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If you were to look at the world 100 years ago, it would look very different. Antibiotics hadn’t yet been developed, smoking was not linked to cancer, proteins were believed to be the method for transmitting genetic material instead of DNA… The list goes on and on. Science has a history of constantly adapting its most prevalent theories to adapt to experimental data. Which is good, buy and large. I mean, imagine a world where people still believed that smoking was good for you. But one of the consequences of this adaptability is the rapid obsoletion of information. In short, what you learn today, particularly in science class, could be proved wrong at any time.
This recently manifested itself when Cambridge scientists announced that they had observed DNA in a quadruple-helix in human cells. Ever since Watson, Crick, and Rosalind determined sixty years ago that DNA in cells was arranged in two complimentary strands in cells, the idea of a DNA double helix has remained generally unquestioned. The possibility of a quadruple helix of DNA has been explored by science, but it’s never been observed in cells until now. This so-called “G-complex” (four guanine molecules) is most often seen during DNA synthesis, implying that it has a role in DNA synthesis.
In his book, The Half-Life of Facts, Samuel Arabson argues that the half-life of truth is just 45 years. This means, that in 45 years, half of what you now consider to be fact will be proved untrue. Since the 1960s, overall scientific knowledge has grown by the steady rate of 4.7% per year. The growth of scientific knowledge has largely helped to dispel many of these delusions, but it has also inadvertently created some of its own.
In 2011, for example, a study in Nature reported that a team of researchers over 10 years was able to accurately reproduce the results of only six out of 53 landmark papers in cancer research. Statistician John Ioannides concludes, “For many current scientific fields, claimed research findings may often be simply accurate measures of the prevailing bias.”