Centenary of the Theory of Continental Drift

One hundred years ago (January, 1912), at the annual meeting of the Geological Association in Frankfurt, Germany, Alfred Wegener, a meteorologist, presented his theory of continental drift for the first time. It was almost uniformly dismissed by geologists. One of them called it “mere geopoetry”. Much later, he was proved right.

To me, this is a classic example of the power of what I call insider/outsiders. Wegener had a great deal of scientific training, including a Ph.D. in astronomy. Unlike professional geologists, however, (a) he had the freedom to say whatever he wanted about geology without endangering his job (as a meteorologist) or prospects for advancement and (b) was under no pressure to publish. He could spend as much time on his theory as he wanted.

3 Responses to “Centenary of the Theory of Continental Drift”

  1. dearieme Says:

    When I started Secondary School geography in the late 50s, Continental Drift was where we started. Our teacher did warn us that it wasn’t universally accepted but predicted that it would be, in due course.

  2. Jay Says:

    This could be a useful example in favor of “undiscriminating skepticism” (or two-way skepticism):
    http://lesswrong.com/lw/1ww/undiscriminating_skepticism/

    The Less Wrong article suggests that a good litmus test for rationality (as opposed to just adopting the opinions of your “tribe”) is whether or not you can argue for a non-mainstream position.

  3. Becky Hargrove Says:

    In a time when it seems the middle class is disappearing, one might argue that economists don’t have the ability to venture too far outside the theories of the last 100 years…which is unfortunate given that so much of the current situation really is new and different from what has happened before.