“The flat earth and geocentric world are examples of wrong scientific beliefs that were held for long periods. Can you name your favorite example and for extra credit why it was believed to be true?
“Please note that I am interested in things we once thought were true and took forever to unlearn. I am looking for wrong scientific beliefs that we’ve already learned were wrong, rather than those the respondent is predicting will be wrong which makes it different from the usual Edge prediction sort of question.”
So, what things were once thought true about science and technology policy and took forever to unlearn (assuming they have been unlearned)? I know the comments stream at this blog has never flowed (usually just trickled), but I’m really interested in what others think about this question.
A short bit of clarification: I’m interested in what anyone thought was true about science and technology policy and later needed to be unlearned. This includes the public, policymakers, and scientists and engineers.
My suggestions, to start it off, shouldn’t surprise regular readers: the linear models.
Yes, I used the plural. Typically when I write about the linear model I’m dealing with the model of scientific and technological development that has basic research leading to applied research and culminating in development and diffusion of the innovation. However, if you peruse the musings of Roger Pielke Jr., you’ll find a different linear model – one concerned with science and decision making. In that model changes in science lead to changes in public opinion, which then change policy.
Arguably the first linear model mentioned is not so much wrong as it is woefully inadequate. But it makes for good soundbites for those focused on science budgets and notions of economic competitiveness. The second linear model doesn’t map to reality well at all; and as Roger has noted, can be very counterproductive. This model does reflect an idealized notion of how some may see the role of scientific knowledge in policy – the guide to what should be done.
So what other persistent science and technology policy truisms are out there that are no longer true?