Science and scientific researches have been constantly developing throughout the centuries to get to the place where they are now. The transition from a superstitious and religious society to people of science was not an easy one. The doctors and scientists sometimes said and established theories that made no sense but were blindly accepted by everyone due to a lack of scientific knowledge. From horrible procedures like lobotomies to absurd concepts that are now deemed as pseudoscience, science has changed for good. Here are 10 absurd theories that scientists used to believe.
1. The field of neuroscience in the 18th and 19th centuries used to believe in a study called “phrenology.” Skull curvature was considered to reveal talents, personality traits, and mental abilities, like even criminal tendencies of individuals. It is considered pseudoscience today as there is no scientific evidence to back the theory.
Phrenology was a drastic change in the views of how personality traits can be read through the shape of the skull. They believed brain modules contained the attributes of wit, affection, and cleverness.
The study focused on proving that the brain is an organ of the mind, and an individual’s mental power can be studied by closely examining the different surfaces of their head. Early applications of this concept were performed on jail inmates and residence of lunatic asylums to find the traits for a criminal mindset and also for religious considerations.
Linguistic perception, comparative understanding, memory, benevolence, etc., were detected through examining the skull shape. It wasn’t until the 20th century that it phrenology was classified as pseudoscience. (1, 2)
2. Cigarettes were physician-approved and tested for good health during the 1930s. One-third of the U.S doctors only started supporting the fact that cigarettes may be harmful to health in the 1960s. Until the final decade of the 19th century, cigarettes were not even considered as a factor causing lung cancers around the world.
For a very long time, physicians were blindly trusted as the best health experts available. Anything they approved of was widely accepted among the people. This was true when concerns about using cigarettes were coming up, and cigarette companies used this against ordinary people. To put an end to consumer queries, physicians began appearing in advertisements about cigarettes.
For ages, doctors were not ready to render a final judgment on the epidemic that caused lots of lung cancer deaths between the 1940s to 1950s. It was only by the end of the 20th century that studies determined cigarette smoking to be a factor in producing lung cancer.
3. In the 1900s, scientists were unaware of the harmful effects of radiation. Radioactivity was considered good for health. and people were encouraged to drink radon water. People even used blankets containing uranium for curing arthritis. Even Marie Curie believed her illness had nothing to do with radioactivity.
Radiation was discovered in the early 19th century. The health risks that come with it were not immediately known. Radiation poisoning was repeatedly ignored in the past, and the absurd theories that circulated ended up taking many lives.
Marie Curie, throughout her life, used to carry around isotopes in her pocket and stored them in desk drawers without knowing that she was getting affected by radiation poisoning.
Scientists launched new products like tonics mixed with radioactive elements only to later find out that people were dying from radiation exposure. Many scientists and industrial workers have died due to radiation poisoning because the harmful effects of radiation were yet to be studied.
4. Until the 1980s, hysteria was considered to be a physical ailment that occurs only to people with a uterus. Ancient Greeks believed that wombs were capable of affecting the health of the whole body. The cures included herbs, punishment, and even purification with fire.
Up until the late 20th century, a woman’s mood swings were considered to be an ailment that had to be treated. Sigmund Freud and many well-known physicians at the time used to prescribe treatments for female hysteria.
As women’s anatomy was not properly studied during the time, the attending physicians came up with several absurd theories on why women have mood swings.
It was considered a sex-selective disorder, as the uterus was believed to cause illness to different parts of a women’s body.
From fevers to kleptomania, females were treated for several illnesses just because scientists believed having a uterus could bring in many health issues. In the 1880s, the French used to study female hysteria and believed it could cause internal injuries. (1, 2)
5. Issac Newton and many of the world’s greatest geniuses struggled for centuries with the science of alchemy. It was the process of turning base metal into gold. Back in the day, alchemy was not considered a misguided pseudoscience.
The best of the genius minds on Earth for centuries researched the concept of making gold from base metals. There are several proofs that men such as Issac Newton to Robert Boyle, and quite a lot of other world-famous scientists, spent a considerable amount of time trying to understand this concept, which led to other genius inventions that we use even now.
Even though alchemy was not backed with enough evidence and research, the concept led to a drastic development in modern chemistry.
In the age of no microscopes and no understanding of molecules and atoms, scientists believed that making some alterations can help grow minerals and manipulate base metals to turn into gold. It was clear from the texts they have left that this was what they were struggling with when discovering the fundamentals of physics and chemistry. (1, 2)
Also read: 10 Scientists Who Experimented on Themselves