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Century of Science: Connection

Twists and turns

from ScienceNews


Looking back, it’s easy to think that science moves ever forward — each discovery a step along a progression toward truth. At least, that’s the impression that you might get from some textbooks, Nobel lectures and lists of historic milestones. But in reality, science is rarely a straight-ahead march.

For every big discovery, there are setbacks, dead ends, about-faces and wrong answers. Dramatic swings in scientific opinion and decades of debate can come before consensus is achieved. Whole fields can enter dark ages. In the early 2000s, for example, following a series of high-profile failures, many researchers abandoned their dreams of gene therapy.

In other cases, scientific spirits can be deflated when a discovery dissolves quicker than it arrived. Worse still, perhaps, is when seemingly blockbuster finds get neither disproved nor verified, leaving everyone uncertain about what to believe.

But these misfits and missteps don’t have to be a downer. False alarms have encouraged researchers to dig deeper into their data. Delays have prompted pivots to new and fruitful lines of inquiry. Serendipitous sequels can solidify scientists’ understanding.

This collection highlights the twisting and turning nature of the scientific endeavor. It turns out science, rather than a march, is more akin to a tangled web of ideas and evidence that occasionally spits out something useful.


Twists and turns Milestones

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