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I have started to compile a list of instances of suppression of scientific ideas in history. Up to now I have collected the following points:

  • According to Dioganes Laertius Anaxagoras was imprisoned and then exiled because of impiety. He had claimed that Helios is not a God but a heap of glowing stones.

  • The cases of Giordano Bruno and Galileo Galilei are well known without sources.

  • Cavalieri and Torricelli (a pupil of Galilei), two protagonists of infinitesimals, were harassed and finally silenced by the leading Jesuit mathematicians. "Once the Revisors had issued their decision, a well-oiled machinery of enforcement sprang into action." (Amir Aleander: "Infinitesimal", Oneworld, 2015)

  • Brouwer was fired as an editor of Mathematische Annalen by Hilbert in 1928 because of incompatibility of Hilbert's and Brouwer's ideas. In this case Hilbert acted immorally and went beyond his legal rights. The whole story is given by Mueckenheim https://www.hs-augsburg.de/~mueckenh/KB/ from KB 548 to KB 658 under the title (coined by Einstein) "Krieg der Frösche und der Mäuse". The text is in German but with many English documents, some of them published for the first time.

  • Few years later the "Jewish science" was banned from Germany, among it the theory of relativity (100 Autoren gegen Einstein).

I am interested to collect more instances of suppression of scientific ideas. (I know that in Soviet union every author of a scientific book had to praise Lenin as the best human ever or at least had to quote some important phrase of his, but that is not what I would call a suppression.)

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    $\begingroup$ I believe you do need a source to confirm that Bruno's suppression was related to "scientific ideas". That issue came up due to the new Cosmos series--most commentary on the first episode said that Bruno was theological and philosophical rather than scientific. Note that I do not know enough to take sides in this issue, but I do know there is an issue. $\endgroup$ – Rory Daulton May 14 '17 at 12:01
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    $\begingroup$ I do not agree on Amir's statement; Galileo was condamned in 1633; Torricelli's Opera Geometrica was published in 1644 and he was appointed at the former Galileo's chair of mathematics at the University of Pisa. When he died in 1647 he was esteemd as a geometrician. Cavalieri's treatises was published in 1632 and 1635. $\endgroup$ – Mauro ALLEGRANZA May 14 '17 at 14:22
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    $\begingroup$ About Bruno and Galileo, their "scientific" ideas, like the infinity of worlds for the firts and the copernicanism of the second, were not "suppressed" at all; in the long run they won. And also Brouwer's intuitionism is alive and well. $\endgroup$ – Mauro ALLEGRANZA May 14 '17 at 14:24
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    $\begingroup$ Science is in the world, i.e. in culture, society and politics; thus, it can be subject to conflicts with received ideas, common sense and power, as may happens to every human activity. $\endgroup$ – Mauro ALLEGRANZA May 14 '17 at 14:35
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    $\begingroup$ The history of Brouwer's firing is described in The war of frogs and mice by van Dalen, and had more to do with "foolishness of great men" than suppression of ideas. Also "suppression" and "science" are relatively modern terms projecting which to before 16th century is dubious, so I'd stick with the period after that. $\endgroup$ – Conifold May 14 '17 at 20:16
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There is an interesting essay by Truesdell on the early history of the kinetic theory of gases called "The establishment stifles genius: Herapath and Waterston", in which two cases of British scientists are reported whose visionary papers on the kinetic theory of gases did not get published (or only in minor journals) and remained in the vaults of the Royal Society in London until after the authors' deaths.

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    $\begingroup$ Please explain in an at least somewhat self-contained manner why this essay is relevant. In case of e.g. "link rot" (the link becoming obsolete), the answer as it currently stands would lose most of its value. $\endgroup$ – Danu May 15 '17 at 23:43
  • $\begingroup$ Great! That's what I am looking for. $\endgroup$ – Otto May 16 '17 at 13:12
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, I remember Truesdells's book. Herapath and Waterston were geniuses, but outsiders to the establishment. There were few avenues of publication at the time. So they had to convince others to support them. But mathematical argumentation was not popular in Britain in the decade they published their continental style papers. The result was they got nowhere. Truesdell pointed out that at the time, the royal society felt they had to agree with and endorse any paper they published, which of course meant they published little that was controversial, stifling research. $\endgroup$ – Guido Jorg May 16 '17 at 15:39
  • $\begingroup$ Later, after others came to the same conclusion decades later, Lord Raleigh came upon Waterston's related papers in Phil Mag. Then the large royal society paper was published, finally. Not really persecution, but what happened was that most of the scientists who established themselves 1810--1840 agreed to ignore Herapath and then Waterston in an organized way. $\endgroup$ – Guido Jorg May 16 '17 at 15:42
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In Soviet Union, in 1948 genetics was officially banned. Researchers in genetics had either co confess publicly that they were doing pseudo-science and switch to another activity, or were dismissed. Several were imprisoned and even killed (Isaak Agol, Solomon Levit, Grigorii Levitskii, Georgii Karpechenko and Georgii Nadson were executed. Nikolai Vavilov died in prison).

This was the most famous episode of persecution of science in Soviet Union, when a whole large area of science was formally banned.

Speaking of individual scientists, there were just too many cases to mention here. Some of this persecution was not related to their scientific activity, but in many cases it was: they were repressed because their work was found somehow inconsistent with "Marxist-Leninist philosophy".

The punishment varied from a reprimand (and a public "confession") to firing, to a term in a prison camp (some of them were real death camps), to execution.

Cybernetics (informatics, computer science) was also banned for some period, in 1960s but this was after Stalin's death, and nobody was killed for cybernetics at least.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks Jan Peter and Alexandre for the answers. I cannot decide yet about a best one. Probably (and hopefully) further answers will be given. Is it possible to make this question a "Wiki" question? $\endgroup$ – Otto May 15 '17 at 16:49
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    $\begingroup$ @Claus: your question can certainly generate a VERY long list. If this is what you wanted, there is no need to award "accepted answer". $\endgroup$ – Alexandre Eremenko May 15 '17 at 17:40
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In 415 a mob incited by a Christian bishop in Alexandria lynched the last Alexandrian mathematician/astronomer Hypatia, thus putting the end to the greatest scientific school of the ancient world.

In 528 emperor of the Eastern Roman empire prohibited all pagan science. Which at that time meant ALL science. Seven philosophers, including mathematician Simplicius were exiled (to Persia). In 533 they were allowed to return on the condition that they will not teach or publish anything.

These are just two episodes of the systematic suppression of science by Christianity (and to a much lesser extent by Islam too). The suppression was not directly aimed at science but at any kind of "free thinking". I suppose these rulers did not know anything about science, so they could not target science intentionally. Their aim was "pagan rites", "pagan philosophy", astrology and magic. Science, which was a marginal activity in comparison with those listed above suffered what is called nowadays "collateral damage".

EDIT. It is hard to tell what Justinian really had in mind. The word "science" did not exist (at least not in the modern meaning) and the word "mathematicus" meant "astrologist" at the time of Justinian. (Probably because astrology was the only way to make a living for a mathematician). His law actually prohibited "pagan rites", teaching "pagan philosophy", the practice of "mathematici", weather prediction etc. I suppose that Justinian simply had no idea about the activities which we call now "science" and "mathematics". In any case, his laws (and similar laws by Christian emperors before him, and the general atmosphere of intolerance after Christianity became the state religion) had the effect that all scientific activities whatsoever stopped for almost a millenium.

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Michael Servetus (Miguel Serveto) was burnt alive on John Calvin's order in 1553 in Geneva. He discovered the pulmonary blood circulation, published the book, and the book was labeled heretical.

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When Chandrasekhar explained that sufficiently massive white dwarf stars collapse under self-attraction and become neutron stars or black holes, Sir Arthur Eddington rejected this possibility and his infuence was such that this idea was, for all practical purposes, suppressed for a long time. This history is very well decribed in Arthur I. Miller's Empire of the stars.

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Well, if philosophy counts as a science, then the case of Kant belongs here.

There was in 1794 a decree muzzling freedom of speech from Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm II. to Immanuel Kant. https://korpora.zim.uni-duisburg-essen.de/kant/briefe/640.html threatening with highest disgrace if Kant continued to dishonour and disparage the Holy Bible and Christianity. Kant had 1781 in "Kritik der reinen Vernunft" and 1793 in "Die Religion innerhalb der Grenzen der bloßen Vernunft" published some heretical opinions, for instance with respect to the ontological "proof" of God's existence.

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