Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Wheels of Science


One of the points I'm going to make in my current nonfiction project is that science is self-correcting, although the process is not necessarily fast. Consider the story of the Martian canals. Initially, it appears that an Italian astronomer named Giovanni Schiaparelli observed channels on the Martian surface in 1877 that he referred to as “canali,” which was translated into English as “canals.”

An amateur American astronomer named Percival Lowell became fascinated with the topic and had an observatory built in Arizona through which he studied and mapped Mars. Lowell published a book in 1903 that included detailed maps of Mars, including an elaborate canal system. Lowell suggested that the “canals” were irrigation waterways used by the Martians to bring water from the poles down to the rest of the planet.

The public’s imagination was captured, and two writers who were strongly influenced by the story of the canals were Edgar Rice Burroughs and Ray Bradbury. There was, however, intense disagreement among scientists as to whether the canals existed at all, and, if so, what that existence meant. Some astronomers claimed to see them; others did not. Some thought that they were natural features or mere optical illusions, while others believed them to be genuine evidence of intelligent life on Mars. It wasn’t until humans sent the Mariner probes to Mars that we discovered that the “canals” appeared to be nothing more than optical illusions aided by wishful thinking among some observers.

The scientific story of the Martian canals finally ended in 1971 when Mariner 9 obtained close range photographs of the Martian surface and showed no canals. From 1877 to 1971 is almost 100 years in which the possible existence of canals on Mars remained ambiguous. But in the end, the evidence triumphed. An error was corrected. This is the way science works.
-----
-----

29 comments:

Randy Johnson said...

I quite agree. Science will correct itself. The religious community likes to poke holes in science and the way certain theories have changed over the years. They don't seem to get the idea that a theory is based on the evidence at hand and when new evidence is found, that theory is adapted to incorporate said new evidence. That's their excuse why science is wrong and they're right. All the while propounding their own theories that have nothing but faith to back them up. Pardon my rant.

the walking man said...

Can't argue with you there. Sometimes the PROOF, the final conclusion, has to be a long drawn out process. Such is the nature of all discovery for men.

Peace

mark

ANNA-LYS said...

Hey Charles,

I will be back on the content here later. Just wanted to inform You that You are Awarded at my blog. Please, pick it up when You got the time ;-)

Sidney said...

Wow, I had not realized or at least thought about in a while that the canals theory persisted until '71. Fortunately it did not affect the fabulous text-based video game "Leather Godesses of Phobos."

Greg Schwartz said...

that's interesting about the canals. even if they're not real, I'm glad Bradbury thought they were.

congrats on that award, Charles!

Sidney -- Leather Goddesses of Phobos was a great game! Very... descriptive.

Bernita said...

Public imagination loves the idea of life existing on other planets.
Remember the recent speculations about the faces and figures on Mars.

Charles Gramlich said...

Randy, exactly, and I get pretty upset with folks who insist that if we don't know it "now" we'll never know it. History shows that they'll most likely be wrong.

Mark, yes, it's always a process. And non-scientists should make just a little effort to understand how it works in science, me thinks

Anna-lys, Wow, thank you very much for the award. I saved the pic and will post it with my next post here. I'm glad you've enjoyed my posts. I think you and I both are insatiably curious and are interested in all kinds of things, which makes it easy to find something fun to learn

Sidney, I thought surely you were jesting when you mentioned "Leather Goddesses of Phobos" until Greg also mentioned it. But then, maybe you and Greg are in cahoots. I've got to look this one up.

Greg, I'm glad for ERB and Bradbury both. Great fiction even if not fact.

Bernita, yes, and I'm glad the public can get captured by such things, although I wish sometimes folks would get more excited about real science.

Lisa said...

I often wonder what it is about human nature that insists on having an answer to every question. You'd think that by this point, we'd accept that although there is an explanation for all things, we don't have the capacity to figure everything out all at once. "I don't know" has always been a perfectly reasonable answer to any question that doesn't have a clear answer or one that can be proven via empirical evidence. Obviously, based on our long history of mythology and superstition, there is some yearning to have easy answers, even if we have to invent them.

Billy said...

Stories like these excited my imagination when growing up, accuracy aside. And the stories still draw my mind to exotic times and places. Is the universe 14 or 16 billion years old? Will the universe expand forever or rebound into the Big Crunch? Is Pluto a planet, and are there more such planetoids in the Kuyper Belt? Wonderful unaswered questions.

Erik Donald France said...

Excellent. And -- congrats on your award!

Wells' War of the Worlds still gives me the chills -- if not for literal invaders from Mars, from any form of such catastrophic happenings.

Maybe the Phoenix will find something new later this year . . .

etain_lavena said...

Hey Charles.

Hope all is well.
Very interresting, everyone gets moved by diffrent things I guess.
Have a great week.
HUgz

Steve Malley said...

Fine post on the basics of rational enquiry.

Terrible damn pity it's so desperately needed.

Lana Gramlich said...

You make science sexy...

Ello said...

VEry interesting! And once we thought the world was flat too!

Travis said...

I've always been taught that science is a process. As better tools are developed, we learn more and more about our environment.

I think that's as it should be.

Jack said...

That's the beauty of science. It just takes a little time.

Charles Gramlich said...

Lisa, I'm with you. I don't know why the insistence of so many on immediate answers. But maybe it has something to do with a pattern of how one is educated.

Billy, yes, my imagination was fired by such thoughts, and now they are fired by the outer planets, and by other star systems. It never ends. The universe is so incredible, and the possibilities...

Erik, yes, all the Mars invader stories rocked me. I just finished reading a month or so ago a new trilogy by Robert Reginald on the War of the Worlds and really liked it.

Etain, welcome back. Glad you are OK. Let us know how you've been.

Steve Malley, and gets more desperately needed all the time.

Lana, just like you make birds sexy.

Ello, some people still believe it is, or at least claim to.

Travis, yes, I think the "process" aspect of it is really something that folks need to understand.

Jack, slow and steady wins the race.

Shauna Roberts said...

As you may or may not know, the science beat at many newspapers is not usually given to a reporter who knows anything about science, which is why the science and medicine stories often have ludicrous mistakes in them.

Incremental discoveries that take us one step closer to a goal are often reported as breakthroughs. It's heartbreaking when someone with diabetes, for example, gets really excited that a cure has been found when in fact all that has happened is that a reporter has really hyped a study that involved 20 mice.

SzélsőFa said...

Speculations about Mars are a-floating. The fac that the size of the planet is similar to that of Earth makes people think there must be other similarities, too.
I've heard that the astronomer you mention had a special eye-disease. He saw the reflection of his own veins in the lens.
I don't know if that is true...

Charles Gramlich said...

Shauna, I've noticed that myself over the year. A "new" breakthrough is touted, then a year later is touted again, and again. I suppose it comes with the territory when the point is to sell copy.

Szelsofa, I hadn't heard that but it could be. I understand, though, that with poor optical images, the tendency to see lines between features is very common and is part of the way normally our brains work.

ivan said...

The canals.

I've always wondered what happened to them.

Thank for a really illuminating essay.

ChristineEldin said...

Yes, but it doesn't always come out as tidy as that. But science is beautiful, I agree.

Heff said...

Amazing ! Not so much the story, but that I was able to read, and comprehend all of it ! I must be sobering up...

Charles Gramlich said...

Ivan, glad you enjoyed.

Christine Eldin, no, science, and real life, is often messy. But eventually it usually works out.

Heff, I'll thank you not to use obscenities like "Sobering up" on my blog. There are ladies present. :)

Sam said...

I love the Martian Chronicles, and Edgar Rice Burough's books as well. DIdn't Jose Louis Farmer (was that his name? I'm having a blank moment here, lol) write stories set on Mars?

Charles Gramlich said...

Sam, Philip Jose Farmer did indeed write a very well known Martian book called "Jesus on Mars." He also wrote a great series called "The World of Tiers," which is very Burroughsian with a twist. Very good.

X. Dell said...

One of the things with scientific philosophers such as Thomas Kuhn is that they will view scientific truth (or validity) as something that exists partially because of the social struction of scientific communities, particularly academic ones. Whether or not all science corrects itself, or whether it does so in a timely enough fashion to be of benefit (or at most dramatic help to avoid calamity) is an open question, it seems. In this manner, hard sciences might differ from soft ones in what findings remain at odds with the empircal world.

I can see the validity of juxtaposing science to religion in this regard, as Mr. Johnson has done. Religion often displays a tendency to either refute evidence (i.e., it's a test of faith) or find alternate explanations that leave the basic paradigm intact.

Charles Gramlich said...

X Dell, Good discussion points. One thing is that people sometimes expect science to jump through hoops. It can only do what it was designed to do, and is limited by the fact that it is conducted by human beings with human failings.

sexy said...

情趣用品,情趣用品,情趣用品,情趣用品,情趣用品,情趣用品,情趣,情趣,情趣,情趣,情趣,情趣,情趣用品,情趣用品,情趣,情趣,A片,A片,情色,A片,A片,情色,A片,A片,情趣用品,A片,情趣用品,A片,情趣用品,a片,情趣用品

A片,A片,AV女優,色情,成人,做愛,情色,AIO,視訊聊天室,SEX,聊天室,自拍,AV,情色,成人,情色,aio,sex,成人,情色

免費A片,美女視訊,情色交友,免費AV,色情網站,辣妹視訊,美女交友,色情影片,成人影片,成人網站,H漫,18成人,成人圖片,成人漫畫,情色網,日本A片,免費A片下載,性愛

情色文學,色情A片,A片下載,色情遊戲,色情影片,色情聊天室,情色電影,免費視訊,免費視訊聊天,免費視訊聊天室,一葉情貼圖片區,情色視訊,免費成人影片,視訊交友,視訊聊天,言情小說,愛情小說,AV片,A漫,AVDVD,情色論壇,視訊美女,AV成人網,成人交友,成人電影,成人貼圖,成人小說,成人文章,成人圖片區,成人遊戲,愛情公寓,情色貼圖,色情小說,情色小說,成人論壇


av女優,av,av片,aio交友愛情館,ut聊天室,聊天室,豆豆聊天室,色情聊天室,尋夢園聊天室,080聊天室,視訊聊天室,080苗栗人聊天室,上班族聊天室,成人聊天室,中部人聊天室,一夜情聊天室,情色聊天室,情色視訊

A片,A片,A片下載,做愛,成人電影,.18成人,日本A片,情色小說,情色電影,成人影城,自拍,情色論壇,成人論壇,情色貼圖,情色,免費A片,成人,成人網站,成人圖片,AV女優,成人光碟,色情,色情影片,免費A片下載,SEX,AV,色情網站,本土自拍,性愛,成人影片,情色文學,成人文章,成人圖片區,成人貼圖