Acceptance of New Scientific Ideas

A humorous expression that I have found more accurate than it should be is that there are four stages to the acceptance of any new scientific idea:

  1. We don’t believe you.

  2. It’s not important.

  3. We knew it all along.

  4. Yes, but we call it something else.

The progression through these stages can take decades, as in the case of moving from the “steady state” view of ecology to accepting the dynamic view.

          On the one hand, it is good to be cautious about new discoveries—they may be flawed. On the other hand, opportunities are lost (e.g., saving endangered species or preventing human hardships) when out-of-date theories are applied instead of new ones. Somehow, there needs to be a way of taking advantage of new scientific perspectives rapidly but with appropriate caution.

          More problematic is the acceptance of new ideas in the peripheral community of ENGO’s (Environmental Non-Government Organizations), policy makers, and other well-intended people who do not remain up-to-date on scientific findings. I have found these people publicly criticizing and trying to discredit scientists when it is these people who are simply out-of-date. People will need to act with the latest science to keep ahead of the many changes in the world. Somehow, we need to overcome the lag in scientific acceptance among these people.