Being wrong can be a great thing

Being wrong can be a great thing

July 9th, 2013 in Opinion Free Press

I was wrong and so were you. We all were. The Brontosaurus never existed.

The huge dinosaur with the peculiarly small head has been an important part of popular culture for well over a century. The so-called "thunder lizard" was a key component of Fred Flintstone's diet, and a big green Brontosaurus remains on Sinclair gas station billboards. Brontosauruses are still featured on toys and T-shirts, too. There are even a few alleged Brontosaurus bones on display.

But scientists have long agreed that the Brontosaurus was nothing more than a mistake made by a paleontologist who, in a rush to claim he found a new breed of dinosaur, accidentally mistook a fossilized skeleton of the already-discovered Apatosaurus for something new.

As far back as 1903 there was wide agreement in the scientific community that Brontosaurus never lived. By 1979, reputable paleontologists had put the Brontosaurus debacle behind them and worked to inform the media and the public that the Brontosaurus, sadly, never was.

Now, 34 years since the last scientists gave up on the existence of the Brontosaurus, most people are beginning to accept that the very creature many of us think of when we picture a dinosaur in our minds didn't actually roam the Earth.

In 2010, another of the most beloved dinosaurs, the Triceratops, was declared fictional by Montana State University paleontologists. The three-horned dinosaur often pictured battling Tyrannosaurus rex in textbooks and museum exhibits was declared nothing more than a juvenile form of the Torosaurus, a similar three-horned dinosaur.

The very next year, after further discussion and discovery, the Triceratops was back. Scientists agreed that Triceratops and the Torosaurus were different types of dinosaurs, after all.

The mislabeling of the Brontosaurus and the flip-flopping about the Triceratops may seem like a failure on the part of science - a reason not to trust scientists' research. In reality, the ability for the scientific community to discover and admit mistakes, and change its mind, is the best reason of all to embrace science.

Think how much better off our society would be if we were more willing to reassess our long-held beliefs from time to time.

Facts often prove our beliefs incorrect. For example, we now know that it's not necessary to wait 20 minutes after lunch before going swimming, chocolate does not cause acne and cracking your fingers won't lead to arthritis. But how many of us still believe these old wives' tales even though they're not true?

Much to the detriment of society, Americans also cling to a number of other outmoded notions that research has proven untrue. For example, even though science has proven that vaccines have never caused autism, many people refuse to have their children vaccinated. As a result, many potentially deadly diseases that were nearly eradicated are making a strong comeback.

Numbers prove time and time again that the best way to help poor people is by getting them out of poverty through creating more jobs rather than giving away more in welfare handouts. Still, the government continues to levy hefty taxes on job creators to fund welfare schemes. Since high taxes reduce the number of jobs that entrepreneurs are able to produce, the government's attempt to help poor people only creates more of them.

Many Americans believe that tax cuts decrease government revenues. The truth is that, in almost every case, tax cuts grow the size of the economy so much that, even though people are paying lower tax rates, more people are being taxed on greater earnings, funneling more money into government coffers.

All three of these fallacies - vaccines cause autism, welfare benefits the poor and tax cuts diminish government revenues - are all based on bad science that has since been debunked. Still, many people are harmed because people are unwilling to consider new facts.

In order to be more informed citizens, we should all act like scientists: We should be hungry to learn, willing to challenge our views and, most of all, remain open to accepting new information, even when it goes against what we originally believed.

As the Spanish proverb says, "A wise man changes his mind, a fool never will."