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Four Revolutions in the Earth Sciences: From…
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Four Revolutions in the Earth Sciences: From Heresy to Truth

by James Lawrence Powell

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Why we aren’t farther ahead

One of the many great things about Four Revolutions is that it jumps right in. There isn’t the endless groundwork and foundation building of so many such efforts. It is captivating right off the top. Being the history of discovering how the Earth works, it is intuitive and has universal appeal. Its cast of miscreants and creatives makes it colorful. And Powell has a terrific knack for harpooning just the right keywords for the titles and subtitles, along with dramatic endings for sections.

The four revolutions are:
-determining the age of rocks and the Earth
-continental drift
-meteorite impacts on the moon, and dinosaur extinction here
-global warming

While the first is a quite civil disagreement among natural philosophers (as scientists were called), the second gets into vicious mudslinging, as scientists use ad hominem attacks on each other to denigrate their theories, their qualifications and even their personalities. Continental drift had all the appeal of forced abortion to American scientists in the first half of the last century. It is astonishing how they wielded their ignorance as if it were unimpeachable truth, and accused each other of being unqualified quacks. Rather than consider a new theory, they would conjure absurd patches to paper over faults in their own work. They worked to banish the printing of references in textbooks, or even the names of the perpetrators. They refused to cite competitors in their papers. It has of course, been this way for centuries.

Global warming is the most obnoxious story. It was theorized in the late 1800s. “Greenhouse Effect” was coined in 1913. And the issue has been proven again and again and again since. However, certain fossil fuel giants as well as conservatives have spent millions to counter the science. In Unaccountable: How Elite Power Brokers Corrupt our Finances, Freedom, and Security, Janine Wedel cites studies that of the more than one thousand books published on the topic, maybe 25 deny it. 72% of those denial books have a verifiable link to (conservative) “think tanks”, and 40% of those were written or edited by people with NO relevant scientific credentials. Yet that is what is holding up the whole planet from taking action, as the media repeatedly focus on the deniers in order to be “balanced”. Powell says there is no balance. This is settled science.

You can see the same process underway in geology today. The astrophysicist Marvin Herndon has disproven (not theorized, but disproved, which Powell says is far more difficult) convection as the motor of continental drift. He has postulated a unified theory in which all planets began as gas giants like Jupiter, and that particles rained in from the gas clouds over billions of years to produce the rock cores we call planets. His Maverick's Earth and Universe is both inspiring and sad. Sad to see the entire scientific community actively ignore this theory, and refuse to cite it, just as Powell describes in Four Revolutions.

These are most worthy reads. Four Revolutions is a fascinating record of small minds obfuscating big issues for personal gain.

David Wineberg ( )
  DavidWineberg | Sep 26, 2014 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0231164483, Hardcover)

Over the course of the twentieth century, scientists came to accept four counterintuitive yet fundamental facts about the Earth: deep time, continental drift, meteorite impact, and global warming. When first suggested, each proposition violated scientific orthodoxy and was quickly denounced as scientific -- and sometimes religious -- heresy. Nevertheless, after decades of rejection, scientists and many in the public grew to acknowledge the truth of each theory.

The stories behind these four discoveries reflect more than the fascinating push and pull of scientific work. They reveal the provocative nature of science, which raises profound and uncomfortable truths as it advances. For example, the Earth and the solar system are older than all of human existence; the interactions among the moving plates and the continents they carry account for nearly all of the Earth's surface features; and nearly every important feature of our solar system results from the chance collision of objects in space. Most surprising of all, we have altered the climate of an entire planet and threaten the future of human civilization. This absorbing scientific history is the only book to describe the evolution of these four ideas from heresy to truth, showing how science works in practice and how it inevitably corrects the mistakes of its practitioners. Scientists can be wrong, but science can be trusted. In the process, astonishing ideas are born and, over time, take root.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:10:58 -0400)

Over the course of the twentieth century, scientists came to accept four counterintuitive yet fundamental facts about the Earth: deep time, continental drift, meteorite impact, and global warming. When first suggested, each proposition violated scientific orthodoxy and was quickly denounced as scientific - and sometimes religious - heresy. Nevertheless, after decades of rejection, new data persuaded scientists to change their minds. The stories behind these four discoveries reflect more than the fascinating push and pull of scientific work. They reveal the provocative nature of science and how it raises profound and sometimes uncomfortable truths as it advances. For example, counter to common sense, the Earth and the solar system are older than all of human existence; the interactions among the moving plates and the continents they carry account for nearly all of the Earth's surface features; and nearly every important feature of our solar system results from the chance collision of objects in space. Most surprising of all, we humans have altered the climate of an entire planet and now threaten the future of civilization. This absorbing scientific history is the only book to describe the evolution of these four ideas from heresy to truth, showing how science works in practice and how it inevitably corrects the mistakes of its practitioners. Scientists can be wrong, but they do not stay wrong. In the process, astonishing ideas are born, tested, and over time take root. -- from dust jacket.… (more)

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