May 25, 2010
Sunday I finished reading a book Sarah loaned me: Empire of the Stars by Arthur I. Miller. It’s about Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, his discovery of the upper limit of the mass of white dwarf stars, and how Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington’s ridicule of him when he formally presented his results affected the rest of his life. As one of the blurbs on the back indicated, a fair part of the book could be subtitled “scientists behaving badly.”
Since there are people who try to make out that everyone should accept whatever scientists say, it’s good to be reminded that even brilliant scientists like Eddington can be totally wrong, and can bully other scientists into going along even when they know better. It’s not being against science to recognize that scientists are human and can distort their work to make it fit a non-scientific agenda. Real science isn’t about achieving consensus among scientists, it’s about theories that correctly anticipate the results of new experiments or discoveries.