Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Brilliant but wrong

Previously I discuss the merits and weaknesses of the argument from authority, where one invokes the authority of a learned person to bolster ones argument. So beware of the dangers. I give a few examples using two of my scientific heroes. This illustrates you can have a Nobel Prize (or two!) and still hold and promote views which turn out to be clearly wrong.

Linus Pauling received Nobel Prizes in Chemistry and in Peace. He was considered to the person most likely to crack the structure of DNA but proposed the wrong structure. Towards the end of his life he claimed that large doses of vitamin C could cure everything from the common cold to cancer. He also did not believe in quasi-crystals the subject of last years Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

John Bardeen received two Nobel Prizes in Physics: one for the invention of the transistor and the other for the theory of superconductivity. Yet he did not believe in the Josephson effect (subject of a later Nobel Prize) and had the wrong model for charge density wave transport.

Even scientific geniuses are fallible. In the end of the day it is cold hard scientific evidence which determines the truth not the authority or personality of individual scientists.

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