How often has science been wrong, and popular opinion right?
I ask particularly in light of evolution. Evolution is both a fact and a theory, as elegantly explained by the late American biologist Stephen Jay Gould: "Facts are the world's data. Theories are structures of ideas that explain and interpret facts. Facts don't go away when scientists debate rival theories to explain them. Einstein's theory of gravitation replaced Newton's in this century, but apples didn't suspend themselves in midair, pending the outcome. And humans evolved from ape-like ancestors whether they did so by Darwin's proposed mechanism or by some other yet to be discovered."
About eight years earlier, the influential geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky said, "Let me try to make crystal clear what is established beyond reasonable doubt, and what needs further study, about evolution. Evolution as a process that has always gone on in the history of the earth can be doubted only by those who are ignorant of the evidence or are resistant to evidence, owing to emotional blocks or to plain bigotry. By contrast, the mechanisms that bring evolution about certainly need study and clarification. There are no alternatives to evolution as history that can withstand critical examination. Yet we are constantly learning new and important facts about evolutionary mechanisms."
Finally, American scientist Neil A. Campbell (M.A. in zoology, Ph.D. in Plant Biology), whose textbook, "Biology" has been used by half a million high school and college students a year since 1987, wrote, "Today, nearly all biologists acknowledge that evolution is a fact. The term theory is no longer appropriate except when referring to the various models that attempt to explain *how* life evolves... it is important to understand that the current questions about how life evolves in no way implies any disagreement over the fact of evolution."
Despite the clear acceptance among biologists of evolution as fact -- it is a process that really happened and happens, still -- a large percentage of Americans do not "believe" in it. For various reasons, including confusion over the colloquial meaning of the word 'theory', misinformation campaigns by religious factions, ineffective classroom teaching, and simple incredulity, one of the most well-supported principles in science is accepted by just over half of Americans (a 2005 Gallup poll revealed that only 55% thought it was "definitely" or "probably" true).
Those who argue that it isn't true are certainly not debating the merits of one *theory* of evolution versus another; they are saying it's not a fact -- even that it's a lie or a fabrication! (Very little else in science is so disputed by the public, demonstrating the profound effect on learning by religion.)
This got me wondering... how often has scientific FACT been found wrong, while a large segment of the public got it right? Honestly, I can't think of a single time. I can think of plenty of cases where the *public* or the church was wrong, disputing a scientific finding, perhaps for centuries, until the science was finally accepted. And science is a self-correcting process which has generated countless *hypotheses* which turned out to be wrong. But can anyone cite a case where a principle so well-accepted by science as to be considered FACT was later shown -- by science -- to be wrong... and a good portion of the public knew better?