The history of science shows some wrong theories being accepted by leading scholars for long periods of time. Ptolemaic astronomy, unquestioned for over 1200 years, is a prime example. Not all examples are old, though. In modern times as well, scientists are finding that theories unquestioned for decades, even centuries, were wrong. That being so, what confidence can we have that today’s scientific beliefs will stand the test of time for the next decade or century? A recent spate of science articles shows some long-held theories being questioned – others being tossed overboard.
Many today still remember the catchy phrase nuclear winter and assume it has a scientific basis, but Seitz says, “This potential climate disaster, popularized in Science in 1983, rested on the output of a one-dimensional model that was later shown to overestimate the smoke a nuclear holocaust might engender. More refined estimates, combined with advanced three-dimensional models… have dramatically reduced the extent and severity of the projected cooling” – so much so, that the worst-case scenario has fallen “to numbers so unseasonably small as to call the very term ‘nuclear winter’ into question.” This doesn’t mean, of course, that a nuclear bomb wouldn’t ruin your whole day, but it might do in Homo sapiens with fire, not ice….
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