Unless you're Isaac Newton, scientific advances are usually the product of many minds working together in mutual, friendly collaboration. Unfortunately, even geniuses can get bogged down in petty arguments, and we would probably all be flying to work on rocket motorcycles by now if history's greatest geniuses hadn't spent their entire careers arguing over who had the biggest Bunsen burner.
7The Fight Over Who Discovered HIV
What Their Feud Cost Us:
Years of AIDS research.
AIDS was first discovered in 1981, prompting a race to find the virus that caused it. We'd like to be able to say that the appeal was in saving a lot of lives, but it probably also had a lot to do with the fact that whoever found it stood to become as famous and wealthy as a scientist can get, all walking around the lab in a pimp hat and fat gold chains.
Working around the clock, a French research team identified the HIV virus in 1983, but they weren't absolutely certain about their discovery, so they decided to send their samples to an American team for a second opinion. The Americans didn't return the phone call for a full year, after which point they declared that they had mysteriously discovered HIV.
America: Stealing Europe's diseases since 1776.
What followed were years of debates and arguments between the two research teams that continued until 1987, when Ronald Reagan and Jacques Chirac finally decided to step in and force the teams to share the credit for the discovery so that we could go on and actually start doing something about, you know, curing AIDS.
It would probably have been to our benefit to have been able to start treating HIV before it spread around the globe and became one of the worst pandemics ever known to mankind.
"What's that now?"
Besides slowing down work on a viable blood test and seriously slowing down research on a potential vaccine, the debate over who discovered HIV also resulted in confusion among the general population.
Not knowing who to believe, the public put the whole AIDS issue in the collective "too hard to understand" basket and went right on engaging in outrageous, risky sex with strangers until somebody definitively told them to stop. The issue was such a scientific clusterfuck that even today there are confused researchers out there still trying to find out what really causes AIDS, because the research surrounding HIV is all laced with subtle anti-French insults.
"This can't be a French sample. It's not surrendering enough."
6Edison Versus Tesla: War of the Currents
What Their Feud Cost Us:
Decades of progress in energy infrastructure.
In addition to his Hugh Jackman teleportation device, Nikola Tesla's most famous invention was alternating current (AC), which is the kind of electricity we all use now because of its high voltage and ability to be transported long distances.
Afterwards, he read a book by the glow of his motherfucking lightning machine.
Tesla's discoveries annoyed the other mad scientist of the time, Thomas Edison, because he'd already invested millions of dollars in designing and promoting a direct current (DC) system. DC is comparatively shitty because it's not only weaker, but also it can only be transported for short distances. Basically, DC can only give you enough power for a handful of street lamps, and even then you have to build another power plant on every single block.
Instead of congratulating Tesla for his discoveries or actually trying to improve his product, Edison did what any reasonable businessman would: He invested thousands of dollars in a widespread slander campaign against Tesla and alternating current.
"Anyone who uses AC loves old balls." - Thomas Edison
The basis of Edison's smear campaign was to convince the public that AC was simply going to kill everybody, because it was too powerful to ever be safely harnessed by mortal man. He then proved this by publicly electrocuting the shit out of every life form he could run faster than, including a goddamn elephant.
It took until around 1960 for the last of the DC networks to be replaced. Thomas Edison had a habit of getting his way about absolutely every issue he set his mind to, and if this meant that parts of the world had to suffer from a crappy power infrastructure for more than half a century, then so be it.
The more we think about it, Thomas Edison was a lot like Mr. Burns.
To add insult to injury, even though Tesla consistently proved himself better than Edison in almost every way imaginable, his rivalry against the man who also didn't really invent the light bulb ended up ruining him. After the "war of the currents," Tesla couldn't find someone to support his experiments fulltime and had a hard time funding his inventions.
Not even his band could raise the money.
Also it's commonly believed that Tesla would have received a Nobel Prize for his contributions to physics had Edison not sabotaged him at every turn.