Skip to main content
64 votes

Examples of when the professional scientists or mathematicians were wrong, but the nonprofessionals were right

It seems ball lightning was disbelieved by scientists until around 1960. See Wikipedia . I knew a geologist who told us how his eye-witness account of ball lightning had been ridiculed. He had ...
Gerald Edgar's user avatar
  • 10.4k
56 votes

Examples of when the professional scientists or mathematicians were wrong, but the nonprofessionals were right

In 1726's Gulliver's Travels, Jonathan Swift mocked the learned scientists of Britain for not having solved the Longitude problem: Figure out a way to keep track of one's east-west location to within ...
Jasper's user avatar
  • 677
39 votes

Examples of when the professional scientists or mathematicians were wrong, but the nonprofessionals were right

This isn't a topic I'm familiar with, just something I've read on Quanta, but according to this article, Richard Kershner of Johns Hopkins claimed to have a complete classification of convex pentagon ...
Kevin Long's user avatar
31 votes

Examples of when the professional scientists or mathematicians were wrong, but the nonprofessionals were right

I think a famous example is the Monty Hall problem about switching doors. The problem was answered correctly by Marilyn vos Savant, but she got baskets of letters from experts that she is wrong.
Karl's user avatar
  • 419
28 votes

Examples of when the professional scientists or mathematicians were wrong, but the nonprofessionals were right

Take meteorites, for instance. By the end of the XVIIIth century, educated people “knew” that no rock found on Earth could possibly have fallen from the sky, in spite of the evidence (...
José Carlos Santos's user avatar
23 votes

Examples of when the professional scientists or mathematicians were wrong, but the nonprofessionals were right

Just warning not to include pre-1920s medicine (and a lot of medical mantra thru the 20th century), as there was little to no science involved amongst physicians. Just look at how difficult it was ...
Carl Witthoft's user avatar
23 votes

Examples of when the professional scientists or mathematicians were wrong, but the nonprofessionals were right

The Wright Brothers, both bicycle mechanics, solved both the control and power problems of heavier-than-air manned flight in 1902, beating the well funded aeronautical academic scientists of the ...
russelld's user avatar
  • 331
23 votes

Examples of when the professional scientists or mathematicians were wrong, but the nonprofessionals were right

I'd be tempted to add Gregor Mendel, whose experiments on plants and his analysis demonstrated how genes work, to that list. It wasn't so much that the 'professional' scientists of the time considered ...
Mac Harwood's user avatar
22 votes

Examples of when the professional scientists or mathematicians were wrong, but the nonprofessionals were right

Michael Ventris, an amateur philologist, (he was an architect) managed to decipher the Mycenean script known as Linear B, a problem that professional specialists had been trying to solve for decades.
xxavier's user avatar
  • 704
19 votes

Examples of when the professional scientists or mathematicians were wrong, but the nonprofessionals were right

The Green Flash was described for the first time (at least in the Western literature) by Jules Verne, a science fiction writer. Many scientists did not believe until photographs were taken and ...
Alexandre Eremenko's user avatar
19 votes
Accepted

Great battles in the history of mathematics

From Wikipedia: Leibniz–Newton calculus controversy (draw, independent discovery) Brouwer-Hilbert controversy (Hilbert removed Brouwer from the board of Mathematische Annalen, Brouwer’s philosophy of ...
Mauricio's user avatar
  • 3,937
18 votes

Examples of papers co-authored by parent/child, or siblings

Check out these mathematicians: A father, and two sons, all of whom co-authored papers in various combinations. David Borwein, father Peter Borwein, son Jonathan Borwein, son Peter's memorial to ...
Roger House's user avatar
18 votes

Works of scientists, philosophers and mathematicians that (re)surfaced after a long time

A major work of Archimedes, which is usually called "The Method of mechanical theorems" was thought to be lost since the late antiquity till 1906 when it was found as a palimpsest in a ...
Alexandre Eremenko's user avatar
17 votes

Literary works authored by mathematicians

Bertrand Russell wrote many books and essays on philosophy and social justice, and was awarded a Nobel Prize in Literature. And the Persian mathematician Omar Khayyám wrote poetry: quatrains that ...
AndyB's user avatar
  • 271
16 votes

Literary works authored by mathematicians

Hausdorff wrote many literary and philosophical works, including poems and a play, under the pseudonym Paul Mongré.
Yuval Filmus's user avatar
15 votes

Examples of when the professional scientists or mathematicians were wrong, but the nonprofessionals were right

Mathematicians have been looking for amicable numbers for millenia. The smallest pair $(220, 284)$ was known to the Pythagoreans, and several larger pairs and a formula for generating them were found ...
Spencer's user avatar
  • 602
14 votes
Accepted

What are some of the earliest mentions of scientific "cranks"?

There are lots of references to cranks in A Budget of Paradoxes, by Augustus de Morgan (1806–1871), who calls them “paradoxers”. There, he writes […] I say something on my ...
José Carlos Santos's user avatar
13 votes

Literary works authored by mathematicians

Many mathematicians wrote their autobiographies, see the answers to https://mathoverflow.net/questions/102597/history-question-autobiography-of-mathematicians/102676#102676 Quite a few also have ...
Margaret Friedland's user avatar
13 votes
Accepted

What are natural science concepts that were once thought the same, but grew to be distinguished?

The two most famous paradigmatic examples of de-unification are phlogiston and ether. The Kaluza-Klein theory of gravity and electromagnetism did not get to spread as far and wide before faltering. ...
Conifold's user avatar
  • 77.6k
13 votes

Examples of when the professional scientists or mathematicians were wrong, but the nonprofessionals were right

The Mpemba effect, named after a Tanzanian student who discovered that a hot ice cream mix freezes faster than a cold mix in cookery classes in the early 1960s was initially ridiculed. ...
ZeroTheHero's user avatar
13 votes

Examples of papers co-authored by parent/child, or siblings

Elie and Henri Cartan (father and son) published a paper together, in 1931 (Les transformations des domaines cerclés bornés).
José Carlos Santos's user avatar
13 votes

Examples of papers co-authored by parent/child, or siblings

Arthur Leonard Rubin co-authored at least two papers with his mother, Jean Estelle Hirsh Rubin, the first one below when he was 13 years old. Arthur L. Rubin and Jean E. Rubin, Extended operations ...
Dave L Renfro's user avatar
13 votes

Are there any well known mathematicians who were fascists?

The book Mathematicians Under the Nazis by Segal is a systematic study of, well, what it says in the title. It includes several examples of mathematicians who showed various degrees of sympathy for ...
Danu's user avatar
  • 3,892
12 votes

Examples of when the professional scientists or mathematicians were wrong, but the nonprofessionals were right

Rogue/Freak waves. It seems that reports of these were considered myths by science for a long time until they were finally recorded. (However this is not an exact answer to the question - no non-...
Sascha's user avatar
  • 229
12 votes

Examples of papers co-authored by parent/child, or siblings

Brothers Marcel and Frigyes Riesz have a joint paper, Brothers Rolf and Frithiof Nevanlinna have 6 joint papers. Brothers Alexander and Alexei Zamolodchikov have 8 joint papers. Brothers David and ...
Alexandre Eremenko's user avatar
12 votes

Great battles in the history of mathematics

One battle that is somewhat overlooked is the battle over Bonaventura Cavalieri's indivisibles. His opponent was Paul (Habakkuk) Guldin, a Jesuit (and other Jesuits). Cavalieri was a Jesuat. Most ...
Mikhail Katz's user avatar
  • 6,062
11 votes

Literary works authored by mathematicians

The mathematician E. T. Bell (known for Bell numbers, and the first stirrings of umbral calculus) wrote many science-fiction novels under the name John Taine. Arthur C. Clarke considered John Taine ...
ShreevatsaR's user avatar
10 votes

Examples of papers co-authored by parent/child, or siblings

Luis Alvarez and his son Walter, and two other chemists, co-authored this 1980 paper on iridium levels at the K/T boundary. The Alvarezes conjectured the now widely accepted impact hypothesis ...
J.G.'s user avatar
  • 1,720
9 votes

Failures in math

One possibility is Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber. He has been described as a mathematical prodigy and Allen Shields, his doctoral adviser, once told that Kaczynski was the best doctoral student he ever ...
José Carlos Santos's user avatar
9 votes

Examples of papers co-authored by parent/child, or siblings

Greg Kuperberg, mathematician and son of the couple of mathematicians Wlodymierz and Krystina Kuperberg, published, separately, a paper with his father on geometric combinatorics, at the very start of ...
Nicola Ciccoli's user avatar

Only top scored, non community-wiki answers of a minimum length are eligible