Consensus in science is rarely wrong, but it can happen. I’m not talking about wonderfully strange theoretical ideas that come out of advanced physics, but more concrete and relatable ideas that are completely wiped out by a giant breakthrough. There is much more evidence to support human-caused climate change than there ever was for the now-discredited theory on how the continents were formed. Still, wise climatologists — and scientists in any field, really — should take note.
Almost every branch of science has been turned on its head at one time or another, undergoing what the philosopher, historian and physicist Thomas Kuhn called a “paradigm shift.” Science works like that, Kuhn wrote in his 1962 book, “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.” It’s not a bad thing; it means science is self-correcting. What happened in geology in the 1960s was “very Kuhnian,” said Eldridge Moores, distinguished professor of geology at the University of California, Davis, who was literally in the room when this particular revolution happened to geology.
Until the 1960s most geologists believed in a contraction theory to explain the world, said Benjamin Jordan, associate professor of physical sciences and oceanography at Brigham Young University-Hawaii. When Earth was formed it was very hot and eventually cooled.
“You have an orange that starts to dry out over time and the surface became wrinkled,” said Jordan. “That’s what happened with the Earth. But the Earth was also brittle so in addition to wrinkling, forming mountains and valleys, it was also cracking and breaking and creating faults and earthquakes.”