Scientist retract 50 year old paper

Discussion in 'Politics & Religion' started by james_bond_3rd, Oct 26, 2007.

    "It is not unusual for scientists to publish papers and, if they discover evidence that challenges them, to announce they were wrong. The idea that all scientific knowledge is provisional, able to be challenged and overturned, is one thing that separates matters of science from matters of faith.

    So Dr. Jacobson’s retraction is in “the noblest tradition of science,” Rosalind Reid, editor of American Scientist, wrote in its November-December issue, which has Dr. Jacobson’s letter.

    His letter shows, Ms. Reid wrote, “the distinction between a scientist who cannot let error stand, no matter the embarrassment of public correction,” and people who “cling to dogma.”"
  2. This is a non-story except for the motivation for his retraction. He concedes it was because he objected to creationists using his paper to illustrate the scientific basis for skepticism about various theories that life started by accident. That gives me a certain skepticism about his quibbling over obvious caveats in his paper.

    If it had been a paper supporting say, human-caused global warming, can we doubt that he would be so willing to retract it or that it would make the NY Times if he did?
  3. Turok


    I don't have his retraction letter before me, but at least in the article, there appears to be an interesting error...

    Mr. Ferrell said he had no way of knowing what motivated Dr. Jacobson, but said that if scientists “look like they are pro-creationist they can get into trouble.”

    “There is an embarrassment,” Mr. Ferrell said.

    Dr. Jacobson conceded that was the case. He wrote in his retraction letter, “I am deeply embarrassed to have been the originator of such misstatements.”

    The writer states that Dr. Jacobson "conceded" that if scientists “look like they are pro-creationist they can get into trouble".

    The writer then submits a quote from Dr. Jacobson to support that assertion.

    Problem is, the submitted quote DOES NOT support the writers assertion in any way. The quote simply states that he is really embarrassed to have been wrong.

  4. stu


    I don't see what grounds you have for supposing that. Had he written a paper in the same circumstances on global warming, and creationists decided to use that as their basis for same skepticism, there is no reason why he might not retract it in likewise fashion.
    He admits his paper included assertions upon which in the whole, were not seen to have been thought important enough by his peers or others to warrant comment back then or later. Had they done so, maybe he would have withdrawn in a similar way . Once he does notice others , now in the form of creationists , starting to add their own speculative assertions and assumptions in addition , it seems that was enough to encourage him to make the ultimate correction by removing it. Perhaps it is a good example on which to consider dispensing with the more baseless speculations, which unlike his, are not based upon any substantial fact or knowledge. Genesis would be a start.
  5. Interesting argument.

    So what if there is a retraction of a scientific paper on global warming? My bet is that you will say "scientist is wrong on global warming" and use the retraction to prove it.

    This is what separates your "faith" and real science. You will never issue a retraction no matter what.
  6. maxpi


    Real science, give me a break. Look at some of the seminars from and see how much has been done with so little "real science"....
  7. And you complain when you're ridiculed? You have no clue what "real science" is. drdino? LOMAF
  8. Both of the following calculations were wrong. But how they were corrected (or not) is what separates science from dogma.

    First example, how science was wrong:
    "In 1862, the physicist William Thomson (who later became Lord Kelvin) of Glasgow published calculations that fixed the age of the Earth at between 24 million and 400 million years.[2][3] He assumed that the Earth had been created as a completely molten ball of rock, and determined the amount of time it took for the ball to cool to its present temperature. His calculations did not account for the ongoing heat source in the form of radioactive decay, which was unknown at the time.

    Geologists had trouble accepting such a short age for the Earth. Biologists could accept that the Earth might have a finite age, but even 100 million years seemed much too short to be plausible. Charles Darwin, who had studied Lyell's work, had proposed his theory of the evolution of organisms by natural selection, a process whose combination of random heritable variation and cumulative selection implies great expanses of time. Even 400 million years did not seem long enough.

    In a lecture in 1869, Darwin's great advocate, Thomas H. Huxley, attacked Thomson's calculations, suggesting they appeared precise in themselves but were based on faulty assumptions. The German physicist Hermann von Helmholtz (in 1856) and the Canadian astronomer Simon Newcomb (in 1892) contributed their own calculations of 22 and 18 million years respectively to the debate: they independently calculated the amount of time it would take for the Sun to condense down to its current diameter and brightness from the nebula of gas and dust from which it was born.[3] Their values were consistent with Thomson's calculations. However, they assumed that the Sun was only glowing from the heat of its gravitational contraction. The process of solar nuclear fusion was not yet known to science.

    Other scientists backed up Thomson's figures as well. Charles Darwin's son, the astronomer George H. Darwin of the University of Cambridge, proposed that the Earth and Moon had broken apart in their early days when they were both molten. He calculated the amount of time it would have taken for tidal friction to give the Earth its current 24-hour day. His value of 56 million years added additional evidence that Thomson was on the right track.[3]

    In 1899 and 1900, John Joly of the University of Dublin calculated the rate at which the oceans should have accumulated salt from erosion processes, and determined that the oceans were about 80 to 100 million years old.[3]"
    (quoted from wikipedia)

    Second example, how drdino is wrong and refuse to correct it:
    "Since solar radiation causes the formation of C-14 in the atmosphere, and normal radioactive decay takes it out, there must be a point where the formation rate and the decay rate equalizes. This is called the point of equilibrium. Let me illustrate: If you were trying to fill a barrel with water but there were holes drilled up the side of the barrel, as you filled the barrel it would begin leaking out the holes. At some point you would be putting it in and it would be leaking out at the same rate. You will not be able to fill the barrel past this point of equilibrium. In the same way the C-14 is being formed and decaying simultaneously. A freshly created earth would require about 30,000 years for the amount of C-14 in the atmosphere to reach this point of equilibrium because it would leak out as it is being filled. Tests indicate that the earth has still not reached equilibrium. There is more C-14 in the atmosphere now than there was 40 years ago. This would prove the earth is not yet 30,000 years old! This also means that plants and animals that lived in the past had less C-14 in them than do plants and animals today. Just this one fact totally upsets data obtained by C-14 dating."
    (quoted from drdino)
  9. The whole point is that he had a religious not scientific basis for retracting the paper. He didn't want creationists using it. If he was actually concerned about errors in it, he could have corrected them. Instead, he went to considerable lengths to avoid a discussion of whether or not the so-called errors were relevant or how they affected his conclusions.

    This whole affair strikes me as extremely unimportant and trivial. The only reason it made the NYT was to give them a chance to bash creationists.
  10. Turok


    >The whole point is that he had a religious not
    >scientific basis for retracting the paper.

    Interesting opinion -- but from the posted material, nothing approaching fact.

    #10     Oct 26, 2007