Tag Archives: scientific controversy

Growing Up Einstein:

 A Look at the Controversies Surrounding Gravity

Newton’s Universal Law of Gravity has been the impetus of many significant advances in physics. Similarly, Einstein’s theories of relativity enabled the creation of a school of science, cosmology, and maintains a symbiotic relationship with the study of quantum mechanics, though quantum gravity proves elusive (“Relativity and the quantum,” n.d.). Einstein’s General Relativity (GR) theory is the accepted standard for modeling gravity, today. Until recently, anyone refuting Einstein was sure to find his or her claim subject to acute skepticism, if not complete dismissal. In fact, controversial claims have been made, and until as late as 2004, one unfortunate observation was made:

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)

Two variant theories have surfaced with promise of becoming accepted, or at least considered: Modified Newtonian Dynamics (MOND) and Tensor-Vector-Scalar (TeVeS). The question remains, will these theories be heard?


Isaac Newton first introduced the concept of gravity in 1686 in his work Principia. Expanding on the ballistics work of Galileo and using the Pythagorean theorem, Newton explained the known observations of the moon’s orbital path around the Earth (Fowler, 2008). This work “led Newton to his famous inverse square law: the force of gravitational attraction between two bodies decreases with increasing distance between them as the inverse of the square of that distance, so if the distance is doubled, the force is down by a factor of four” (“The Moon is Falling,” para. 9) and, hence, extrapolated to the creation of Newton’s Universal Law of Gravity.

Newton’s Universal Law of Gravity states that the force of gravity between two objects is equal to the product of the masses of the two objects divided by the square of the distance between the objects multiplied by the universal gravitational constant. This is a very simplistic explanation of gravity, and though it proves true when considering objects closely related, it fails to explain the observed effects of gravity at both extremely long and intimately short distances (Skordis, 2009 ; Stacey & Tuck, 1981).

Einstein’s work on space-time in the early 1900’s was at odds with the classical notion of gravity. He spent some time reconsidering this impact and devised his GR theory. GR, though expanding the Newtonian law of gravity with the concept of curvatures in space-time to predict the existence of gravitational waves, gravitational lensing, and black holes, according to Skordis (2009), is still lacking and fails to explain the observed distribution of matter throughout the universe. GR requires mathematical adjustment to remain valid in some circumstances, introducing obscure concepts, such as dark energy and dark matter. The combination of dark matter and dark energy is told to comprise more than 95% of all mass in the universe (Filippini, 2005). Yet, this matter has never been observed. This situation presented cosmologists with an opportunity to devise a more complete and elegant solution to explain the effects of gravity. The problem: acceptance.

The Controversy, Itself

“There are significant discrepancies between the visible masses of galaxies and clusters of galaxies and their masses as inferred from Newtonian dynamics” (Sagi & Bekenstein, 2008). Proponents of GR and Newtonian Dynamics present the existence of dark matter and dark energy to provide explanations for these discrepancies. Some researchers did not accept this as a viable solution to the missing mass problem. Instead, they struggled to find a better solution. As earlier researchers presented their work, they were met with arrogance and contempt (Alternative Cosmology Group, 2004). This attitude has dissuaded others from questioning the conventional theories, at least without a sound theory that could hold up to scrutiny.

Modified Newtonian Dynamics (MOND) was probably one of the first contemporary proposals to identify a respectable solution to the quandaries of GR. Though, as Bekenstein and Sanders (2005) describes, it answered the questions of perigalactic gas clouds and some galaxy clustering without the need for dark matter, it failed with its incompatibility to the laws of conservation. The aquadratic lagrangian (AQUAL) theory emerged from MOND to address these shortcomings, though it, too, was flawed as it was a nonrelativistic solution to the problem. Relativistic AQUAL (RAQUAL) was introduced soon after. Being a relativistic version of AQUAL, RAQUAL does not negate AQUAL, and therefore, stays true to the MONDian theory, also. RAQUAL is not without its problems, however, as “it permits superluminal propagation of φ waves (B&M). And it is unable to give an account of gravitational lensing in agreement with the basic observation that lensing by galaxy clusters is anomalously strong compared to what was to be expected in view of their galaxies and gas content” (p. 24). Another problem is that RAQUAL is not covariant and actually “weaken[s] gravitational lensing, rather than enhancing it as intended” (p. 24). The introduction of a constant vector field to the equation both provides a solution and suggests the approach of the Tensor-Vector-Scalar (TeVeS) covariant field theory.

TeVeS is actually a combination of MOND, Newtonian, and Einstein’s GR, with two metrics to interact with the fields in the theory. “Many aspects of TeVeS have been investigated extensively, proving the theory to be faring quite well in view of the huge challenges it was designed to meet” (Sagi, 2009). TeVeS may provide ground-breaking advances in cosmology, and perhaps, in quantum physics.

The controversy surrounding TeVeS and its sound consideration probably stems from the shortcomings of its precursors. This is not a respectable position. Looking through the history of science, rarely is there a major step forward without, first, smaller and error-laden advances. Any new theory that answers real observations should be given an opportunity to mature with greater study and more observational constraint.

Science and Society

This controversy has been raging for the better part of a century. Not until recently has there been a proposed solution that both agrees with GR and Newtonian Dynamics at the same time that it furthers the understanding of gravity where GR fails. Many of the major technological advances in the last century were a direct result of Einstein’s breakthrough contributions to Newtonian physics. One would think that more people would be paying attention, but the general media has not. Perhaps, many of the reporters feel this issue is outside of the realm and scope of their readership’s ability to understand, or maybe, the media just does not realize the import of such discoveries. Unfortunately (or, perhaps, fortunately), the discussion remains technical, equation-laden, and lackluster, helping to keep the influences of the ignorant out of the discussion. Regardless, the limited mainstream coverage limits the controversy to the experts of astrophysics and cosmology.

Society should certainly pay more attention to science; it would serve society well to be an active participant in contemporary scientific discourse. A strong social commitment to science is needed in order to progress responsibly, and though society can prove to be collectively ignorant, it is no marker of overall intelligence. Can society give back to science?

What is (Not) Science?

In a recent Time magazine article (Cray, 2006), Francis Collins, in a debate with Richard Dawkins, attempts to justify his rigor as a scientist with his spiritual beliefs as a Christian. Science is knowledge. Science is neither philosophy nor religion. In the quest for understanding, cosmology is seeking answers to the beginning and hints of the end of time, the self-stated realm of religion. As of this writing, quantum physicists are sifting through anti-matter to glimpse the elusive God particle.

Scientific breakthroughs, though insightful, do not provide testimony against the existence of a Creator, just as uncovering a religious artifact does not negate the latest scientific conclusion. While religion strives to provide an explanation of the beginning of mankind, science is willing to explore the physical boundaries that religion is said to transcend. It would do both camps well to isolate themselves from one another. Cosmology is fraught with opportunity to infringe on religion, especially in the study of gravity. The separation of virtue from knowledge, while allowing them to coexist, is paramount. As we increase our understanding of the macro- and microscopic world around us, especially in the fields of cosmology and quantum physics, the sciences need to maintain a focused and unbiased search for knowledge. This discretion, alone, will limit many of these controversies from arising.

A Changing of the Guard

It appears from the amount of emerging research that there is a renewed vigor among cosmologists to rectify the problems of GR. With the amount of research being submitted to scholarly journals, detractors can no longer deny the need to seriously examine the potential solutions. Additionally, perhaps, the pool of experts have changed, and the conventional mindset has changed with them. Regardless, it appears as though a dearth of research is being completed in the study of universal gravity, and the research is, now, being considered as valid.

This controversy illustrates the need for scientists and field experts to approach emerging solutions with an open mind, though remaining vigilant and skeptical. As a society, we cannot afford having a potential scientific breakthrough remain secreted by virtue of conventionalism, alone. Our knowledge is too important for us to fail in nurturing it.


Alternative Cosmology Group. (2004, May 22). Open letter on cosmology. Retrieved from http://www.cosmology.info

Bekenstein, J. D. & Sanders, R. H. (2005). A primer to relativistic MOND theory. In G. Mamon, F. Combes, C. Deffayet & B. Fort (Eds.), EAS Publications Series (Vol. 20, pp. 225-230). doi:10.1051/eas:2006075

Cray, D. (2006, November 5). God vs. science. Time. Retrieved from http://www.time.com

Filippini, J. (2005, August). Why dark matter? Cosmology Group, University of California, Berkley. Retrieved from http://cosmology.berkeley.edu/Education/CosmologyEssays/ Why_Dark_Matter.html

Fowler, M. (2008, November 13). Isaac Newton. Physics Department, University of Virginia. Retrieved from http://galileoandeinstein.physics.virginia.edu/lectures/newton.pdf

Relativity and the quantum. (n.d.). Einstein-Online. Retrieved from http://www.einstein-online.info/en/elementary/quantum/index.html

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

Sagi, E. & Bekenstein, J. D. (2008, February 1). Black holes in the TeVeS theory of gravity and their thermodynamics. Physical Review D, 77, 024010-024021. doi:10.1103/PhysRevD.77.024010

Skordis, C. (2009, March 21). The Tensor-Vector-Scalar theory and its cosmology. Class.Quant.Grav., 26, 143001-143044. doi:10.1088/0264-9381/26/14/143001

Stacey, F. D. & Tuck, G. J. (1981, July 16). Geophysical evidence for non-newtonian gravity. Nature, 292, 230-232. doi:10.1038/292230a0

 Examining Gravitational Claims Through Shermer

Michael Shermer (2002) outlines 25 fallacies of thought that can influence how investigators approach their research and interpret the outcomes. These fallacies can be used to help us to understand where the data ends and the human factor begins. With new claims challenging the scope and breadth of Einstein’s general and special theories of relativity, it would be appropriate to examine these claims with a couple of Shermer’s fallacies.

The furtherance of cosmology and astrophysics is heavily reliant on our understanding of gravity, as it plays an integral role in the movements of and relationships between celestial bodies. As of this writing, it is the revolutionary theories of Newton and Einstein that guide the sciences. Though these theories do well to explain gravity within our solar system, as technological growth enables us to study more of the cosmos, we find that the matter distribution throughout the universe becomes problematic to the accepted theory. This has been referred to as the “missing mass problem” (Skordis, 2009, p. 2). To answer this problem, researchers have adopted and tested gravitational theories which build on Newton’s and Einstein’s theories. Unfortunately for these researchers, the scientific community is skeptical about any claims aimed at possibly discrediting the long-held conventions of gravitational theory, especially in light of the scientific growth that has resulted over the years. This creates a scientific controversy which will eventually be settled by continuing to form and adapt theories and testing their mettle against the scrutiny of scientists (Herstein, 2009).

Claims need to be accepted as valid or significant before the scientific community will consider them as competitive with current science. Certainly, there is no time to argue against every claim made, so only those claims that have the characteristics of good science should be entertained. This is where Shermer’s fallacies can be of value. Shermer attempts to provide a tool with which to measure the inadequacies of research and researcher. With his fallacies of thought, he attempts to reveal the pseudo-science among the good science. Two of his fallacies are useful to measure the claims against Einstein.

“Theory influences observations” (Shermer, 2002, p. 46). This truism certainly impacts astronomical and cosmological research. The study of universal gravity is difficult because we observe the effects from Earth. It is impossible to directly study the gravity of planets and stars from here. We must form theories and use calculations to approximate and legitimize our observations. These calculations must, then, have predictive value. If not, the theory is not valid (or, has limitations). With the distance from our subjects, we are forced to speculate about the observations, limited by our understanding of the physics involved.

“Equipment constructs results” (Shermer, 2002, p. 47). This statement has probably never been more true. We are truly limited by our location, as mentioned previously, and rely on remote data collection when studying the universe. To add, we are studying effects throughout time. Given two separate sets of data collected at the same time, the actual events observed could have a difference in age of millions of years. The distances of the various bodies are directly proportional to the age of the observation. This creates unique issues that we have never had to face studying our own solar system, as the differences, locally, are only hours at most.

It is important for scientists to consider all of the viable options when reaching a consensus, but it is just as important that the scientific community does not become overburdened by a multitude of spurious claims resulting from flawed, misguided, and unfounded research. Shermer (2002) provides an apparatus to immediately identify suspect logic.


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

Shermer, M. (2002). Why people believe weird things. New York: Henry Holt and Company.

Skordis, C. (2009, March 21). The Tensor-Vector-Scalar theory and its cosmology. Manuscript submitted for publication. Retrieved from http://arxiv.org/abs/0903.3602

 Arguing With Einstein: It’s All Relative

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

 Social Responsibility in Science

The context of science seems to be challenged by public opinion and alternatives offered by pseudo-science. Though it is important to understand how public opinion is swayed, it is even more detrimental to recognize responsibility in garnering that opinion. One of the mainstays in science is to confirm findings before releasing the information to the public. In past, this has been done through private communications within the scientific community with the goal of garnering professional support of the findings. Peer dissonance is often communicated through further research disproving claims and theories, but peers are sometimes forced to publicly question these claims when the initial investigators have already publicized their initial findings.

The premature promotion of radical ideas only serves to excite the public. As Beckwith and Huang (2005) describe, “Although the scientists with an interest in influencing social policy often go public because of their strong belief in the conclusions… scientists who see the flaws… are much less likely to confront the issues in [public]” (p. 1479). This is a common tactic among pseudo-scientists, as those who lack credibility with their peers need to have public opinion in their favor, lest their finances dissipate. Beckwith and Huang go on to show that many scientists prefer to enjoy a public disconnect unless it furthers an agenda.

In 1945, Nagasake and Hiroshima burned as the world looked on in both amazement and disbelief. Since World War II, the demand in the United States for more social responsibility among the scientific community has grown. “The explosions over Hiroshima and Nagasaki… not only made society more aware of the importance of science, they made scientists more aware of their responsibility to society” (Badash, 2005, p. 148). Knowledge comes with responsibility, and though this responsibility is often cited when problems arise, it should be conveyed throughout the scientific process.

“It would be inappropriate to refrain from doing research in case it might possibly be abused or be applied irresponsibly” (Drenth, 1999, p. 237). Science needs to move forward. The purpose of science is to uncover knowledge in areas yet unexplored and unexplained. It is only reasonable to assume that science will uncover information that could be used in a manner contradictory to the original intent; otherwise, all research would be stymied if any of the possible outcomes could be used with maligned intent. Investigators should challenge themselves to remain unbiased, ethical, and honest throughout every phase of research, including the release of the conclusions, and they should take care not to assume further responsibility than is thrust upon them.

All schools of science should promote ethical and responsible research. As it is difficult to understand the potential impact of science in the future, investigators should attempt to minimize the negative impacts through careful design of their studies. Politicizing research should be left to politicians who have been thoroughly educated by the researchers.


Badash, L. (2005). American Physicists, Nuclear Weapons in World War II, and Social Responsibility. Physics in Perspective, 7, 138-149. doi:10.1007/s00016-003-0215-6

Beckwith, J., & Huang, F. (2005). Should we make a fuss: A case for social responsibility in science. Nature Biotechnology, 23(12), 1479-1480.

Drenth, P. J. D. (1999). Prometheus chained: Social and ethical constraints on Psychology. European Psychologist, 4(4), 233-239.


Many times, throughout the history of science, pseudosciences have been found to have some underlying correlation. Further directed study turns what was one pseudoscience into real science. An example of this is aspirin.

The basic form of aspirin, salicin, “was used for centuries earlier [than 460 B.C.] in European folk medicine” (Gibson, n.d., para. 2) in the form of willow leaves and bark to treat pain and swelling. This practice continued over the centuries until:

“According to “From A Miracle Drug” written by Sophie Jourdier for the Royal Society of Chemistry: ‘It was not long before the active ingredient in willow bark was isolated; in 1828, Johann Buchner, professor of pharmacy at the University of Munich, isolated a tiny amount of bitter tasting yellow, needle-like crystals, which he called salicin.'” (“History of Aspirin”, n.d., para. 4)

For the next 75 years, proto-aspirin was developed into what is now commonly referred to as aspirin (acetylsalicilic acid), and though aspirin is commonly prescribed for all sorts of pain, there is no medical research done at this time to show that aspirin has any more impact other than reducing pain. Not until 1988 was there much research showing the benefits of aspirin to treat heart attack victims (Fuster, Dyken, Vokonas, & Hennekens, 1993; Mosca, 2008), though it was commonly prescribed for reducing the associated pain. It is now generally understood in the medical community that aspirin serves a vital purpose in limiting prostiglandin production, thereby limiting the effect of clotting in the coronary arteries (Fuster et al., 1993). Essentially, aspirin helps to stop a heart attack from getting worse.

Aspirin has undergone a transformation from the pseudoscience of folk medicine to a valued addition in the general pharmacopeia for the treatment of heart attacks. Consider the difference between aspirin for heart health and the claims of acai berry for weight loss. There has been recent discussion about the health effects of acai berry which has prompted researchers to analyze the nutritional composition of the berry (Schauss et al., 2006). Though the discussion has nothing related to weight loss, some have made the claim that acai is useful for this purpose and cite research that does not further this claim. This is detrimental to the furtherance of acai as a significant source of nutrition and possible medicinal role for improving age-related cognition deficits (Willis, Shukitt-Hale, Joseph, 2009).


Fuster, V., Dyken, M. L., Vokonas, P. S., & Hennekens, C. (1993). Aspirin as a therapeutic agent in cardiovascular disease. Special Writing Group. Circulation, 87, 659-675.

Gibson, A. C. (n.d.). Oh willow, don’t weep. Economic Botany. Retrieved from http://www.botgard.ucla.edu/html/botanytextbooks/economicbotany/index.html

Mosca, L. (2008). Aspirin chemoprevention: One size does not fit all. Circulation, 117, 2844-2846.

History of Aspirin. (n.d.). About.Com: Inventors. Retrieved from http://inventors.about.com/library/inventors/blaspirin.htm

Schauss, A. G., Wu, X., Prior, R. L., Ou, B., Patel, D., Huang, D., & Kababick, J. P. (2006). Phytochemical and nutrient composition of the freeze-dried Amazonian palm berry, Euterpe oleraceae Mart. (acai). J. Agric. Food Chem., 54, 8598−8603

Willis, L. M., Shukitt-Hale, B., Joseph, J. A. (2009). Recent advances in berry supplementation and age-related cognitive decline. [Special commentary][Abstract]. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care, 12(1), 91-94. Abstract retrieved from http://www.currentopinion.com/pt/re/co/abstract.00075197-200901000-00016.htm

 It’s Alive! It’s Alive!:

The Problematic Stereotype of Scientists as Mad Doctors, Evil Geniuses, and Crazy Professors

Pryor and Bright (2006) describe occupational stereotyping as a result of the thought processes of efficient memorization using “induction, deduction, and abduction” ( 2). Further oversimplification and ignorant bias can lead to a dogmatic misrepresentation, which can further lead to a prejudiced view of the subject. Pryor and Bright refer to racism as a negative example of stereotyping; however, they continue that “stereotyping represents a summary of our experience of reality, as a form of knowledge, it also has a positive dimension” ( 3). As I read this description, I am reminded of the movie Back to the Future (Canton et al., 1985) in which, for me, Christopher Lloyd’s rendition of Dr. Emmett Brown embodies the stereotypical scientist. With his wild, unkempt white hair, absent-mindedness, and pure genius, “Doc Brown” provides a stereotypical characterization of the quirky and crazy professor. I have always held a realistic view of the world and do not readily subscribe to dogma, but I can see how portrayals of scientists such as the Doc Brown character can influence perceptions of the field. Though stereotypes such as these are not completely accurate portrayals of the occupation, they are not without base or merit.

Contributing factors of the occupational stereotype of scientists could possibly be from the public’s perceptions of science from the sensational coverage of the media of the time. When technology advances in light of the contributions of scientists, the technology usually gets the media coverage. Conversely, when the contributions are that of a seemingly quirky or sinister scientist, especially if the relevance of the technology is suspect, the media usually focuses on the scientist. Two particular cases demonstrate this phenomena particularly well. Sergei S. Brukhonenko (Konstantinov & Alexi-Meskishvili, 2000) was a major contributor to the medical advancement of temporal extracorporeal circulation, or heart-lung bypass, though the media chose to concentrate on the sensational image of a living decapitated dog head that was able to respond to stimuli and swallow food though separated from its body. The second example (Oddee, 2008) is the comprehensive effort of Luigi Galvani, Giovanni Aldini, J. Conrad Dippel, and Andrew Ure in exploring the relationship of electricity and nerve fibers, and though the experiments that each have performed were regarded as horrific parlor tricks or attempts at “playing god”, the importance of the resulting technology is not lost on cybernetic researchers responsible for improving the usefulness of prosthetic devices.

Stereotyping is a useful convention of society and a useful developmental tool to aid in learning and memorization, identification and warning, or for purely dramatic effect such as when cynically augmented for comedic relief. Though useful, care must be used when making associations of generalizations and bias. Unfortunately, the convention is frequently misused leading to an association of negative traits to unrealistic markers such as skin color, heritage, age, and gender. Additionally, the public perception of science is important when considering issues such as financial matters. Funding can be extremely difficult to secure if a project is ridiculed or rejected in the public forum. This difficulty can lead to dampening of research and a slowing of technological growth. Further, “these (social) images of occupations have a major impact on the development of occupational aspirations” (Pryor & Bright, 2006, 18). This identity bias could lead a bright potential scientist away from the occupational field of science. The implications can never be known.


Canton, N. (Producer), Gale, B. (Producer/Writer), Kennedy, K. (Executive Producer), Marshall, F. (Executive Producer), Spielberg, S. (Executive Producer), & Zemeckis, R. (Writer/Director). (1985). Back to the Future [Motion Picture]. United States: Universal Pictures.

Konstantinov, I.E., & Alexi-Meskishvili, V. V. (2000). Sergei S. Brukhonenko: the development of the first heart-lung machine for total body perfusion. Annals of Thoracic Surgery, 69(3), 962-966.

Oddee. (2008, October 13). Top 10 mad scientists in history. Retrieved from http://www.oddee.com/item_96484.aspx

Pryor, R. G. L., & Bright, J. E. H. (2006). Occupational Stereotypes. Encyclopedia of Career Development. Retrieved from http://www.sage-ereference.com/careerdevelopment/Article_n200.html

Weird Science:

The Study of Unconventional Topics

Unconventional science, or fringe science, is the study of science which goes against accepted theory and, arguably, should be viewed with skepticism to ensure the lack of pseudo-science (de Jager, 1990, pp. 35-36). Research in fringe science has undoubtedly provided the greatest technological jumps that society has benefited from. Human flight, magnetic levitation, the microprocessor, and electricity were all considered fringe science, even pseudo-science, at one time. Now, they are commonly accepted. Some of today’s fringe science topics involve teleportation, time travel, free energy, cold fusion, artificial intelligence, and cloaking.

For a scientist, a whole career can be jeopardized by choosing a field of study that is looked upon with disdain by the contemporary scientific community. A scientist must truly be passionate about their work in order to survive through this. Only the lucky few will ever see their work produce meaningful results. It is for this reason that it is important to distinguish fringe science from pseudo-science. Is it possible? Only after the emergence and acceptance of the theory, can it move from fringe science to contemporary science. Failing this, it will be forever regarded as pseudo-science by its detractors. So, why would any scientist want to spend an entire career in this realm, possibly alienating themselves from their peers? Passion. With that answer, I must ask myself if there is anything in the realm of fringe science that I would be so passionate about as a scientist that I would risk a career over it.

The medical uses of nanotechnology could have a considerable impact on the whole of the human race. To imagine, as Merkle (1996) describes, microscopic robots that could enter the bloodstream and travel throughout a body in search of injury or illness, then literally fix the problem is certainly Orwellian in my eyes. Notwithstanding, a breakthrough of this magnitude would certainly be worthwhile to any scientist, the application of which would be endless and only contingent on the robot’s ability to be programmed. There would be other uses, also: automatic repairs on buildings, bridges, and vehicles, the literal programmatic building of structures, instant recycling of waste materials, etc. Though, anything that could be helpful could also be a hindrance. A group of microscopic robots that could make repairs on human tissue could also destroy it. This would be a significant military advantage in the area of remote warfare, as well as more diabolical applications. As the size of the microprocessor inversely relates to the computing power, I can imagine that the intelligence capability required of these little machines is not too far in the future.

Science fiction! Even the airplane was science fiction at one time. The helicopter, too, though I still consider the helicopter to be an abomination of physics. Almost every contemporary scientific notion was once held to skepticism. I do not think that it is wise to dismiss an idea solely on the grounds of popularity or a lack thereof. If someone has a belief, let them prove it. Once proven, let the data be duplicated by others and turned into conventional wisdom or into the trash bin, wherever it belongs.


de Jager, C. (1990). Science, fringe science, and pseudo-science. R.A.S. Quarterly Journal, 31(1), 31-45.

Merkle, R. C. (1996). Nanotechnology and medicine. Advances in Anti-aging Medicine, 1, 277-286.