EDGE: Richard Thaler’s Question on overturned beliefs/science

Richard ThalerRichard H. Thaler, Director of the Center for Decision Research at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, is the father of Behavioral Economics. In preparation for a new book he asked EDGE contributors to answer this question:

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?

As of today, there are 61 responses which make for fascinating reading on how science has corrected itself and our views of nature.

The contributors include Neil Shubin, Garrett Lisi, Peter Schwartz, David Deutsch, Haim Harari, Alun Anderson, Irene Pepperberg, John Holland, Derek Lowe, Charles Simonyi, Nathan Myhrvold, Lawrence Krauss, Steven Strogatz, Cesar Hidalgo, Eric Topol, Christian Keysers, Simona Morini, Ross Anderson, James Croak, Rob Kurzban, Lewis Wolpert, Howard Gardner, Ed Regis, Robert Trivers, Frank Tipler, Joan Chaio, Jeremy Bernstein, Matthew Ritchie, Clay Shirky, Roger Schank, Gary Klein, Gregory Cochran, Eric Weinstein , Geoffrey Carr, James O’Donnell, Lane Greene, Jonathan Haidt, Juan Enriquez, Scott Atran, Rupert Sheldrake, Emanuel Derman, Charles Seife, Milford H. Wolpoff, Robert Shapiro, Judith Harris, Jordan Pollack, Sue Blackmore, Nicholas G. Carr, Lee Smolin, Marti Hearst, Gino Segre, Carl Zimmer, Gregory Paul, Alison Gopnik, George Dyson, Mark Pagel, Timothy Taylor, David Berreby, Zenon Pylyshyn, Michael Shermer, and George Lakoff.

Topics (with comments on both bad and correct science or beliefs) include: plate tectonics, cosmic inflation, prions, quantum entanglement, the force of gravity, the great chain of being, bird intelligence, the four humours of human physiology, luminiferous aether, bad air disease theory, Peripatetic Mechanics of Aristotle, stress theory of ulcers, intelligent design/creationism, the age of the Earth, cell regeneration, spontaneous generation of life, vitalism, unifunctional components of the brain, security by obscurity, whales as fishes, group selection, unilinear cultural evolution, static universe, Lamarckism, nature/nurture, the existence of a vacuum, the human brain vs. the heart, and more…

Bonus: Thaler on his field Behavioural Economics:

Henryk Górecki’s Third Symphony

Henryk GóreckiAs a tribute to the recent passing of the composer, Classical KUSC, this past Saturday, broadcast a version of Henryk Górecki’s Third Symphony, also called the “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs“. The version was recorded in 1997 at the Górecki Festival and was conducted by the composer himself.

KUSC streamed it as a 96kbps mp3, and it runs around fifteen minutes longer than the famous version of 1992, which, remarkably for a modern classical work, sold over one million copies at the time.

I’ve grabbed the stream and put in my DropBox for those that have missed it or have never heard it:

Henryk Górecki’s Third Symphony (46.7 MB)

Other links:
Kronos Quartet’s David Harrington Remembers Henryk Górecki

Catty Biomechanics

Nicholas Wade, in the New York Times, reports on a cool study in Science on how cats drink, and more specifically how they use their tongue to do so:

Writing in the Thursday issue of Science, the four engineers report that the cat’s lapping method depends on its instinctive ability to calculate the point at which gravitational force would overcome inertia and cause the water to fall.

What happens is that the cat darts its tongue, curving the upper side downward so that the tip lightly touches the surface of the water.

The tongue is then pulled upward at high speed, drawing a column of water behind it.

Just at the moment that gravity finally overcomes the rush of the water and starts to pull the column down — snap! The cat’s jaws have closed over the jet of water and swallowed it.

The cat laps four times a second — too fast for the human eye to see anything but a blur — and its tongue moves at a speed of one meter per second.

The paper “How Cats Lap: Water Uptake by Felis catus” can be read online as a PDF here. There’s also a video from Science of an interview with the authors of the study:

Update20110524: Hey Kitty, Dogs Drink Like Cats (Science News)