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Why were most of Wegener's peers not receptive to his findings?
Question Date: 2017-11-16
Answer 1:

Let's place ourselves back in time to when Wegener first proposed continental drift theory, in 1912. No one could imagine that his theory was true because it seemed incredulous that continents moved! We know today that they move very slowly, between 1-2 inches per year. Over a million years that is a lot of movement, but imagine pointing to polar ice caps and telling people that this land used to be near the equator and tropical plants used to grow there!

Scientific knowledge grows when one scientist proposes new idea, tells other scientists about it, other scientists try it out, criticize it, test the theory, change it a little, and test it again.

It was wary to imagine the continents moving and other scientists needed more evidence before believing his idea. However, in the years after Wegener first put out the idea, other scientific discoveries happened that supported his idea. Today it is very easy to prove continental drift happens because we can measure it. We simply track it with GPS. Imagine how much easier it would've been to convince others if Wegener had had GPS technology!


Answer 2:

This is not a simple question, but it is an extremely important question to ask and answer. From what I've read, there were two main reasons that contributed to this problem. One reason was that his ideas were not communicated well enough. He was German, but the prevailing language of science was English, and he did not seem to be fluent enough in English to personally translate his own ideas to English. There was also a translation of his work done by someone else that was not translated well enough and therefore got quite a bit of negative attention. So here, we as scientists in the modern era can learn from his experience so that we understand just how important communication is, and work on it ourselves! We have to keep in mind that no matter how good ideas and results are, if we cannot make ourselves understood, the ideas, results, and their important will all be lost.

The other reason seemed to be that his peers did not really want to look at his evidence from a new perspective. Here, what I mean by "new perspective" is a way of looking at things that doesn't agree with how they had always looked at things. This is not very different in the kind of rejection Galileo suffered from the Roman Catholic Church for promoting heliocentrism (the sun is the center of the solar system with the earth revolving around the sun), just different in degree. In both cases, the opposition did not necessarily have better evidence for their way of looking at something, but they held onto their old way anyway. In both cases, the opposition also had many more people. This is also something we modern scientists must ask ourselves as we do our research: Am I rejecting an idea from someone else just because it's new? Am I rejecting someone else's idea just because I've done research for more years than this person? Am I rejecting someone else's idea because it has been rejected by an authority figure? These should never be the types of reasons that I'm rejecting something new - in fact, rejection should come after careful consideration from many angles. Otherwise, science cannot advance; humanity cannot advance.

We see that both Galileo and Dr. Wegener suffered from rejection with no basis, so we must check ourselves not to be the ones who cause suffering of this kind.


Answer 3:

A Today we know that Wegener's theory of continental drift and the science around plate tectonics are well supported. But in the early 1900's, the scientific community had long held the idea that the positions of continents and oceans were permanent. If correct, Wegener's theory meant unknown and powerful forces were at work below Earth's crust. That was a big idea at the time and challenging for the scientific institution to accept , so they tore holes in Wegener's theory and mocked his evidence and credibility. It is important to remember that Wegener was a meteorologist and astronomer, not a geologist, and some scientists felt he had no authority in the field. Second, Wegener's theory initially did not include a mechanism for continental drift, which critiques used to undermine the theory. It wasn't until WWII that Wegener's theory gained traction with evidence for sea floor spreading.


Answer 4:

There are two main reasons:
(1) Wegener's explanation for why continents moved did not make sense physically (indeed, it was wrong), and
(2) there wasn't a good way to test continental drift at the time that he proposed it , so scientists at the time ignored it in favor of theories that they could test. It wasn't until the 1960s that ocean floor surveys discovered hard evidence of continental drift. Even so, it wasn't as Wegener described it, with all of the continents spinning off of the south pole - Pangaea was largely a north-south continent, which Wegener had wrong.


Answer 5:

New ideas are usually hard to accept. Wouldn't you think Wegener was crazy, to say that our huge continents have been moving?

Tanya Atwater is a famous scientist at the University of California at Santa Barbara who worked on Plate Techtonics.

Here's her home page:
Atwater

Here's her article in Wikipedia:
Tanya Atwater


Answer 6:

There are several reasons why Wegener's peers were not receptive to his findings. One reason was that Wegener didn't have a good way to move the continents. He thought that the moon's tidal forces and the pull towards the equator due to the spinning of the earth could move continents. He also thought that the lighter continents floated on the mantle and could cut through the crust that makes up the oceans.

Some scientists disagreed with Wegener for non-scientific reasons. One reason was that Wegener was a German at a time when many scientists lived in countries which were fighting Germany during World War I or II. He also wasn't originally a geologist but had focused more on meteorology.

Scientists often rejected Wegener's ideas based on location and history. Geologists focused on the areas they were from and on previous scientists from their own countries. So North American geologists had believed that continents were fixed in their spots, which fit fairly well with what they knew about North American geology. Many South African geologists, for instance, had more respect for Wegener's ideas because they explained fossils and mountain ranges which were also in South America.



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