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infinite energy


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 says:


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 right?"

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.



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