Why failed science matters


This is a great subject which probably needs to be taught in more detail for students. Note that most of these histories completely leave out the Dayton-Miller experiment, which Einstein was particularly interested in, and which was better positioned at the top of a mountain.

From a book review in 1913 …

It is obvious that this power to judge values, to pick and combine the essentials in different points of view, is vitally necessary to the successful composition of a history of ether and electricity …

Maxwell’s theory of action through an all-pervading plenum has had its triumphal acceptance …

These difficulties which bothered Kelvin and which troubled everybody in the early days of the theory have by no means all been resolved; they have merely been ignored. The real triumph has not been physical but psychological; we no longer ask those awkward questions which are inimical to the theory, we take the whole fabric as we find it and unquestioningly make application of it. If there be questions, they are of a different sort.

In recent years some active minds have been looking forward toward the formulation of new theories, toward the abolition of the ether. The theory of relativity and the hypothesis of energy quanta have been the two ideas upon which they have chiefly focused their attention. If they in their turn shall triumph, it will probably be not for the reason that all the questions which the opponents of the theories now bring forth shall have been satisfactorily answered, but because the questioners shall have ceased to question. We advance by ignoring our known ignorance and by concentrating upon our assumed knowledge.

An experiment can only fail if it gives no data. Popular culture totally doesn’t understand this.


Yup. Because NOW WE KNOW this thing doesn’t work is a perfectly valid experimental result. Then we try the next thing. That’s good sciencing, is that. We need more of it.

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We should not call them failed experiments because it could affect the researcher’s self esteem.

The Diana Moon Glampers Institute For Egalitarian Research.

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