"We Shall Have to Make the Best of It:" The Conversion of Dennis Sciama
Hunt, James Christopher
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The cosmologist Dennis W. Sciama (1926-1999) was a long-standing advocate of the steady state model of the universe. This theory, originally proposed in 1948 by Hermann Bondi, Thomas Gold, and Fred Hoyle, suggested that the universe was eternal, and unchanging on the largest scales. Contrary to the popular image of a scientist as a dispassionate, unbiased investigator of nature, Sciama fervently hoped the steady state model to be correct. In addition, and also pace the stereotypical image of a scientist, Sciama was motivated significantly by "extrascientific" or aesthetic factors in his adoption of the model. Finally, Sciama, in a stark contrast to the naive falsificationism usually presented as a virtue of the "scientific method," went through a several-year period of attempting to "save" the model from hostile data. However, Sciama abandoned the model in 1966 due to increasingly reliable data relating to the distribution of quasars. Thus the Sciama case also stands as a counterexample to irrationalist criticisms of science, according to which scientists can and will always find ways to hold on to their "pet" theories until they die, regardless of contradictory data. Sciama's conversion also sheds light on the iterative process that goes on as scientists localize and attempt to repair faults in their theories.
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