Who is Responsible for Public Ideas?

Highlights by me.

What’s interesting about an idea is that once it is presented to the world, it is no longer ‘owned’ by a single person, even the one who conceived of it.

One might think that the person who fleshed out a hypothesis would be the expert on it, but that’s not necessarily the case. For example, Lynn Margulis was a major champion for the endosymbiotic origins of mitochondria and chloroplasts, but of the actual scientific work required to demonstrate the connection, she contributed relatively little.

One might think that the person who thought of an idea would be best for deciding whether it remains correct, but again, that’s not necessarily the case. With Margulis, we know she saw ‘symbiosis’ everywhere, even in cases where it clearly wasn’t a major factor - It was more a personal obsession than science. The same with Peter Duesberg and his drug-abuse model as the cause of AIDS, Linus Pauling’s odd fascination with vitamin-C, Fred Hoyle’s Steady-state theory of the universe, and Hoyle’s & Chandra Wickramasinghe’s Panspermia theory. Even the Thorne, Hawking & Preskill bet about information loss into black holes remains somewhat unresolved. In all these cases, the general scientific community ultimately decides.

I am certain that knowledgeable people and communities can assess hypotheses without direct input from their originators. I also suspect one can assess whether a hypothesis remains in vogue by the amount it remains promoted. “IC” had a splash of attention at one time but that seems to have faded.


That might be true in many cases but when engaging the public it’s different. When we put arguments into the public we are obligated to correct them so people are not misled by appealing to our authority.

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The difference between theory and fact is that in theory, theory and fact are the same but in fact, they’re often different. Hoyle never retracted. Duesberg hasn’t so far. Margulis was stubborn to the end. From their perspective, they weren’t wrong, so why should they ‘correct’ an error they didn’t perceive? That said, there are also many, many cases where people recognized their mistakes and issued retractions for their previous thoughts.

I predict the worst case scenario for IC. ICness was not pushed as a perfect delimiter between natural mechanisms and “whatever else”. That is, ‘simple’ IC systems probably could arise naturally. However, it was asserted that larger, more complicated IC systems couldn’t. And that’s the problem: A continuum that results in ambiguity about where the cut-off should be. One can always revise the cut-off in such as way as to leave some system untestable and thus leave the hypothesis ‘un-disproven’.