49

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 learned not to mention it when he interviewed for jobs as a professor of geology.


45

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 a mile after making a round-trip across the Atlantic. This was one of the most important scientific challenges of the 18th century. The British Parliament ...


25

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 tilings in 1968, though he notably said that "The proof that the list in Theorems 1 and 2 is complete is extremely laborious and will be given elsewhere" and ...


23

I think a famous example is the Monty Hall problem` https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/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.


21

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 (eyewitnesses included) for their existence. As science journalist Kat Eshner wrote, “eighteenth-century rationalists […] thought the stories of rains ...


19

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 for Lister et. al. to convince hospitals, midwives, etc. to wash their hands and sterilize operating theatres. There are dozens of incorrect anecdotes ...


17

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.


16

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 Smithsonian Institute, notably Samuel Pierpont Langley.


15

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 published. Herbert Wells in 1914 described the use of nuclear energy for both bombs and peaceful applications. (His novel The world Set Free). At approximately the ...


14

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 that he was wrong - rather that they didn't even know of his results. In particular Darwin puzzled over what the mechanism for transfer of traits was and was ...


9

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 by Hindu and Arab mathematicians during the Middle Ages. Fermat, Descartes, and Euler rediscovered some of these and found some more. But in 1866, a 16-year ...


8

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. Quoting the wiki page on this topic: After [a lecture by Dr. Denis G. Osborne], Erasto Mpemba asked him the question, "If you take two similar containers with ...


7

Hooke was not close (as far as we can judge from his surviving work) to what Newton accomplished. Yes, he conjectured the inverse square law. He understood correctly some simple qualitative features of the motion under this law. He probably performed some simple experiments suggesting these features. And he proposed to Newton to prove that the inverse square ...


7

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-professional had a theory about these waves, it was more of "ignoring observed facts which don't fit the accepted theory)


1

See the story "Meeeeeeeeeee!" at https://www.e-reading.club/chapter.php/71262/17/Feynman_-_Surely_Youre_Joking%2C_Mr._Feynman__Adventures_of_a_Curious_Character.html in which he gives comparisons between poetry and physics but considers such analogies not to be meaningful since he thinks he could do the same between poetry and any other subject.


1

I suspect you're referring to the Feynman anecdote about a submerged S-shaped sprinkler, which is mentioned in Part 2 of the book "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman" (pages 63-65). The question he was discussing with other students was if the sprinkler is completely submerged in water and sucks in water rather than expelling it, which direction would it ...


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