The Rejection of Continental Drift; Theory and Method in American Earth Science
In the early twentieth century, American earth scientists were united in their opposition to the new--and highly radical--notion of continental drift, even going so far as to label the theory "unscientific." Some fifty years later, however, continental drift was heralded as a major scientific breakthrough and today it is accepted as scientific fact. Why did American geologists reject so adamantly an idea that is now considered a cornerstone of the discipline? And why were their European colleagues receptive to it so much earlier? This book, based on extensive archival research on three continents, provides important new answers while giving the first detailed account of the American geological community in the first half of the century. Challenging previous historical work on this episode, Naomi Oreskes shows that continental drift was not rejected for the lack of a causal mechanism, but because it seemed to conflict with the basic standards of practice in American geology. This account provides a compelling look at how scientific ideas are made and unmade.
History of science at its best
By Patrick J. Roache - May 6, 2005
Naomi Oreskes has written a fascinating explanation of why the American geology community rejected, for half a century, what is the most important unifying principle in geology and arguably of science in the 20th century: continental drift. This book is brilliant storytelling, the history of science at its best.
Of course we all know the right answer. Continental drift seems so intuitively obvious now, the cornerstone of so many of our planet's processes, that it seems incomprehensible any intelligent person could have rejected Alfred Wegener's explanation, first published in 1912. The mystery deepens when we read that the concept was suggested earlier by an American geologist (Taylor) and that several highly respected American geologists did in fact accept it enthusiastically, as did the great majority of geologists in Europe, South Africa, and Australia.
Oreskes lays out for the non-specialist the history of related geological concepts as well as the drift... read more
Thorough and Thoughtful; 4.5 stars
By R. Albin - June 26, 2010
This thorough and well written books is a very interesting examination of the idea of continental drift in American geology. Oreskes is particularly interested in the question of why American geoscientists were particularly resistant to the idea of continental drift. This apparently narrow question leads to both an interesting history of continental drift as a theory and some interesting discussion of the what makes scientific theories successful. In terms of the general history of continental drift, there is a really interesting discussion of prior theories of general earth history which connects continental drift with prior general theories of earth history. The age of the earth, whether the earth was cooling or had a major internal heat source, and some major geophysical questions were all part of the important background of continental drift theory. The conventional view of continental drift history casts Alfred Wegener as a heroic outsider ignored by the geologic community... read more
It is the best of all.
By P. D. Gonzales "Gonzo IV" - October 19, 2009
I am keenly interested in the science history, and Professor Oreskes has created, in "The Rejection...," the most well-written science book--by far!--I have had the good fortune to encounter. It is remarkably thorough and extraordinarily lucid, yet seems lean in its presentments that made this reader wish for more information, for multiple volumes of this amazing story by this outstanding author. "The Rejection" teaches discovery, history, scientific factions in competition, and it traces as true-to-life drama on an international scale how science really does advance, confound, retreat, and clarify an expanding body of essential knowledge. I recommend this tremendous work to each who has similar interests, and to all who simply appreciate the best of truly outstanding writing.
I lent my copy away, and miss it like a close friend lost.
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