Beyond the Cutting Edge: The Sins
of the Fathers
(Originally Published January-February,
2000 In Infinite Energy Magazine Issue #29)
by Jeffrey D. Kooistra
Most of us who are over thirty-five can
remember being taught as children that dinosaurs were cold-blooded
reptiles. To see a modern day example of a "dinosaur," one was directed
to look at alligators and lizards. It was not uncommon in those
pre-computer days for low budget "cave man movies" to use enlarged
footage of Gila monsters (small lizards) for their dinosaurs.
Nowadays we have an entirely different picture of
dinosaurs. Due largely to the work of Dr. Robert T. Bakker, it is
now recognized that many dinosaurs were not cold-blooded, but warm-blooded.
And one cannot look just to the reptiles for modern day versions
of dinosaurs; you have to look to the birds also.
In his book The Dinosaur Heresies (William
Morrow and Co., 1986), Bakker recounts the story of his own battles
with the paleontological mainstream in getting them to realize that
1) the cold-blooded dinosaur paradigm was not correct and 2) it
should never have been set in stone in the first place.
On page 27, Bakker offers some commentary on how it
is that the cold-blooded view could have prevailed in paleontology
for so long when it was wrong, and these comments are worth keeping
in mind by those of us who also fight established paradigms. Bakker
Generally speaking badges are harmful in science. If a scientist
pins one labeled "Reptile" on some extinct species, anyone who
sees it will automatically think, "Reptile, hmmm. . . that means
cold-blooded, a lower vertebrate, sluggish when the weather is
dark and cool." There are never enough naturalists around, in
any age; so most scientific orthodoxy goes unchallenged. There
are just not enough skeptical minds to stare at each badge and
ask the embarrassing question, "How do you know the label is right?"
Be kind to colleagues, ruthless with theories, is
a good rule. A scientific theory isn't merely idle speculation,
it's a verbal picture of how things might work, how a system in
nature might organize things
Traditional dinosaur theory is full of short circuits.
Like the antiquated wiring in an over aged house, the details
sputter and burn out when specific parts are tested. I have enormous
respect for dinosaur paleontologists past and present. But on
average, for the last fifty years, the field hasn't tested dinosaur
orthodoxy severely enough.
It would require just a few word changes to make Bakker's
comments apply equally well to physics.
I like Bakker's book because it was instrumental in
getting me to think about the way that "established truth" in science
gets that way. From Bakker's recounting of the academic history,
it is clear that the "cold-blooded dinosaur theory" was never properly
verified or subject to test. Although a great deal of effort went
into assembling the cold-blooded paradigm, almost none went into
testing the foundations of that paradigm. By the time Bakker came
along, what had been merely a reasonable hypothesis at the beginning
had grown into absolute truth, with everyone in the field assuming
that the Fathers of Paleontology had built on a firm foundation.
Although I titled this column "The Sins of the Fathers,"
I don't think that's entirely fair. They could hardly have known
ahead of time how much the future would come to depend upon what
they'd built. No doubt many of those Fathers would be aghast at
how some of their musings have been elevated into Holy Writ.
The problem is certainly widespread in science. If
one wants to see just how widespread, there are lots of books to
read. One might want to read Robert Schoch's Voices of the Rocks
[Crown Publishing Group, 1999] to see how this problem manifests
itself in Egyptology. Eric Lerner's The Big Bang Never Happened
(Vintage Books, 1991) does the same for cosmology, as does Tom Van
Flandern's Dark Matter, Missing Planets, & New Comets (North
Atlantic Books, 1993, now available from IE, see p. 3). And the
best book on the subject in electromagnetics, O'Rahilly's Electromagnetic
Theory (Dover, 1965) is out of print (we hope to reprint it
ourselves in the future).
Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions
(University of Chicago Press, 1962) is, of course, the book that
both defined and brought to the forefront the term "paradigm." On
page 23 (of the second edition), Kuhn says of new paradigms when
they first appear: "Paradigms gain their status because they are
more successful than their competitors in solving a few problems
that the group of practitioners has come to recognize as acute.
To be more successful is not, however, to be either completely successful
with a single problem or notably successful with any large number."
So as it stands, philosophers of science are certainly familiar
with the nature of paradigm shifts and with how it is that paradigms
both become established and fall out of favor. However, it seems
to me that the philosophers need to do a great deal more work to
be able to answer this question: "Just how far off the mark can
a theory get and still continue to give the appearance of being
There is a silver lining that comes with the recognition
that somewhere in the past researchers took a wrong turn. The implication
is that, if we go back far enough, perhaps we will find the right
turn that should have been taken instead down "the road less traveled."
That could make all the difference.