Three hundred years ago, Jonathan Swift wrote about scientists trying to make pillows from marble and food from faeces. If Swift was able to take scientists with a pinch of sodium chloride, why can’t we?
Throughout most of the last century, top-level astronomers were convinced there were networks of canals on Mars, supposedly made by the residents so they could irrigate crops. Their delusion went so far as to publish highly detailed maps in scientific journals. In 1969, photos taken by the Mariner spacecraft showed there were no canals at all, only the very occasional linear surface feature.
Scientists can get it wrong, can let their imaginations run away with them; a clipboard and a lab coat are no guarantee of infallibility.
Some months before the Mars photos arrived on Earth, the Observer Newspaper in London published the first mainstream article about the Greenhouse Effect. Our planet was apparently about to overheat because of human-produced carbon dioxide. Some scientists - and some journalists and politicians - took up this latest doomsday prophesy with gusto and the sky has been falling ever since.
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