Title page for ETD etd-09222005-221824

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Hunt, James Christopher
Author's Email Address jhunt@pgcc.edu
URN etd-09222005-221824
Title "We Shall Have to Make the Best of It:" The Conversion of Dennis Sciama
Degree PhD
Department Science and Technology Studies
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Pitt, Joseph C. Committee Chair
Burian, Richard M. Committee Member
Hirsh, Richard F. Committee Member
Reeves, Barbara J. Committee Member
Weiss, Steven C. Committee Member
  • anomalies
  • steady state
  • Planck's Principle
  • aesthetics of science
  • theory choice
  • cosmology
Date of Defense 2005-09-09
Availability restricted
The cosmologist Dennis W. Sciama (1926-1999) was a long-standing advocate of the steady state model of the universe. This theory, originally proposed in 1948 by Hermann Bondi, Thomas Gold, and Fred Hoyle, suggested that the universe was eternal, and unchanging on the largest scales. Contrary to the popular image of a scientist as a dispassionate, unbiased investigator of nature, Sciama fervently hoped the steady state model to be correct. In addition, and also pace the stereotypical image of a scientist, Sciama was motivated significantly by "extrascientific" or aesthetic factors in his adoption of the model. Finally, Sciama, in a stark contrast to the naive falsificationism usually presented as a virtue of the "scientific method," went through a several-year period of attempting to "save" the model from hostile data.

However, Sciama abandoned the model in 1966 due to increasingly reliable data relating to the distribution of quasars. Thus the Sciama case also stands as a counterexample to irrationalist criticisms of science, according to which scientists can and will always find ways to hold on to their "pet" theories until they die, regardless of contradictory data. Sciama's conversion also sheds light on the iterative process that goes on as scientists localize and attempt to repair faults in their theories.

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