Thursday, December 16, 2010

Piltdown Man

Just for those of you that might not have heard of this, here's how scientific fraud can put us back years. it also seems to be an episode from which little has been learned.

Whoever perpetrated the crime, it is considered to be one of the most damaging scientific hoaxes of all time, because it set the development of evolutionary theory back for years while researchers labored pointlessly to integrate a fake skull into the fossil record.

From The Skeptic's Dictionary, which rather amused me considering the stance there on other matters (I put the bold bit there):

Because of the public nature of science and the universal application of its methods, and because of the fact that the majority of scientists are not crusaders for their own untested or untestable prejudices, as many pseudoscientists are, whatever errors are made by scientists are likely to be discovered by other scientists. The discovery will be enough to get science back on track. The same can't be said for the history of quacks and pseudoscientists where errors do not get detected because their claims are not tested properly. And when critics identify errors, they are ignored by true believers.

Scientists were fooled by this hoax for 40 years, until the weight of other finds finally drove some of them to take a close look at the skull itself, and find out it was a fake. One can hope things might work faster in this Internet age.


Neal Asher said...

The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.
-- Bertrand Russell

The fact that an opinion has been widely held is no evidence whatever that it is not utterly absurd; indeed in view of the silliness of the majority of mankind, a widespread belief is more likely to be foolish than sensible.
-- Bertrand Russell

Study the past if you would define the future.
-- Confucius

Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.
-- Voltaire

Hitch said...

I remember reading about the Piltdown Man when I was, oh I dunno, about 10. It was in the Hamlyns book of How, when or where...

It fascinated me even at that age how scientists and the general public as a whole can be taken in by these kinds of things. I guess I got skeptical around that age!

Neal Asher said...

Skeptical is good. All real scientists know that. The other direction is reliance on 'authority' and plain faith. On which subject, I notice Pat Condell has another rant up:

vaudeviewgalor raandisisraisins said...

forget that guy, he never would've amounted to anything.

how about this for hitting a brick wall frontal lobe first?

vaudeviewgalor raandisisraisins said...

drone spuds on the move:

this goes on and on, it starts off that there is a problem to be in another country,
getting blown up.

get out of the country, duh!! there is such a bloodthirsty need for the military industrial complex cha-ching machine in the u.s.s.a. that 'common sense' gets shit on as unpatriotic. not as bad as it was a few years ago, but still. obummer.

Hitch said...

Wow that pat guy is comedy gold. Don't get me wrong, I am not a religous person, far to complicated for that! But he makes me laugh as much as the opposing forces he takes the piss out of.

I am hoping his rant on respect is ironic.

I guess I am skeptical on both sides of the coin when it comes to either outright denial or blind faith.

BTW, Off topic but... Dare I link this in here as it has you all over it :) I am really interested in your view for obvious reasons once you read the post.

Neal Asher said...

That's something I'll have to think about more when I've woken up a bit more, Hitch. It's also something I haven't really thought about enough (author in denial?). Initial thought: being able to copy the book three times is not like lending a paper book, it's more like copying a paper book and lending out three separate copies of it. Yes, more thought required.

Neal Asher said...

The Harry Potter door was interesting, Vaude, but not as much as that speech. I like this: a singing greetings card has more computing power that the entire US navy (or airforce?) had in the 1960s.

And yes, we shouldn't be in those countries. It's bloody ridiculous.

Hitch said...

"That's something I'll have to think about more when I've woken up a bit more, Hitch." -

Woke up yet Neal? :)