Is it hard to define the worst science ideas? What does it mean, really? Are those weird science ideas bad use of science, or using science for evil? The bad thing about science is that it often shows us how often it is wrong.
We have assembled a list of bad science ideas – not evil ones used by some dictator or a hostile faction to harm humanity, but more on the bizarre side of things. Here are the Top 10 worst science ideas – a list of bad or wired science ideas or experiments showing how often scientists are wrong. Most of them can even be considered bad science memes, as they are purely insane.
Darwin’s Theory of Pangenesis
Charles Darwin is most famous for his scientific breakthrough on the Origin of Species. However, nine years after that, Darwin published one of his bad science ideas – The Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication.
In one of his worst science ideas, Darwin wanted to explain the mechanisms of heredity. That was already done by Gregor Mendel a couple of years earlier. Still, his ideas gained popularity around the early 20th Century. Darwin’s idea is terrible because he lets his imagination run wild.
He followed the same ideas as Lamarckism – that parents pass acquired characteristics to their offspring. For example – parents that work out would have exceptionally muscular offspring. And giraffes would grow even longer necks.
According to Darwin, the cells of the living organism that lifts weight would send reproductive organs a message, stating that if the dad’s bench pressing, the baby must be jacked up. Gemmules would carry these messages – special particles he invented for this purpose.
This idea has its appeal – maybe if we think more about science, the better scientists our children would be. Sadly, it does not work like that.
The Sun is Inhabited
This idea, bright as the Sun, comes from William Herschel himself. In 1781, he saw a disk in the sky between Gemini and Taurus in space that wasn’t supposed to contain anything. He discovered something, but what was it?
He first thought this was a comet, but without the tail, the object didn’t follow the typical trajectory of a comet. Herschel publicized his data and was aided by famous mathematician Pierre Simon de Laplace. He made calculations, including the orbit, and declared that it was circular, more resembling the orbit of a planet.
It was a planet, indeed. The first planned humanity has ever discovered – Uranus!
But did Herschel stop there? No! The Sun remained his primary cause. He “discovered” sunspots that allowed us to look through the star’s flaming orbit and see the solid land below, claiming that it’s the largest planet in the solar system.
The sun people – those who live on the surface, have adapted to living under the conditions, just like creatures on the other planes of the solar system and the Moon.
Professors Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons – University of Utah professors – conducted a popular experiment in 1989. The two highly-rated scientists were among the standouts in electrochemistry, authoring numerous highly-acclaimed papers in the field.
Fleischmann and Pons were experimenting with palladium and its ability to absorb oxygen. Through one of the palladium electrodes, they managed to transform hydrogen into helium, plus a considerable amount of energy.
The pair thought they had achieved their dream of capturing the power of the Sun in their test tubes, achieving cold fusion! They’ve found a way for how the Sun and stars created unleash their energy at room temperature.
The role of palladium was to compress hydrogen and catalyze the fusion reactions.
Others were able to replicate this experiment with excessive heat. Still, many couldn’t, so there’s a doubt if there was any generated heat.
The only certain thing was that there wasn’t any nuclear fusion and not a single piece of evidence of the production of neutrons, only proving how often scientists could be wrong.
Fleischmann and Pons never managed to recreate this weird science idea, and many consider this experiment fraudulent.
The Number of the Universe
At first sight, this is one of these bad science ideas, but technological advances may prove it right.
Astrophysicist Arthur Eddington is one of the brightest names in his field. He confirmed Einstein’s theory that space is curved by gravity in practice and gave the name to The Eddington Limit of stars’ luminosity. But he sincerely believed that dimensionless numbers could uncover the universe’s secrets.
For example, the width of your hand is 10 cm – its dimensions are in centimeters, as are those of your thumb, which is 2 cm. You get 5 cm if you divide the width of your hand by the width of your thumb. Now you have 5 – a dimensionless number. Sounds sophisticated and is one of the worst uses of science possible.
He focused on the following approximate numbers:
- 137 – he got it by multiplying a reduced Planck constant by the speed of light. He then divided it by a square of the electron charge.
- 1840 – a divided proton’s mass by an electron’s mass
- 1039 – the divided square of the electron charge by a gravitational constant and times the proton’s mass, mass times the electron mass.
- His final calculations had the dimensionless numbers clustered between a few orders of a magnitude between 1, 1040, and 1080.
What puts this among the worst science ideas ever? At this moment, nothing really. It’s just a weird science idea that may actually be proven. Some scientists laughed Eddington’s theory off, but others found reason in his numbers. And that was about it – no new discoveries to support or cancel it. But who knows what the future holds?
Thomas Edison’s Spirit Phone and Theory of the Brain
Apart from the lengthy line of physical discoveries like light bulbs (and how not to make them), movies, and phonographs, Thomas Edison took an interest in the natural world.
He shared with a close confidant that worked for the American Magazine that he had a spirit phone. That may sound like one of the worst science ideas, but was it?
This phone allowed people to communicate with the dead, but he laughed it off years later as a joke. But was this bad science idea a joke? Self-promotion or bad use of science?
This stems from Edison’s idea about the human brain and how it operates. In his Diary and Sundry Observations, he developed his idea that the human brain was full of millions of little people. No, it’s not an infestation. These thy creatures took care of the brain’s work. They were controlled by master entities (no, it’s not a cordyceps infestation), as these creatures lived in the brain’s frontal lobe in the Broca area.
Thomas Edinson believes that these little people move away from the brain and enter a living person’s brain, making using such a Spirit Phone possible.
One of the worst science ideas was Polywater. It sounds like the name of a Pokemon, but it was an actual scientific discovery. In 1962, Soviet physicist Nikolai Fedyakin introduced a new form of water – Polywater. It was dense and more viscous than regular water, freezing at under -40°C and boiling at 150°C.
Polywater is a bad science idea because no one knows what makes it different. Are the water molecules bonded into some chains? Still, it gave the Soviet scientific community reasons to celebrate.
But that was only a brief moment. Dennis Rousseau, an American scientist, discovered that his sweat had similar qualities to Polywater. After a decade, Fedyakin’s experiment was considered a bad use of science. The popular opinion was that he had taken impurities from his lab equipment to contaminate the water, raising his boiling temperature and decreasing the freezing point.
French physicist Prosper Blondlot discovered N-rays in the early 20th Century. Those rays were naturally emitted by many metals. This scientific discovery was celebrated and confirmed by research institutions all over France. Still, no one outside the country managed to prove they existed.
That is why Blondlot had to make a few demonstrations, most notably for Robert Wood, an American physicist. Blondlot produced an N-ray spectrum in a dark room. He discussed with Wood and other guests the exciting features of this spectrum.
However, the tricky Wood removed the prism of the spectroscope, thus making the colors disappear. By removing the prism, Wood proved that the N-rays are just a bad use of science, and, even worse – a scam. But Blondlot continued his demonstration as if nothing had happened.
Until the beginning of the 19th Century, scientists everywhere believed that if something emits heat, it needs to be caloric. It was everywhere, including in the Sun. Its flames liberated the caloric from its substance, thus raising the temperature.
Everything emitted caloric. Even rubbing your hands releases tiny particles. And everything that allowed a substance or matter to release caloric caused a temperature rise. Makes sense…kind of.
Benjamin Thompson, Count Rumford, realized in 1798 that caloric is one of the worst science ideas ever. He came to the realization when he was building a new cannon in a workshop in Bavaria.
During the process of drilling, the cannon got really hot. As the drill was sharp, shards fell off the piece of metal, making for the famous caloric. However, when the drill became blunt, it produced fewer shards from the cannon. The temperature skyrocketed but produced less caloric. Yet, the theory suggested that the cannon should have cooled down in such a case, as there was no caloric release.
Duke Rumford found out he could release the heat from the cannon for a long time with a blunt drill. Should the heat come from caloric, the piece of metal should contain so much more, so it could never become solid.
Thompson measured the temperature of the pieces of metal, and he registered that it was identical to the heat of the unbored metal. So, he came to the conclusion that it was the movement that caused the head, instead of caloric.
Most scientists of that time held to the idea for a while, despite the apparent evidence against it. They finally released it in 1849 when James Joule first converted mechanical energy into thermal energy. Then, in 1860, James Clerk Maxwell created the kinetic theory, showing that the speed of atoms determines the substance’s temperature, proving scientists of the 18th Century wrong and spelling doom for caloric.
The Planet Vulcan
The planet Vulcan was discovered in 1859 by Urbain Leverrier. But why don’t we study it in school? Because it is just another case of bad use of science.
What he found out was that Mercury wasn’t orbiting the Sun according to Newton’s law of gravitation. Its perihelion was at around 0.01 degrees, which should be every Century or so.
It might seem insignificant, but it disturbed Leverrier enough to consider that another planet, closer to the Sun, is concerning the orbit of Mercury.
Urbain Leverrier was one of the greatest names of his time. In 1845, by analyzing Uranus’s orbit found that there was something odd with it. His calculations predicted the existence of a new planet and its position. That’s how Neptune was discovered. His measures on Vulcan were so compelling that they convinced most astronomers that such a cosmic body exists.
The death of the Vulcan theory came when Albert Einstein published the theory of relativity. He found holes in Newton’s law of gravitation, stating that the higher the gravity, the less accurate it became. As the Sun has the largest gravity field in the Solar System, it is expected that the closest planet to it feels it the strongest.
With Einstein’s law, the theory of Vulcan has been dismissed. This is sad, as Star Trek fans would enjoy Mr. Spock’s planet being part of the Solar System.
Darwin’s Theory of Evolution Disproved by Physicists
Through its majority, Darwin’s theory of Evolution was correct. Still, the bad thing about science is that many would try to contest it more often than not. And they may prove it wrong, especially if those who attack it are some major like Lord Kelvin and Fleming Jenkin – two of the biggest names of the time, if not in history.
And his opponents
How often are such scientists wrong? Well, in this case – they were. Through his calculations, including the cooling rate of the planet, Kelvin estimated that the Earth is between 20 and 400 million years old. Most of that time, it was too hot to be inhabited. His further research showed that the Sun was under 100 million years old.
Meanwhile, Jenkin stated that for Darwin’s theory to be correct, it would take countless years and took in regards that, according to Kelvin, the Earth’s age was preposterously inadequate. And yet, Darwin proved that, in this case, theirs was a bad use of science.
The Scots didn’t take nuclear fission into consideration. Even after a billion years, it still kept Earth’s interior exceptionally hot. The same nuclear fusion kept the Sun hot even longer. So, unlike his early mention of the weird science idea of Pangenesis, Darwin was right!
How often are scientists wrong, and what about science? Most of these worst science ideas have brilliant minds just having these weird science ideas, like people living on the Sun and tiny men on the human brain. Some of those theories sound plausible, and one of them can even be proven right, like the numbers of the universe. Yet, some of them are bad science memes. And that’s the wrong thing about science – it takes time and effort, but more often than not, it can be wrong.
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