10 Scientific Blunders That Could Shake Your Faith in Science
10 Scientific Blunders That Could Shake Your Faith in Science

In Beyond Science, Epoch Times explores research and accounts related to phenomena and theories that challenge our current knowledge. We delve into ideas that stimulate the imagination and open up new possibilities. Share your thoughts with us on these sometimes controversial topics in the comments section below.

The history of science teaches us to question what we think we know.

Some scientists who made great discoveries in history were ridiculed and dismissed by the scientific community at the time.

Some scientists who were way off the mark were celebrated; their theories were held as facts for decades or even centuries.

1.  Doctors Should Wash Their Hands

Image of doctor washing hands via Shutterstock

It seems obvious now, but Ignaz Semmelweis had a tough time convincing scientists and doctors 150 years ago that disease could be spread if doctors’ hands and tools were not cleaned.

He was ridiculed and rejected by the majority of his colleagues and superiors at the University of Vienna. He moved to Budapest and worked at a hospital there, slashing mortality rates to a record low by keeping things clean.

Harvard MD John Long Wilson writes of Semmelweis’s rejection: “His doctrine was opposed by powerful members of the academic hierarchy. … The damning evidence that they were themselves the remorseless messengers of death was a scarcely veiled threat to their pride and eminence.”


2. Cheese Gives Birth to Mice

Image of mouse with cheese via Shutterstock

It was widely held until the 17th century that inanimate objects could produce living beings. The Encyclopedia Britannica gives an example: cheese and bread left in a dark corner were thought to produce mice—not attract mice, produce mice.

Similarly, decaying meat was thought to produce maggots.

Francesco Redi showed in the 17th century that meat does not produce maggots (flies lay eggs on the meat, producing maggots), by sealing some meat in a jar and leaving some exposed. The meat in the jar did not form maggots.


3. Tobacco Will Cure Almost Any Ailment

Image of tobacco pipe via Shutterstock

Children were told to smoke tobacco in 1665 during the London plague, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health. During the 16th century, tobacco was widely prescribed in Europe as a cure for many illnesses, including cancer.


4. Germs Kill People

Many scientists could not accept that tiny little germs could cause diseases and kill people. Louis Pasteur was initially ridiculed for his theories about microbes. He proved they could be killed with heat, preventing disease.

He also showed that microbes are involved in the souring of wine and milk. The term “pasteurized milk” is named for him.


5.  Fritz Zwicky Ridiculed by Colleagues ‘Missing 99 Percent of the Universe’

Fritz Zwicky (Wikimedia Commons)

Fritz Zwicky developed the theory of dark matter in the 1930s. He was met with great skepticism and largely ignored for more than 40 years.

His descendants wrote a letter to Caltech’s journal of Engineering & Science in 2010, describing the reaction of the scientific community to Zwicky’s theory: “My grandfather identified an extravaganza of precedent-setting observations that were not understood by many benighted ignoramus of his time.

“Therefore, he no doubt invoked great animosity by telling his colleagues that they were missing 99 percent of the universe, and that they were only looking at the dust bunnies in front of the door. 

“No conductor wants to be told he has lost his caboose.”


6. If You’re Sick, Just Slit Your Veins

(Wikimedia Commons)

Bloodletting was immensely popular as a treatment for almost any ailment for centuries. It was endorsed by some doctors right up through to the 20th century. 

Doctors—or barbers, who also somehow became responsible for performing this treatment—would cut patients and let blood drain until the patients would faint.

U.S. President George Washington died of bloodletting. He was being treated for a sore throat. He isn’t the only one. Doctors eventually realized the cure was killing many patients.

MedTech notes that today, bloodletting may still be effective in very particular circumstances. For example, it can help some people at risk of blood clots. 


7. Continental Drift

Convergent plate boundary created by two continental plates that slide towards each other.

Alfred Wegener first hypothesized in a 1912 paper that continents had shifted on the Earth’s surface over the ages. The theory was met with widespread skepticism until new evidence emerged in the late 1950s and 1960s.

The theory was eventually accepted; it was incorporated into, and improved upon, by plate tectonics.

Alfred Wegener (Bildarchiv Preussischer Kulturbesitz)


8. The Earth Revolves Around the Sun

Image of Earth via Shutterstock

The Ptolemaic understanding of the solar system held that Earth is at the center with the sun and planets revolving around it. This view was not simply related to physics; it placed emphasis on humankind’s spiritual significance in the cosmos.

In the 16th Century, Nicolaus Copernicus hypothesized the sun, not the Earth, is the center of the solar system. 

Galileo Galilei agreed after studying space through his telescope, but he was condemned, largely because the Catholic Church held this view to be heretical.


9. Mendel’s Genetics Ahead of His Time

Gregor Mendel (Wikimedia Commons)

Although Gregor Mendel is now known as the father of genetics, his theories gained little interest from the scientists of his time. Mendel’s work with pea plants was only recognized for its importance after his death.

He observed the traits passed on to pea plants from their parent plants. He realized he could calculate mathematical probabilities that certain traits would be passed on through reproduction. 

At the time, biologists viewed heredity as a process of characteristics from each parent blending together in the offspring.  


10. The Earth is Not Flat

Image of a flat Earth via Shutterstock

It was long held in many cultures throughout history that the world is flat, not round. 

In ancient Greece, Pythagoras and Aristotle both theorized that the world is round though many of their contemporaries thought it to be flat. Biblical accounts of the “four corners” of the Earth perpetuated the view of the earth as flat.

It is a myth that educated Europeans in the 15th century believed the world to be flat as Christopher Columbus embarked on his explorations. By that time, it was commonly held that the world is spherical. 


‘To err is science’

Douglas Allchin of the Minnesota Center for the Philosophy of Science summed it up in a paper presented to the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2000: “To err is science.” 

Allchin noted that learning from mistakes is part of the process, and progress means leaving old views behind for the new. 

Will our modern theories one day seem silly? Perhaps some scientists ridiculed today will be redeemed tomorrow. 


*Image of scientist via Shutterstock

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  • Pocho Basura

    anthropomorphic global warming – promoted as truth in the 21st century

    • RangerJoe12

      yes, technology has not advanced in the past 300 years. do go on.

    • MoonDragon

      Are you arguing that AGW is the hoax or that our failure to recognize it places us squarely in the groups that failed to change when confronted with new evidence? If the former, I’m guessing I don’t want to shake hands with you when you come out of the restroom.

      And I think the word you want is anthropogenic.

      • Goyo

        keepin classy moonbat

  • c10e

    What blunders? Half of these (1,4,5,7,9) were radical ideas that were not accepted until the evidence had accumulated. Perhaps they could have been accepted more quickly, but calling the delay a “blunder” seems pretty lame. The other half of them showed scientiic ideas displacing unscientific ones. All ten of them represent stunning scientific sucesses.

    • http://www.lenrnews.eu/lenr-summary-for-policy-makers/ AlainCo

      if you take some revolution, there was clear evidence that only pathological denial prevented to see. selective acceptance of evidence allowed that.

      a better list is there http://amasci.com/weird/vindac.html

      just see Semmelweis and see that him and 2 predecessors to introduce Germ theory based on evidence that illiterate mothers were aware of (the story of semmelweiss is without any pity for mainstream delusion). Continental drift is also without pity, since a kid of 5 today can see it from geological maps..

      in both case the only reason to deny the evidence was that there was no theory to positively describe a mechanism.

      if you want to understand why, there is a solid litterature :

      read Thomas Kuhn who explain that impossibility for evidence to be seen before there is a theory to justify it (incommensurability of paradigm)

      read Taleb who exp^lain how the academic world try to enforce the myth that theories drive the technological progress, and try to “lecture birds how to fly”. then, like Kuhn he explain the “history is written by the losers” so that nobody see how academics prevented evidences to be accepted, and how those that do the job were garage inventors, aliens from out of academic , and practitioners.

      read also the work of Roland Benabou (princeton) about “Groupthink collective delusions in organizations and markets”, which explain that in organization where your fate is determined by the opinion of delusioned people, and not being right alone, then you get mechanically delusioned and that multiple cognitive equilibria appears (the incommensurable paradigm of Kuhn). http://www.princeton.edu/~rbenabou/papers/Groupthink%20IOM%202012_07_02%20BW.pdf

      Read also the work of Norbert Alter on innovators who explain, like Taleb that they are “alien” out of the system/paradigm that they challenge, because they knwo that the current paradigm is not the only one.

      I observe today, like more and more academics (see http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/dec/09/how-journals-nature-science-cell-damage-science , or Pam Mosier Boss article on nature http://www.iscmns.org/CMNS/JCMNS-Vol12.pdf#page=6 ) challenge the oligarchy of truth, which prevent news paradigm to be researched.

      Like Kuhn, Taleb, those maverick are hight criticized, and as Taleb explain more than criticized their inconvenient critics are rewritten either to weaken it’s annoying content(like Taleb, or most critics like Shekman, or to change it into a strawman (like Kuhn is often).

  • http://gottagetgoing.blogspot.com Kunoichi

    Two errors.
    “Galileo Galilei agreed after studying space through his telescope, but
    he was condemned, largely because the Catholic Church held this view to
    be heretical.”

    The Catholic Church supported Copernicus’ theory, so they would hardly condemn Galileo for it. He was condemned because he broke an agreement that he would not promote his theory without proof after one of his friends he made the agreement with – the Pope – died, and the other friend – a Cardinal – became the new Pope. It was for political, not religious, reasons that he was put under house arrest, where he lived out his life in luxury, in the mansion of a wealthy friend, free to continue his studies. He was also free to get visits from his two daughters, both nuns, one of whom was a distinguished scientist herself. The Catholic Church was a great supporter of science and mathematics; these subjects were mandetory in the universities they built.

    “Biblical accounts of the “four corners” of the Earth perpetuated the view of the earth as flat.”

    Most people well understood that this was a metaphor. The Bible makes several references to the Earth being round, such as describing it as a sphere floating in what we would now call space. Very few people actually believed the world was flat, or that it was the centre of the universe.

    • http://www.lenrnews.eu/lenr-summary-for-policy-makers/ AlainCo


      the way Semmelweis and Wegenner were treated however let no forgiving to the mainstream establishment and consensus of science, when facing evidence without a know mechanism to explain it.

  • bachcole

    Here is a grand blunder that will hurt people for as long as the “mistake” continues. LENR (cold fusion) has been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt. It was announced in 1989 by Fleishmann and Pons. So we are going on 25 years with mainstream science suppressing and ignoring it as best they can. But, eventually, soon, it will become obvious that LENR is real. For the curious and open minded, here are some links to get you started towards your understanding of the REALITY of LENR and the stupidity and psychopathology of certain people in mainstream science.





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