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7 Incredible Scientific Innovations Held Back by Petty Feuds

#3.
The Darwin Versus Owen Flame War

What Their Feud Cost Us:

Public acceptance of the Theory of Evolution.

Charles Darwin may have been one of the most influential scientists in all of history, but the Theory of Evolution might have never existed in its current form without the contributions of Richard Owen. Some historians believe Owen actually beat Darwin to the theory, but he was too scared of religious persecution to publish it. He'd be kicking himself now if he wasn't so dead.


Though it appears he was always a zombie.

Owen was royally pissed when Darwin published the idea without crediting him--so pissed, that he put on a wig and fake moustache and started slandering Darwin to anyone who would listen. Under a false name, Owen wrote malicious reviews praising himself and calling Darwin a smelly monkey. Darwin retorted by calling Owens unscrupulous and narrow-minded, and every Sunday the newspapers would publish an insulting letter from one side to the other. Offensive cartoons were involved.


One of Owen's many contributions.

The Aftermath:

For the general public, seeing a couple of scientists engaging in a weepy schoolyard tiff over a public forum made an absolute farce out of a theory that was already very difficult for them to accept. The genius of Darwin and Owen was overshadowed by the fact that John Q. Layman saw these two grumpy old men bitching at each other and concluded that neither knew what the hell they were talking about.


An idea that would reappear in network sitcoms later.

The damage lasted for decades, and even now the strongest opposition to evolution is based on Owen's work.

Even more tragic was that Darwin's ongoing flame war distracted him so much that he never got around to completing what is known as his "Big Book." That's right, On The Origin of Species was only ever meant as a basic outline for an even more ambitious textbook that would have made Origin look like a crayon coloring book in comparison.


We colored it anyway.

Richard Owen, also an impressive guy who did a lot for the field of paleontology including personally coining the word "dinosaur," was ruined for his childish behavior and never did anything else significant except get himself kicked out of every major scientific community and become hated by evolutionists everywhere.

#2.
The Bone Wars

What Their Feud Cost Us:

Years of progress in paleontology, countless fossils.

Edward Drinker Cope and Othniel Charles Marsh started out as friends who shared an unhealthy fascination with dinosaur bones. However, like any good story about feuds, the two soon became bitter enemies who stopped at nothing to sabotage the other.

Since they were both digging in the same places, their teams were often stepping on each other's toes and there are at least two recorded occasions when violent fights broke out. Although we'd like to think that the two teams used dinosaur bones to club each other, in reality they just used rocks and dynamite. Quite often, dig sites were blown up or buried so that the other amateur paleontologist wouldn't steal some fossils.


"Eureka! Quick! Bury it."

However, their recklessness in the field was nothing compared to the poor work they did labeling the fossils once they brought them back. Between the two of them, they managed to "discover" the same fossil of Uintatherium about 20 times, naming it something different each time.

Very often they would put different skulls on the same skeletons and declare a new find, all in order to have a higher score than their competition.

Like good enemies, Cole and Marsh didn't limit their competition to dinosaur bones; they wrote countless articles trying to insult the other, often without any care about proper research. Several of these articles reached the general press, and paleontologists all over the world lowered their head in shame as the general public laughed at the ridiculous feud.

The Aftermath:

The greatest contributions that Cope and Marsh made to paleontology were ironically from the boxes of fossils that they simply didn't get around to sabotaging yet.


"Alright! My box of miscellaneous, unlabeled animal remains!"

In the meantime, the confusion caused by their Spy vs. Spy-like antics lasted for generations and even caused some paleontologists to quit in disgust. The entire field of study wound up with a bad reputation for comical Rocky and Bullwinkle behavior. It took decades to revise all their discoveries and put all the skeletons back together the way they were actually dug up. And there's no telling how many valuable fossils were destroyed by these guys launching bombs at each other from rival digs.

#1.
Plate Tectonics? Heresy!

What The Feud Cost Us:

The ability to predict earthquakes.

Alfred Wegener was probably the most badass meteorologist in all of history. He flew in hot air balloons in order to study the climate, and was the first person to spend a winter on the North Pole icecap, where he narrowly avoided death several times.


It took a lot more balls to be a meteorologist back in those days.

While he wasn't climbing glaciers, Wegener was the guy who discovered the then-revolutionary idea of continental drift and plate tectonics, an astounding theory that in one fell swoop explained the existence of mountains, earthquakes and volcanoes in a way that didn't rely upon the wrath of Zeus.


Zeus was not pleased.

One researcher commented, "If we are to believe [this] hypothesis, we must forget everything we have learned in the last 70 years and start all over again."

Presumably because they didn't want to start all over again, the American Association of Petroleum Geologists organized a whole symposium for the sole purpose of discrediting Wegener's ideas. Their attacks were fierce and basically consisted of calling him a bunch of names, instead of confronting his theory. Since most independent research supported Wegener's ideas, the association also published a series of papers aimed solely at attacking the continental drift theory and anyone who supported it. We wouldn't be surprised if Wegener woke up one morning with a horse's head on his pillow.


Geologists don't fuck around.

Unfortunately, Wegener never had the chance to respond to these papers because he died doing something badass. The official version of the story is that he froze during an expedition to the North Pole, but we prefer to believe he rode into the sunset on the back of a polar bear.


Wegener was last seen handing out gifts to those he judges as good.

The Aftermath:

Wegener's research is like the Rosetta Stone for earthquake prediction, and as a result we can now tell with 90 percent accuracy where earthquakes will occur (though we can't yet figure out when they will occur, obviously).

This wasn't much help during the 36 years it took for the scientific community to admit their mistake, and it took the invention of radio magnetism to make continental drift so obvious that they couldn't ignore it anymore.


Facts can be used to prove anything that's even remotely true.

That's 36 more years that we might have had to better prepare for 2012, people.

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