January 15, 2010 | David F. Coppedge

Specious Theories Obey the Law of Inertia

Last March, scientists publishing in Geology falsified the so-called “Permian Extinction,” calling it a “non-event.” (see 03/09/2009).  Not only was there no smoking gun of a catastrophe in the rocks, the scientists said that the “claims of rapid vertebrate recovery… also must be called into question.”  Our commentary at the time wondered how long it would take for other scientists to recognize the falsification.  Well, now it’s almost a year later, and some are still speaking of the Permian Extinction as if they didn’t hear the news.
    A report in Science Daily today compares alligator breathing systems to those of birds, but the scientist involved said that “The real importance of this air-flow discovery in gators is it may explain the turnover in fauna between the Permian and the Triassic,” speaking of “The Great Dying” or “the Permian-Triassic extinction” as undisputed fact.  From this we can deduce the Law of Inertia for Falsified Theories: a notion in motion tends to stay in motion.
    C. G. Farmer at the University of Utah made a big point about her gators.  She has apparently shown that air moves through an alligator’s lungs in one direction, as it does in birds.  What the lungs of living alligators implies about the state of world ecology 251 million years ago seems moot.
    But Farmer reinforced the Law of Inertia for Falsified Theories with another gaffe: she said, “It was not until the die-off of the large dinosaurs 65 million years ago that mammals made a comeback and started occupying body sizes larger than an opossum.”  That notion was also falsified by the discovery of The Mammal that Ate Dinosaurs for Breakfast (01/12/2005), about which Nature commented, “Discoveries of large, carnivorous mammals from the Cretaceous challenge the long-held view that primitive mammals were small and uninteresting.”
    From these two data points, we can begin to quantify the Law of Inertia for Falsified Theories.  The deceleration of a notion in motion under the opposing force of falsification is undetectable in at least two notions per press release per five years.

Scientists are only human.  They can’t know everything and keep up with everything.  Like most of us, they appeal to commonly-held notions that may be false.  That’s why you shouldn’t trust them, but examine the evidence.

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