In class on August 30, I gained a clearer understanding of science and why it’s not what we always thought it to be. Science is not a collection of true factual evidence and theories as we were taught as kids. In reality, science really isn’t the truth at all. There is no way to prove the “truth” behind this universe and how it operates. Things just happen to occur naturally and science was created to try to figure out and explain the puzzling aspects found both within and beyond our world. It is our human nature to have answers to things that puzzle us and science is a way to satisfy that curiosity until a better, more elaborate answer comes along. We either learn someone else’s theory or create our own for others to accept and learn, it’s a never ending cycle and this is why science changes over time.
There have been many incidents in history when a scientist publicizes their empirical theory, making others believe and invest in it, until a later discovery of that topic exploits and disproves it. Meaning, the science that had been followed for all that time had been wrong and, depending on the extremity of the theory, could have even caused damage in some form because of it.
Andrew talked briefly about scientific truths being disproved in class on August 30 and listed just a few examples throughout scientific history. Here is a list of scientific statements I came across (from here and here ) that we were probably told one point in our lives to be true: there’s a great amount of genetic differences between humans; only nine planets exist; earth is the only place where water exists; Pluto is a planet; ulcers are caused by stress; heavy drinking kills brain cells; microwave radiation causes cancer; shaving your hair makes it grow back thicker; lightning doesn’t strike the same place twice; a penny dropped from the empire state building can kill you; blood in your veins are blue; your fingers swell up from water; sunflowers follow the sun across the sky; gum takes 7 years to digest; bats are blind; dogs and cats see in shades of grey; a bulls anger is generated by the color red; seasons are caused by how close we are to the sun; you must drink eight cups of water a day; you must wait 30 minutes after eating to go swimming; a worm cut in half will grow into two worms; humans only have 5 senses; red heads are going extinct; frogs and toads give you warts; sugar makes kids hyper; cracking your knuckles will result in arthritis; stress causes high blood pressure; the earth is flat; animals can’t get cancer; all organic food is pesticide free.
And the list goes on. Although most of these are not completely life changing, it still proves the point that a good amount of scientific truths you’ve been told to believe earlier in your life have come to be disproven now. Were there any on the list that you believed to be factual until now? Let me know in the comment section!
But let’s take a closer look at one of those disproven scientific truths listed above. Assuming we all remember the days when Pluto was talked about as a planet, I think we can all relate to this one scientific truth that changed before all of our eyes and ears, the death of Pluto the planet. I did more exploring of this topic and found two articles to helpful further my understanding of why Pluto is no longer a planet today. Click here and here to view them.
According to both Cain and Rincon, after many years predicting that astronomers would find another plant, Pluto was discovered in the Kuiper Belt in 1930. Measuring small at 2,400 km long (Cain 2015), Pluto was still happily announced to be the ninth member of the solar system family. The small size of Pluto did not worry astronomers at first. However, as time and more research went on, scientists realized that sooner than later, a similar icy object in the Kuiper Belt bigger than Pluto is bound to be discovered. And that is exactly what happened.
In 2005, Scientist Mike Brown and his team founded Eris. Eris was around 2,600 km long and 25% heavier in mass than Pluto. (Cain 2015) This discovery started to shake the 9 planet concept that had been put into place when Pluto was founded. If little Pluto could be considered as a part of our solar system, then why couldn’t Eris and all the other hundreds of similar icy objects orbiting the sun in the Kuiper Belt? According to both Cain and Rincon, this would increase our solar system from 9 to 12 planets, and then 12 planets to who knows how many. Allowing this to happen seemed too messy to accept and share to the world for the scientists and astronauts in the project. This is when they decided that the definition of planet must be changed. Ultimately, after a long voting process, Pluto was removed from our solar system, which definitely disappointed all the kids who had Pluto as their planet project in school.
According to the General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union, a planet must be in orbit around the sun, have sufficient energy to pull itself into a spherical shape, and have cleared the neighborhood of its orbit. Pluto and Eris break that last rule on the checklist, classifying them as dwarf planets, and bumping our solar system down to the 8 planets we have today.
Just because a new scientific discovery is made, it doesn’t mean that it’s going to stay around forever. Something as simplistic as a change in definition could alternate the science we are already familiar with. Science is competitive and constantly trying to find improvements to existing experiments and theories, so we as humans, can become that much closer to finding the right answer to this big puzzling universe. Pluto is just one example we have witnessed change ourselves. There are many other examples, along with many more to come.