkey's avatar

Could you also see your way to fixing the plumbing in my apartment? No one else seems to want to take responsibility…

Val123's avatar

@mattbrowne I screwed up when I created Heinsenberg but, what’s done, is done. Free will and all that. Deal with it. (No amount of praying is going to change it either. Sorry! I shall send you a beautiful day instead.)

@the100thmonkey Well, I could, of course. You guys created plumbing and you didn’t give it any free will (it just seems like it.) However, in the grand scheme of things I have a plan and fixing your plumbing would screw it up. I’m working on a second flood, see, and it’s all going to start with the plumbing in your apartment….You’re the only one who knows about this, BTW, and I hereby Christian thee The100thMonkeyNoah. Need I say more? Get to to work. (PS…you can ditch the cockroaches and the rats. Oh, and I have a hint….I’m going to drop you guys on a hill in Kansas, and you’re going to be camping out for a while after that. When you go to bed in your tent at night…keep your clothes on, PULEASE. Oh, and good luck finding dry firewood.)

mattbrowne's avatar

@Val123 – I always had this feeling that God is a woman. Dear Mother in heaven…

Val123's avatar

@mattbrowne “Yeeeesssss?” (I’m not in Heaven BTW. I’m in Kansas. Bet you would have never guessed that either!)

Shuttle128's avatar

Found some more good ones:

Humoral Theory of Medicine
Effluvial Ttheory of Static Electricity
Deluge Geology
Caloric Heat Theory
Vibratory Theory of Heat
Vital Force Physiology
Spontaneous Generation
Circular Inertia

YARNLADY's avatar

@Val123 I thought heaven and Kansas were mythical.

Sarcasm's avatar

@YARNLADY One is!
I’ll leave it up to you to figure out which one. Tip: I’ve read stories of heaven in books. Not so much for Kansas.

Capt_Bloth's avatar

@Sarcasm The Wizard of Oz.

MacBean's avatar

@Qingu: I stand corrected! They didn’t say it was “never” believed to be flat. They were only talking about Columbus’ time. And the place I heard it turned out to be an episode of QI which is not always completely reliable. But I did find this on Wikipedia:
.
.”According to recent research, the modern view that people of the Middle Ages believed that the Earth was flat is said to have entered the popular imagination in the 19th century, thanks largely to the publication of Washington Irving’s fantasy The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus in 1828.
.
.
They cite this as their source for that info.

Val123's avatar

@YARNLADY LOL!! I shall never escape that, will I!

elle_em's avatar

Isaiah 40:22..“It is He who sits above the circle of the earth,And its inhabitants are like grasshoppers,Who stretches out the heavens like a curtainAnd spreads them out like a tent to dwell in.” God, who made the heavens and the earth, spoke through Isaiah and revealed back in approx. 701–681 B.C. that the earth was round.

Val123's avatar

@elle_em Well, if God revealed in in 701, why did it take another 1000 years for Christian people to accept His revelation?

elle_em's avatar

There were no “Christians” until Christ, who didn’t come for another 3000 or so years (well at least manifestly speaking). However, God’s people were not always obedient, nor did they always revere His word. His own word describes this, warns them and eventually they are led into captivity by Assyria and Babylonia as a result. However, what is your source that says they didn’t believe this?
btw, not everyone today that calls themselves a Christian is obedient to God’s word as well.

Shuttle128's avatar

@elle_em Circle refers to a flat plate like Earth. The early Greek translations specifically use the word for circle rather than sphere and the Hebrew versions consistently use the word for circle rather than sphere as well, even though both languages have rather unambiguous ways of expressing the concept of a sphere. Several passages’ context make it very clear that the Earth was thought to be flat. Reference to “edges” or “ends” of the Earth and reference to seeing all of the Earth from a mountain top are a few examples.

elle_em's avatar

“above the circle of the earth” seems to imply depth. And since you say that the concept of sphere is rather ambiguous, I am more inclined to believe that God revealed to His people truth as it is. When the scriptures says in Job 26:7 “He stretches out the north over empty space And hangs the earth on nothing.” again it implies depth, and the knowledge that the earth is suspended on nothing. This today we know is true. And we use those same expressions as far as “ends of the earth” in the same way and we have no doubts that the earth is round.

Shuttle128's avatar

I specifically said “unambiguous.” Both Hebrew and Greek have unambiguous ways of denoting the difference between a flat circle and a sphere-like object. The word ‘chugh’ was used in many other places in original Bible text, all of them describing flat, plate-like, circles and not spheres (from context). In the Greek translations the word ‘chugh’ was translated into conjugations of ‘gyros’ (meaning circle) rather than ‘sphaira’ (meaning sphere). “Circle of the earth” is a direct translation from ‘chugh’ in Hebrew text and ‘gyros’ in the Greek text. The unambiguous word for sphere in Hebrew is ‘kadur’ which roughly means ball.

If the author wanted to exclaim that the earth was sphere-like, he would have used a word that denoted this. ”Above the circle of the earth” simply implies altitude, you can very easily have a height above a flat plate. This is inherent in Matthew 4:8:

“Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor.”

Many Bible versions translate the Greek ‘peras’ into ‘ends’ such as in the KJV where the phrase “ends of the earth” is used, but the Greek word ‘peras’ is commonly translated into ‘edge’ or ‘boundary.’ The word ‘apeiron’ a conjugation of ‘peras’ is almost unanimously translated as ‘boundless,’ meaning the root ‘peras’ is almost unanimously understood as ‘boundary.’ This very slight difference in translation can mean the difference between a layperson getting the impression that the Earth has edges like a flat plate, or that it has ends like a string. You probably get the impression of ends meaning something like poles, yet ‘peras’ means bounds or edges, and “edges of the earth” would imply a flat earth.

Val123's avatar

@elle_em Um, if Issiah wrote that in 701 BC, then it was 700 years before the coming of Christ, not 3000. And Christ wasn’t a Christian, anyway. He was a Jew. And I guess I don’t understand the point of your post, anyway. But, to address it further, if the fact that the earth was revealed to be a “sphere”, even before the advent of Christianity, why didn’t the Christians, who came along 800 years later, understand that? Why were people imprisoned and killed by the Christians for suggesting that the earth was anything but flat, and further, were branded heretics if they suggested that the earth revolved around the sun? That was unthinkable. The narcissistic belief was that the sun and the universe revolved around the earth.

Baddreamer27's avatar

Recently the scientist that discovered that new bacterium in Mono lake was arsenic based…

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