This Idea Must Die: Scientific Theories That Are Blocking Progress

After all, there have never been loonies carrying signs saying, “The End is Not Near.

A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.

A recent study found that non-abused six- to fourteen-month-olds who showed disregard for others’ distress were significantly more likely to be antisocial as adolescents.

As the French cognitive scientist Dan Sperber put it, cultures are epidemics of mental representations.

but no higher cancer rates have been discovered there.

Cancer will be understood properly only by positioning it within the great sweep of evolutionary history.

Can it be that all of physics—and, indeed, all of science—is based on creating all the matter in the universe from a dozen objects with totally random mass values, while no one has the faintest idea about their origin?

field linguists (they’re like field biologists with really good microphones)

For me, the laws that apply to animals apply to us. And in that view of life, there is grandeur enough.

Human beings are the unequivocal world champions of niceness. We act kindly not only toward people who belong to our own social groups or can reciprocate our generosity but also toward strangers thousands of miles away who will never know we helped them. All around the world, people sacrifice their resources, well-being, and even their lives in the service of others.

In fact nobody died, nobody became ill, and nobody is expected to.

Information is a measure of uncertainty reduced.

Just as you can’t attribute the spin of a proton to any one of its constituents, you can’t attribute an event in time to a single earlier cause. Complex systems have neither a useful notion of individuality nor a proper notion of causality.

Karl Popper famously suggested the criterion of “falsifiability”: A theory is scientific if it makes clear predictions that can be unambiguously falsified.

Mark Twain said: “What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know, it’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so.

New England has lower background radiation, Colorado is much higher,

new ideas take over a vacuum formerly occupied by no well-articulated idea at all. That happens for either of two reasons: new ideas responding to new information made possible by new measurements, or else responding to new “outlooks.” (Among historians of science, the term used rather than the inadequate English term “outlook” is the German Fragestellung—literally, the posing of a question, but more broadly meaning a worldview from which that question can arise.)

people judge people as less moral when they act altruistically and gain in the process than when they gain from clearly nonaltruistic behavior.

people view “tainted altruism” as worse than no altruism at all.

philosophers are premature ejaculators who decant too soon, spilling their seminal genius to no effect.

Since string theorists have failed to propose any way to confirm string theory experimentally, string theory should be retired,

Some places in the world, such as Ramsar, Iran, have a tenfold higher background radiation,

Twain said: “What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know, it’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so.

us measure progress not by what is discovered but rather by the growing list of mysteries that remind us of how little we really know.

We all die. Nearly half of us die of cancer (38 percent of females, 45 percent of males).

WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic) samples make up most nonclinical neuroimaging studies as well.

we may just have to come around to the notion that there’s my universe and there’s your universe—but there’s no such thing as the universe.

What people remember about Fukushima is that nuclear opponents predicted that hundreds or thousands would die or become ill from the radiation.

yet cancer rates in New England are higher than in Colorado—an inverse effect.

You may know that a prisoner’s guilt is independent of whether you’re hungry or not, but she’ll still seem like a better parole candidate when you’ve recently had a snack.