Posted by: Ticktock | December 7, 2010

We Were Wrong!… and that’s OK

One reason I love skepticism is that we rejoice in being wrong. Adam Savage has a saying that he prints on t-shirts worn by the Mythbusters staff… “Failure is ALWAYS an option”.

Yes! Absolutely right! We can’t help but have biased expectations based on our individual experiences, flawed perception, attitudes, or even just what we think we know, but good skeptics must be prepared to admit when the data proves them wrong.

That’s why I loved finding the children’s book “Boy, Were We Wrong About the Solar System” at the local public library.

Boy Were We Wrong About the Solar System” by Kathleen Kudlinski is a great trip through time that takes the reader through all the things people misunderstood about the solar system. It’s beautifully illustrated by John Rocco. I love the idea of using the solar system to explain how facts are provisional… The Sun does not revolve around the Earth, despite what the church’s holy book said; it’s the other way around. Saturn isn’t bumpy; that’s a ring around it. Pluto is not a planet; it’s actually no bigger than other planet like objects that we now call “dwarf planets”.

It’s awesome that this book celebrates the idea that scientific knowledge is constantly updated, and that this is a good thing. It’s not a flaw of science that we were wrong before – it’s an asset. The book ends with the idea that there will be more things that will soon be discovered that we’re currently wrong about. And, I’d love for my kids to know that it’s perfectly fine to be wrong, and that it’s even better to strive to be right.

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Responses

  1. That does look like a fun book! I too, think that is an important lesson for kids to learn at an early age – that in order for scientific research to continue we must be open to new ideas based on continuing data and research. I’ve noticed my friends who work in fields of science are quite open to the concept of “until we discover more information”.

    And that’s how my husband and I can live happily together with me believing in God and him being an athiest. He figures if we die and find out there is an afterlife then I was right and I figure if I die and just stop being he’s right – and we’re both ok with being wrong. In fact, it’d be kinda cool if we’re *both* wrong and there is something no one has thought of yet (in fact that seems the most likely).

  2. Wont it be great when the book called “Boy, we were wrong about vaccinations!” comes out! I look forward to it!

  3. The difference is that antivaccine groups have been consistently proven wrong and fail to admit it. That’s why they aren’t skeptics.

    • And scientists are willing to change tactics when better ones come along.

      One famous vaccine controversy is between Salk and Sabin. Both between the men, and the vaccines. It is detailed in several books, including Polio, an American Story.

      I did a search on Amazon, and found a book for ages 9 to 12 that is a Salk biography that covers the issues with Sabin. And even with the problems inherent in both vaccines: Jonas Salk, Conquering Polio.

  4. I’ve seen some books on engineering disasters. They include things like the Titanic, Galloping Gerty and some dams. I have not seen anything in the kids section though, though there have been some shows on the History channel about them.

    I have seen Mistakes that Worked, which is fun.

    There must be lots of books on the kids shelves about the exploration of science, with some of the arguments on how things work. Like how dinosaurs are put together. Think about it: they are all jumbled up in the ground and there is no guide on how to put them together.

    • Oh, I should mention that I was an engineer. One thing that is included in the curriculum are the mistakes, Galloping Gerty being one example that is always used.

      You learn through your mistakes. Though it is hoped that is not the only teacher.

      Though, I should mention that the lessons learned can be subtle. There is a concept known as “metal fatigue.” It is where small deflections in metal will turn it brittle after time. A kid can experiment with this by bending a paper clip over and over again. After a while it will snap in two.

      This was an issue in the first pressurized jet plane, the de Haviland Comet. Metal fatigue caused a couple of those beautiful planes to literally break up and fall out of the sky.

      Because of this long term tests of other products included long term usage tests. This is why you will see some commercials showing a car door being opened and closed, or other such things. It is why all pressurized aircraft have thousands of simulated flights on the ground.

      But there will still be surprises. Because it happened again when Aloha Airlines Flight 243 had a portion of its roof rip away due to metal fatigue. Inspections of airplane skin cracks were ramped up after that disaster.

      It is known as “live and learn.”

  5. The thing about scientific and medical mistakes is that is can take a LONG time before anyone will admit that maybe they haven’t got it right. And when billions of dollars are riding on them not being wrong about something, it’s even more unlikely they will admit it.
    As for being a skeptic, don’t skeptics generally look at what is accepted by the majority and question it – not what’s accepted by everyone and convince themselves they are right??
    The one thing that’s frustrating is that the people who believe in the ‘science’ of vaccines simply put their hands over their ears when it comes to any other suggestions (even just a theory) and sing ‘La La La! I’m not listening to you!’

    • don’t skeptics generally look at what is accepted by the majority and question it

      Actually, skeptics look at claims from all sides and see if there is any evidence to support them.

      No one ignores “other” suggestions about vaccines. They simply ask for evidence to support the suggestion. Real evidence, not made up evidence.

  6. That book looks awesome!

  7. There’s another book in this series titled “Boy, Were We Wrong About Dinosaurs” that is excellent. Be sure to check it out!

  8. Good on you Tick Toc. Loved your arguments about Acupuncture.

    I am an Engineer, and I have a dilemma.

    My Physio therapist is a lovely girl who is enthused about Acupuncture and she came up cliché of its old and everyone is getting on board so it must be good etc. I did however rebuke her silliness re this; I mean just because its old that doenst justifies its credentials. Hinduism and Christianity are both old, but one of them is wrong. But I felt I had upset her somewhat and of course that will be her bread and butter. I don’t want to offend her yet don’t want to give her a special pass. What makes it worse is that she had just started in her new job.
    Any ideas about a nice way to handle this?
    I know i can just presnt her with the facts as you presented but face to face i dont want to see her cry


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