Great Fallacies of Science and Society

David Noel
Ben Franklin Centre for Theoretical Research
PO Box 27, Subiaco, WA 6008, Australia.

This collection of great fallacies is put forward not to engender controversy, but to encourage re-examination of some deeply entrenched misconceptions.

But first, a useful quote to bear in mind through what follows:

The following list of fallacies gives the name of the fallacy, and a scale indication of its current acceptance level. The more red in the scale, the greater the proportion of people who believe the fallacy. Notes (for example, *E) follow after the table and give brief accounts of some of the fallacies and pointers to sources which explain why they are fallacies.

Many of the pointers are to web articles elsewhere on this site. Most of these articles rely heavily on the work of others, and every effort has been made to acknowledge their work fairly in those pages.

Fallacy List . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Current Acceptance (Note *A)

#1. Combustion occurs according to the Phlogiston Theory (*B)

#2. The Earth is flat

#3. The Sun orbits the Earth

#4. The planets orbit around the Earth

#5. The World was created in 4004 BC

#6. The Theory of Evolution is just a theory and is incorrect

#7. Ocean trenches are formed during subduction (*C)

#8. A 'Runaway Greenhouse Effect' has happened on Venus (*D)

#9. Earthquakes are caused by colliding tectonic plates (*J)

#10. Coal originated from plants growing in seaside marshes (*E)

#11. Dark Energy exists and speeds up expansion of the Universe (*F)

#12. Mountains are formed by collisions between tectonic plates (*K)

#13. Convection currents drive crustal movements on the Earth (*L)

#14. Increased carbon dioxide content causes atmospheric warming (*G)

#15. Subduction is a real phenomenon (*M)

#16. The Universe started with a Big Bang (*N)

#17. Volcanos form from hot rock coming up from deep within the Earth (*O)

#18. Red shifts in galactic spectra prove the Universe is expanding (*P)

#19. Dark Matter exists and figures in gravitation of galaxies (*Q)

#20. Plate Tectonics is a real description of movements in the Earth's surface (*R)

#21. The Grand Canyon was cut by the Colorado River (*H)

#22. Cosmic Background Microwave Radiation originated in the Big Bang (*S)

#23. Global Warming is Man-made (*T)

#24. The Earth is fixed in size (*U)

#25. The Universe is about 13.7 billion years old (*V)

#26. The Universe is expanding (*W)

#27. The Second Law of Thermodynamics holds (*I)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


*A. Quoted acceptance levels are merely my estimates of the proportion of people who know about the topic, have an opinion about it, and accept it as valid.

*B. The Phlogiston Theory, originating around 1667, was the first scientific theory about how combustion occurred. It theorized that as substances burnt in air, they gave out a fire-like substance called 'phlogiston', which was without mass, colour, or taste. In the following century, Lavoisier and Lomonosov carried out careful experiments which showed that in combustion, a material (oxygen) was in fact taken out of the air. See: [].

*C. The concept of 'subduction', whereby Earth surface material is pouring down ocean trenches without filling them, but instead creates them, contravenes both laws of physics and common observation. See: Fig. 8b in Fixed-Earth and Expanding-Earth Theories [].

*D. Examination of simple planetary-atmosphere physics shows that temperatures on Venus are as would be expected from its position in space and atmospheric density range. There is no need to invoke a 'magic' carbon-dioxide effect. See: Figure TMF11 in Temperatures of the Earth[].

*E. Conventional assumptions about how coal deposits were formed do not explain the interpolation of sandstone, shale, and limestone layers between the coal layers, as these rock deposits are typically deposited in seas of increasing depths. See: The Origins of Fossil Fuels [].

*F. Look up the Wikipedia article on Dark Energy, and you will see that this concept is purely theoretical and invented solely to explain a putative increase in the rate of expansion of the Universe. If the Universe is not, in fact, expanding, there is no need for the concept. See: Critique point PUCP-16 in The Placid Universe Model [].

*G. While Man's activities have undoubtedly increased the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, there is no real link between this and atmospheric temperatures, and ample evidence that such a link cannot exist. See: Quotation GRQ4 in Will Greenzilla Destroy the Earth? [ and Surprise TMS4 in Temperatures of the Earth []. This fallacy, the greatest in human history, is only a little over 20 years old, yet its effects on our society do not yet seem to have peaked.

*H. Rather than the Colorado River having cut the Grand Canyon as part of its course through the Rockies, it is clear that the river is just following giant cracks in the landscape created by external forces. The river follows a zigzig course in what was a great, almost horizontal, plateau, yet the rock strata on one side of the canyon are not level with the corresponding ones on the other side. See: text preceding Fig.4a in Fixed-Earth and Expanding-Earth Theories [].

*I. Unlike the real laws of physics, the Second 'Law' of Thermodynamics is not based on measurements or experiments, but is only a deduction based on an incorrect assumption. The 'Law' states that in a closed system (such as the Universe), entropy (degree of disorder) must continually increase, with 'higher-quality' energy turning into lower. This leads to the 'Heat Death of the Universe', when everything in the Universe has degenerated into heat. It apparently arose because the only significant large-scale sources of energy known were generated by conversion of matter into radiation in stars, and processes which would gather up huge amounts of radiation and make matter from this were unknown. Now it appears that just such a process occurs in Active Galactic Nuclei, supermassive black holes formed at the centres of galaxies. See: Figure PUF-5 in The Placid Universe Model [].

*J. See also Note *K following. Earthquakes are not restricted to the edges of plates, but are the result of shifts of surface parts to accommodate the effects of expansion. See: Fig. 10 in Fixed-Earth and Expanding-Earth Theories [].

*K. Parts of the Earth's surface undoubtedly move relative to one another, but the idea that they do so as huge surface 'plates' of fixed shape contravenes many laws of physics. Mountains are certainly formed by interaction of surface parts, but these interactions don't depend on being at the edges of postulated 'plates'. See: Fig. 12b and Fig. 14 in Fixed-Earth and Expanding-Earth Theories [].

*L. The concept of Convection Currents driving movements of parts of the Earth's surface is remarkable for its complete lack of supporting evidence and contravention of commonsense. Molten rock is not reached until a depth of around 2900 km, convection currents cannot occur in a solid. See: Fig. 6 and Fig. 7 in Fixed-Earth and Expanding-Earth Theories [].

*M. Subduction is the concept that new surface created by Sea-Floor Spreading, a well-documented real phenomenon, is disposed of by pushing material down ocean trenches and under the continents. A desperate invention of the 1960s to avoid recognition of Earth expansion, subduction lacks any supporting evidence. See: Fig. 8 in Fixed-Earth and Expanding-Earth Theories [].

*N. When a 'red shift' was discovered in the spectral patterns of light from distant galaxies in the late 1920s, the idea that this was caused by the Universe expanding was only one of the explanations available then. Unfortunately, alternative explanations which explained the facts better were ignored, and the myth of the Universe expanding from a single point around 13.7 billion years ago was developed. Ample evidence is now available that the 'Big Bang' is a fallacy. See: The Placid Universe Model [].

*O. You need to go some 2900 km deep in the Earth before the molten-rock zone is reached. It is ludicrous to suppose tiny 'pipes' of molten rock could rise up such a distance and still remain molten, even if laws of heat dissipation did not apply. Instead, volcanos (and all geothermal phenomena) appear to arise from (expansion-generated) local frictional movements. See: The Origin of Volcanos [].

*P. The discovery of red shifts in the spectral lines from distant galaxies, and the inference that these shifts get bigger, the further away are the objects emitting them (Hubble's Law), has been pivotal in the progress of cosmology. But the assumption that these shifts are due to expansion of the universe, instead of the effects of passing through gravitational fields, has been a major error. See: Critique point PUCP-1 in The Placid Universe Model [].

*Q. The concept of Dark Matter, so far undetected in observation, was invented to try and explain anomalies in the rotation of galaxies when Newton's laws of gravitation were simply applied. However, these anomalies disappear when the total gravitational force of the Universe is taken into account, so there is no need for Dark Matter. See: Figure PUF-9 in The Placid Universe Model [].

*R. The fallacy of Plate Tectonics as a description of movements of parts of the Earth's surface grew in popularity some 25 years ago, in a reactionary refusal to accept the far superior expanding-Earth model. See Note *K.

*S. The discovery of highly-uniform microwave radiation reaching the Earth from all points of the sky has been very important in improving our knowledge of the Universe, but attributing its origin to a Big Bang has been a major mistake. See: Critique point PUCP-12 in The Placid Universe Model [].

*T. The concept of Man-Made Global Warming (recently re-titled to 'Man-made Climate Change' as warming has dropped off) has become increasingly popular over the last 20-odd years, but is exposed as a fallacy by recent work. See Note *G.

*U. Just as once the Earth was 'obviously' flat, so now it is 'obviously' fixed in size, whatever the evidence shows? No. See: Fixed-Earth and Expanding-Earth Theories [].

*V. An age for the Universe of about 13.7 billion years was worked out by assuming it exploded from a single point in a Big Bang, and calculating backwards from the assumed current expansion rate. As the evidence is that the Big Bang is a fallacy, this calculation becomes irrelevant. See Note *N.

*W. This understandable but erroneous inference in the early years of galactic red-shift measurements has been compounded ever since with increasingly bizarre theories in the face of accumulating new evidence. See Note *N.

Where to from here?

I don't care if 20,000 people do not agree with me, just show me one who can prove I am wrong! (Attributed to Albert Einstein)

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Go to the Acceptology Home Page

Draft Versions, 1.0-1.7, 2009 Sep 15-24
Version 1.8, First Web version, 2009 Sep 25
Final Draft Version 1.9 for Comment. 2009 Oct 5
Final Public Release Version 2.0, 2009 Oct 26