Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Ideological Immunity

The general acceptance of a new basic idea on causality may take decades, centuries, or millenniums. Nearly 1,500 years ago a physician from India wrote a paper on malaria and its cause. He identified the carrier of malaria to be a tiny flying insect — the mosquito. The physician was Susruta, who flourished in the 5th Century (Walker, p. 261). At the time his idea of causality did not make a sufficient impact and was soon forgotten.  
More than 13 centuries later the American physician, Josiah Nott, published several papers in the New Orleans Medical and Surgical Journal. He claimed that malaria and yellow fever are two different diseases and that they are not transmitted by poisonous marsh vapors but by insects and possibly mosquitoes. The learned men of medicine who read the paper agreed: That can’t be the cause of transmission. Thirty-three years later the Cuban physician, Carlos Finlay, who never heard of Susruta or Nott, published a paper naming a specific mosquito species as the carrier of yellow fever. Finlay was ridiculed by the professionals in medicine for the absurdity of his idea.
After the experimental achievements of Reed and his staff, the scientific evidence corroborating Finlay’s mosquito theory was indisputable. In spite of the overwhelming evidence, the experts, along with those they influenced, rejected the correct explanation of the cause of the number-one killer of man. Meanwhile millions of mosquitoes continued to inject millions of victims with their deadly venom of malaria and yellow fever. Many deaths from yellow fever and malaria could have been avoided, but the experts, the authorities, the educated, all agreed: The mosquito can’t be the cause of these frightful epidemics. Their rejection of demonstrable truth remains one of the great catastrophes in the history of human action. Their actions give rise to this paramount question: Why do most people refuse to accept new revolutionary explanations of causality, especially when these explanations are supported by a preponderance of scientific evidence?
Read on at eSkeptic

Scientific progress does not occur in a smooth, linear fashion although that is the impression given by textbooks and the view firmly entrenched in the imagination of the public who conceive of it as a steady, assembly-line-like process. In reality the history of science is one of inching forward, occasional bursts of activity, retrograde motions, extended periods of virtual inaction and the extremely rare paradigm shift, with the vast majority of new ideas ending up on a scrap heap; the shoulder of the highway of scientific history is littered with the debris of what failed to be.

No comments: