French Academy

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Scientific group-think: the meteorite case

I'm still reading Michael Polanyi's "Personal Knowledge" - it's a deep book, with lots of interesting digressions. The latest that caught my attention was an off-hand remark he makes in his chapter on "Intellectual Passions" in the section on "The Tacit Component":

But there is, unfortunately, no rule by which to avoid the risk of occasionally disregarding [...] true evidence which conflicts (or seems to conflict) with the current teachings of science. During the eighteenth century the French Academy of Sciences stubbornly denied the evidence for the fall of meteorites, which seemed massively obvious to everybody else. Their opposition to the superstitious beliefs which a popular tradition attached to such heavenly intervention blinded them to the facts in question.

with a further footnote:

"Scientists in other countries were anxious not to be considered as backward compared with their famous colleagues in Paris", writes F. Paneth ("Science and Miracles", Durham University Journal, vol. 10 (1948-9), p. 49). "... many public museums threw away whatever they possessed of these precious meteorites; it happened in Germany, Denmark, Switzerland, Italy and Austria."

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