May 2018

Science is too slow

The pace at which scientific ideas are properly explored and accepted by the majority is often too slow. It is true that a sudden discovery can push our understanding forward rapidly, by producing incontrovertible evidence that something happens or happened. But many of the biggest and most important ideas take decades or centuries to become accepted. The hello-centric view of the solar system is a good example, but you could say that was before science got properly established.

Wegener's ideas about continental drift are perhaps a better example. The idea was proposed in 1912 but not accepted because geologists could not conceive of a mechanism to make it happen. It was not until the ideas of plate tectonics were proposed in 1968 that continental drift started to become accepted. The considerable evidence staring geologists in the face, from the matching coastlines of Africa and America, and the way the geology matched on the two sides of the Atlantic, was apparently not enough to make them take the idea seriously. If they had, plate tectonics ideas might have emerged much earlier.

This delay in taking new ideas seriously and putting effort into exploring them slows development of our understanding considerably. It demonstrates a lack of courage amongst our scientists, universities and research funding agencies. For those of us interested in making sense of the world, the pictures we can develop are left incomplete and very probably wrong. Or, if you espouse ideas that are considered outlandish by the mainstream academic communities, you can become considered to be one of the 'lunatic fringe', promoting ideas that have no scientific basis.

The current situation in physics shows the problem. For decades strong theory has held sway, with universities creating posts for scientists exploring string theory and not employing those who wish to explore alternative theories. This is despite the complete lack of experimental evidence to support string theory, or indeed suggestions as to the theories can be experimentally tested. It is only in the last few years that alternatives have slowly begun to be discussed.

In my areas of interest there are two big examples of the scientific community refusing to explore important ideas. The first is earth crust displacement. There is increasing interest in what human development happened in Siberia, before the last glacial maximum. This is centred on the discoveries in Denisova cave in the Altai mountains, that was occupied at different periods by Denisovans, Neanderthals and Humans. It is evident from this, and from the regular discoveries of frozen mammoths with undigested food in their stomachs - plants that could not grow if Siberia then had a climate anything like the climate it has today. The most straightforward answer to this conundrum is that Siberia was not as close to the North Pole then as it now is - an idea reinforced by our well researched knowledge of where Northern Hemisphere ice cover was during the last glacial maximum.

A second example in another area of my interests, though perhaps related to how cultural ideas spread in early human development, is Rupert Sheldrake's theory of morphic resonance. Even though a considerable number of experiments have been done that strongly support that there is a real phenomenon here to be investigated, there is virtually no scientific investigation of his ideas happening.

At the rate science is going, it will take the academic community more than my lifetime to come round to taking these ideas seriously. This leaves me with alternative but to continue to develop my ideas on the basis that these and other 'outlandish' ideas are worthy of taking seriously, and hence worthy of being used to support my developing understanding of how the world works. Which I shall do without apology.