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No. 59: Sep-Oct 1988

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Memoirs Of A Dissident Scientist

"The Editors have set aside their ordinary scruples to publish the following recollections, in which Hannes Alfven defends a theory that is now rejected by virtually all working astrophysicists."

This first sentence from a (sort of) disclaimer by the Editors of the American Scientist really seems unscientific. After all, Alfven shared a Nobel Prize in 1970; is that not recommendation enough? Apparently not -- at least not when Alfven believes that cosmic rays have a local rather than galactic origin.

The reflections of Alfven on the development of cosmic-ray theory are rather amusing; they reveal how much people and ideas change. Alfven originally maintained that cosmic rays were of galactic origin. But when he met E. Teller, who favored a local origin (within the sun's domain), Alfven was swayed. He is now among that tiny minority that defends the local origin view. Ironically, Teller switched sides, too, and now espouses a galactic origin. Alfven concludes his reminiscing with a paragraph that says much about today's scientific environment:

"The mentioned conditions and quite a few other factors have led to a disagreement between a very strong establishment (E) and a small group of dissidents (D) to which the present author belongs. This is nothing remarkable. What is more remarkable and regrettable is that it seems to be almost impossible to start a serious discussion between E and D. As a dissident is in a very unpleasant situation, I am sure that D would be very glad to change their views as soon as E gives convincing arguments. But the argument "all knowledgeable people agree that..." (with the tacit addition that by not agreeing you demonstrate that you are a crank) is not a valid argument in science. If scientific issues were decided by Gallup polls and not by scientific arguments science will soon be petrified forever."

(Alfven, Hannes; "Memoirs of a Dissident Scientist," American Scientist, 76: 249, 1988.)

Comment. If you do not climb on the scientific bandwagon, you won't get funding, papers published, or even a handshake from your colleagues. Look what has happened to Arp, Gold, Hoyle, and other "dissidents" in the past few years.

From Science Frontiers #59, SEP-OCT 1988. � 1988-2000 William R. Corliss