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The Case Against the Nuclear Atom by Dewey B Larson

The Case Against the Nuclear Atom by Dewey B Larson

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Published by Jason Verbelli

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Categories:Types, Research, Science
Published by: Jason Verbelli on Aug 11, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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06/20/2013

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The Case Againstthe Nuclear Atom
 
by Dewey B. Larson
 
“To all of us, steeped in the unquestioning adoration of the contemporary scientific method, this is a rude and outspoken book, which sometimes hurts.The frightening thing about it is that it rings true.”
Preface
 
One of the first things that a student in science or engineering acquires at thebeginning of his college career is a sublime confidence in the objectivity of the scientific method and the unimpeachable status of the results thereof,along with a rather critical and condescending attitude toward other fields of learning which operate on a less exact basis. I still have a very vividrecollection of the amusement with which my classmates and I looked upona statement in our economics textbook wherein the author commented on thetheory of wages which he had just expounded at great length. This statementadmitted that the theory did not produce the right results, but the author wenton to say that he could not think of any better explanation, and consequentlythis one must be right anyway. Certainly, we students told ourselves, it was apleasure to be identified with a branch of knowledge in which conclusionsare reached by logical and mathematical processes rather than by any suchridiculous reasoning as this.But those of us who have subsequently had occasion to leave the beaten pathin the course of research work of one kind or another have been thoroughlydisillusioned on this score. In spite of the high ideals to which the scientificworld subscribes in theory, today’s best guess is just as firmly enthroned inthe field of science as it is in economics or any other of the less “exact”branches of knowledge, and the extent to which general acceptance is takenas the equivalent of proof in present-day scientific practice is nothing shortof astounding. It is true that the areas in which the facts have been positivelyand unequivocally established are much larger in science than in these other
 
fields, but outside of these fully explored areas the scientist is just asreluctant to admit ignorance as his counterparts in other disciplines, and justas prone to present his opinion or that of the “authorities” in his field aspositive knowledge. There is, in fact, a very general tendency to elevatecurrently popular scientific theories and assumptions to the status of incontestable articles of faith whose validity must not be questioned, and thepath of the innovator who dares to take issue with these cherished doctrinesis thorny indeed.The most serious aspect of this policy is that it tends to perpetuate basicerrors when they are once made. Inevitably the theorists will take a wrongturn sooner or later, and present practice sets up an almost impassibleroadblock in the way of getting back on the right track. This situation isgreatly aggravated by what some observers have called the “epicyclical”character of much of present-day physical theory. When a theory encountersdifficulties of a serious nature, it is no longer fashionable to abandon it, aswould have been done in an earlier era. The present practice is to “save” thetheory by adding the equivalent of one of the epicycles of Ptolemaicastronomy. Then when further trouble develops another epicycle is added,and so on. Each addition not only buries the errors of the original theory thatmuch deeper and makes them that much harder to deal with, but also putsthe originator of a new and better theory in a position where he cannotisolate the primary issue and meet it squarely; he must contend with all of the epicycles at the same time, however irrelevant they may actually be.One of the most “epicyclical” of all physical theories is the nuclear theory of the atom. I am continually coming into conflict with this theory in my work,and while it has not been difficult to demonstrate the shortcomings of thistheory in the particular applications with which I have been concerned, thetheory and its coterie of epicycles are so firmly embedded in so much of present-day scientific thought that even the most glaring deficiencies makelittle impression on the general standing of the theory as long as they areexposed one by one in their separate areas. The usual reaction to ademonstration of the failure of the theory in any specific application is quitereminiscent of the attitude of the author of the economics textbook. “PerhapsI will have to admit that the theory gives the wrong answers in the particularcase under consideration,” the physicist says, “but it must be correct as ageneral proposition anyway, because everyone who knows anything aboutscience accepts it.” In view of this prevailing attitude which makes itimpossible to deal with the situation on an item by item basis, it has seemed
 
necessary to undertake a critical appraisal of the structure as a whole, toshow how utterly untenable the cntire theory becomes when it is examinedin the light of the immense amount of experimental knowledge now at ourcommand. As the facts brought out in this work demonstrate, there neverwas any adequate experimental basis for the theory in the first place--theoriginators simply jumped to conclusions without considering the possiblealternative explanations of the results of their experiments--and the advanceof knowledge in the intervening half-century has completely destroyed thesupport which the theory originally derived from the scientific ideas andbeliefs prevailing at the time it was originated. The conclusions of this workwill no doubt be extremely distasteful to those who have been so confidentof the validity of their atomic theory for so many years, but the facts areclear and unmistakable once anyone takes a good look at them. Thissituation must be faced eventually, and the longer the reckoning ispostponed the greater the cost. However painful the necessary readjustmentof thinking may be, the sooner it is accomplished the sooner it will bepossible to get some tangible benefits out of the tremendous amount of time,money and effort that are now being wasted in futile attempts to findanswers to meaningless problems and to establish the nature and propertiesof non-existent particles and forces.D. B. Larson, August 1962

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