Four Revolutions in the Earth Sciences: From Heresy to Truth

Hardcover | December 23, 2014

byJames Lawrence Powell

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Over the course of the twentieth century, scientists came to accept four counterintuitive yet fundamental facts about the Earth: deep time, continental drift, meteorite impact, and global warming. When first suggested, each proposition violated scientific orthodoxy and was quickly denounced as scientific-and sometimes religious-heresy. Nevertheless, after decades of rejection, scientists came to accept each theory.

The stories behind these four discoveries reflect more than the fascinating push and pull of scientific work. They reveal the provocative nature of science and how it raises profound and sometimes uncomfortable truths as it advances. For example, counter to common sense, the Earth and the solar system are older than all of human existence; the interactions among the moving plates and the continents they carry account for nearly all of the Earth's surface features; and nearly every important feature of our solar system results from the chance collision of objects in space. Most surprising of all, we humans have altered the climate of an entire planet and now threaten the future of civilization. This absorbing scientific history is the only book to describe the evolution of these four ideas from heresy to truth, showing how science works in practice and how it inevitably corrects the mistakes of its practitioners. Scientists can be wrong, but they do not stay wrong. In the process, astonishing ideas are born, tested, and over time take root.

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From the Publisher

Over the course of the twentieth century, scientists came to accept four counterintuitive yet fundamental facts about the Earth: deep time, continental drift, meteorite impact, and global warming. When first suggested, each proposition violated scientific orthodoxy and was quickly denounced as scientific-and sometimes religious-heresy...

James Lawrence Powell serves as executive director of the National Physical Science Consortium, a partnership among government agencies and laboratories, industry, and higher education dedicated to increasing the number of American citizens with graduate degrees in the physical sciences and related engineering fields, emphasizing recr...

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Format:HardcoverDimensions:384 pages, 9 × 6 × 0.98 inPublished:December 23, 2014Publisher:Columbia University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0231164483

ISBN - 13:9780231164481

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Read an excerpt from the chapter, "Deep Time":

Table of Contents

List of IllustrationsPrefaceIntroductionPart I. Deep TimeThe Abyss of TimeA Great Mistake Has Been MadeThe Bank of TimeAccount OverdrawnStrange RaysAn Hourglass of Great PrecisionGeochronologyDuck SoupPart II. Continental Drift and Plate TectonicsAn Idea to PursueA Very Trusting ManDead on ArrivalGeologists Unite Against HeresyContinental Drift: Not Even WrongPostwar SurprisesWandering Poles or Drifting Continents?The Final ConfrontationSpreading SeafloorsHypotHESSesThe Discovery of the CenturyAll This RubbishPart III. Meteorite ImpactA Trivial ProcessTo Hunt a StarThe Moon's FaceRosetta StoneTo a Rocky MoonWorlds in CollisionDinosaur KillerOut with a BangCosmic PinballPart IV. Global WarmingOrigins of the CO2 TheoryTedious Calculations of Extraordinary InterestDestructive CriticismA Unique Experiment of Planetary DimensionsGiant BrainsWarming Is UnequivocalFrom Heresy to TruthAcknowledgmentsNotesRecommended ReadingBibliographyIndex

Editorial Reviews

This is first-rate story telling, with heroes, villians, and the often-unexpected discoveries that created revolutions in our concept of the planet.