BBC Radio Four
AHEAD OF THEIR TIME
Exploring challenging new ideas and creative research
Wednesday 18 December at 9.00pm
Why are so many visionaries ignored?
This is a question which confronts fundamental issues about how
science and discovery operate.
Is science merely a consensus of what the scientific community
thinks it is?
If someone appears to be outside the mainstream, there is a natural
tendency to reject them. To accept their ideas might undermine your own
research, even make your career seem "pointless". So they are ignored,
vilified, dismissed or worse. But, by closing its doors, the establishment
often holds back progress that might have real benefits for the rest of us.
Some critics have argued for a complete reassessment of the
scientific process and declared that an anarchistic approach, "against method",
would deliver as much - if not more - discovery than the narrow mindedness we
Peter Evans explores this conundrum and asks modern innovators,
philosophers and scientists what lessons we can learn from such past errors of
He cites the historical example of Alfred Wegener, who first
suggested that continents moved around on the surface of the planet in 1915.
His ideas were dismissed as fantasy. His claim was largely based on the fact
that the landmass of the Earth looked like a huge jigsaw: Africa and South
America appear to fit together. It was only years later that other evidence
emerged to support his theory and the new science of plate tectonics was born.
Peter meets modern maverick Rupert Sheldrake who believes that
"forcefields" control nature and may be responsible for telepathy and instinct.
The editor of the science journal Nature called for his books to be burned, but
others are taking him very seriously. How should the establishment deal with
such radical thinkers?
Listen again to the programme