Science is bar none the best method of understanding nature, and understanding that our understanding might be wrong, is what makes science above all — if we really want to get to the truth, or to the nearest approximation. Scientists are merely human, too, fallible to make mistakes, and could at times be so certain about a pet theory as a sports fan. They sometimes make wagers hoping their ideas would top others, and spoilers, loose out. Here are seven times scientists made bets on science — and what happened next.
Related media: The Bet Stephen Hawking Made With Kip Thorne
#1. A Computer Scientist Bet Against A Chess Grandmaster
Back in 1968, computer scientist John McCarthy, whose famous for coining the term “artificial intelligence,” bet chess champion David Levy £500 (about £8,000, or $10,500 adjusting for inflation) that a computer would beat him at a chess game in 10 years time.
Levy went on to beat every computer that was invented, until he was finally beaten by a computer call Deep Thought — 21 years later. This was the first computer to beat a chess grandmaster. Still, the bet was within 10 years, so Levy won.
#2. Stephen Hawking Bet Against Black Holes
The theory of general relativity predicted that if a star’s mass is compressed into a small enough space, the laws of physics break down into what’s known as a singularity — that’s what we now know as a black hole. We hadn’t yet found any evidence of such an entity, until in 1975, when scientists discovered Cygnus X-1 — an object that did fit the bill.
Despite his later contribution and reputation on black holes, Stephen Hawking bet fellow black hole expert Kip Thorne, that Cygnus X-1 wasn’t a black hole. In 1990, all evidence suggested that it was, and Hawking conceded the bet.
#3. Stephen Hawking Bet Black Holes Could Destroy Information
Stephen Hawking again together with Kip Thorne (the one he loss the last bet to), bet against Thorne’s colleague John Preskill that black holes are capable of destroying everything that get near its event horizon — a phenomenon known as spaghetification.
Despite the fact that quantum mechanics and the first law of thermodynamics states that neither information, matter nor energy can be created nor destroyed. Hawking finally in 2004 announced that he had solved the so-called black hole information paradox, and conceded the bet again, and gave Preskill the wager: it was a baseball encyclopedia.
#4. Stephen Hawking Bet Against The Higgs Boson
Let’s be honest: it seems Hawking was a bit of an overconfident wager, and even certain of his last bet. The legendary theoretical physicist bet against physics professor Gordon Kane $100 that the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) wouldn’t find the Higgs Boson (also known as The God’s Particle) — the particle that gives mass to every other particle. He even explain that this bet was more about the universe being more interesting than it was about chances.
“I think it will be much more exciting if we don’t find the Higgs,” he told the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). “That will show something is wrong, and we need to think again.”
The Higgs Boson was later discovered in 2012, and he lost once again.
#5. Physicists Bet We’d Find A Companion To Every Quantum Particle
The Higgs Boson was the first time the LHC was in a bet, but it wasn’t it’s last. It has been in the center of many wagers on supersymmetry — the theory that every tiny particle that makes up our universe has an opposing partner. And in 2000, before the construction of the LHC, seven scientist bet that the LHC would discover at least one supersymmetric particle within 10 years.
Unfortunately, the LHC delayed in its construction, so the wager was extended to 2011, and there were 20 scientists at stake now. Finally in 2016, the deadline came to pass, and all who lost the bet bought “a bottle of cognac” for 24 winners; and in that same year, physicist Garret Lisi won $1,000 from Nobel Peace Prize winner Frank Wilczek.
#6. Solar Scientists Bet Against Human-Caused Global Warming
In 2005, solar physicists Galina Mashnich and Vladimir Bashkirtsev proposed that the sun was what’s making the planet warmer, and not human activity. Like what? They even made a forecast of reduced solar activity in the years to come — thus, global warming would cool down.
British climate scientist James Annan thought that’s too ridiculous, and bet anyone willing to challenge, $10,000 that the six years between 2012 and 2017 would be warmer than the years of 1998 and 2003. Eventually, Annan won the bet, but the physicists didn’t pay. Instead, Bashkirtsev placed another bet on the next eight years — though research says that proposition is no longer rational.
#7. SETI Scientist Bet That We’d Discover Alien Life
It would be really amazing to know for sure that we’re not alone in the universe. Talking of aliens, in a 2012 TEDx talk by Seth Shostak, an astronomer from the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), bet everyone — everyone — a cup of coffee that we’d discover aliens “in the next two dozen years.” That’s a lot of joe! And he’s keeping up with his end of the bargain, too. Four years later, he reaffirmed his promise to Futurism. So if in 2036, you don’t hear us talking about alien discovery, then Shostak owes you a fika.
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Written by: Nana Kwadwo, Sun, Aug 04, 2019.