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Brilliant Blunders

From Darwin to Einstein - Colossal Mistakes by Great Scientists That Changed Our Understanding of Life and the Universe by Mario Livio

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10:04am, June 28, 2013

Even brilliant scientists have bad days. Consider chemist Linus Pauling, who described the alpha helix structure of proteins in 1951. When he attempted to do the same for DNA, however, he botched it — badly. Among other problems, he flubbed the basic chemistry, proposing a structure for deoxyribonucleic acid that wasn’t an acid.

When asked about Pauling’s faulty DNA model, one of his contemporaries commented, “You could not have written a fictional novel in which Linus would have made an error like this.”

Why Pauling stumbled is just one of the questions that astrophysicist Livio attempts to answer. Countless scientists have made major mistakes over the centuries, but Livio wisely focuses on gaffes from just five great minds: Pauling, Darwin, Einstein, astrophysicist Fred Hoyle and William Thomson, also known as Lord Kelvin.

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