In choosing a contemporary scientific controversy, I wanted to use certain selection criteria. Herstein (2009) outlines six “quick and dirty rules… for separating real from faux controversies” (para. 6). First, the controversy must involve alternatives that are scientifically valid. This rule keeps non-scientific claims and beliefs, such as religious views, from consideration. Second, the controversy must take place among peer-reviewed researchers. Though the media is useful in publicizing important findings, it is important that the controversy does not reside wholly in the realm of the media. This would, indeed, seem to invalidate some of the claims. Finally, combining two of Herstein’s rules, there should not be any significant financial motivations or overt conspiracy theories surrounding the controversy which would serve only to confuse the issue. For this paper, it would be difficult to sort through financial records of every person who has a potential interest in one of the alternatives. This position would lend to dismissing the controversies of certain industries, such as pharmaceuticals, energy, and national defense. Herstein has offered a contemporary scientific controversy which I will investigate for my final project.
From Copernicus to Galileo, then in 1686, Sir Isaac Newton developed his theory of universal gravitation. In 1905, Albert Einstein developed his relativity theories, improving on the Newtonian theory. These and other discoveries and theories have led to the conscript of the Standard Model of cosmology. As late as this year, research (Sagi, 2009) has been published which may build on these theories even further. This is not a popular venture among scientists. One observation is unfortunate:
Supporters of the big bang theory may retort that these theories do not explain every cosmological observation. But that is scarcely surprising, as their development has been severely hampered by a complete lack of funding. Indeed, such questions and alternatives cannot even now be freely discussed and examined. An open exchange of ideas is lacking in most mainstream conferences. Whereas Richard Feynman could say that “science is the culture of doubt”, in cosmology today doubt and dissent are not tolerated, and young scientists learn to remain silent if they have something negative to say about the standard big bang model. Those who doubt the big bang fear that saying so will cost them their funding. (Alternative Cosmology Group, 2004, para. 5)
If scientists fear ridicule and professional isolation for experimenting with potential alternatives to the Standard Model, this certainly constitutes a scientific controversy worth exploring. Further, adherence to a model that is not as complete as possible serves to discredit science in the view of the society. Science needs to be truthful to society. The social responsibility of science dictates the ethical approach to the dissemination of information to the public to educate and proffer wisdom, not to mislead and misinform; otherwise, the dark energy Einstein seeks can be found among his profession, keeping his equations true.
Alternative Cosmology Group. (2004, May 22). Open Letter on Cosmology. Retrieved from http://www.cosmology.info
Herstein, G. (2009, July 23). What does a real scientific controversy look like? [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://www.scientificblogging.com/inquiry_inquiry/ what_does_real_scientific_controversy_look
Sagi, E. (2009, August 15). Preferred frame parameters in the tensor-vector-scalar theory of gravity and its generalization. Physical Review D, 80(4), 44032-44047. doi:10.1103/PhysRevD.80.044032