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A Nobel Prize For Settled Science

Today Dan Shechtman, Philip Tobias Professor of Materials Science at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, an Associate of the US Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory, and Professor of Materials Science at Iowa State University, received a telephone call that he didn’t expect. It was from the Nobel Committee which had taken valuable time out from awarding its Peace Prize to assorted crackpots, incompetents, frauds, despots and genocidal killers to bestow upon Dr. Shechtman the 2011 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

Professor Schechtman’s Nobel Prize is a cautionary tale for the anthropogenic global warming scaremongers.

When Dr. Schectman made his discovery he was hounded out of his research position as a crackpot and derided by no lesser figure than Dr. Linus Pauling with the quip, “Danny Shechtman is talking nonsense. There is no such thing as quasicrystals, only quasi-scientists.”

To make a long story short, for the longest time the science of crystallography was settled.

Since the birth of modern crystallography in 1912, when x-rays were diffracted from a crystal for the first time, until that moment 70 years later, this branch of science had relied on an unchallengeable basic tenet: the atoms in crystalline solids – such as metals, rocks or ceramic materials – are arranged in periodic order. The periodic pattern repeats itself throughout the crystal, as in a chessboard or a honeycomb hexagon. The regularity of the pattern dictates another important quality: crystals are composed of “tiles” possessing rotational symmetry. In other words, if the basic form that makes up the crystal is rotated, it will look exactly the same. A chessboard can be rotated four times, a quarter of a rotation each time, and it will look the same; the hexagon of a honeycomb can be rotated six times.

Crystallographers determined that there were only five possible rotational symmetries: single symmetry (there is only one way to rotate the tile so it will look the same ), double (two stages of rotation ), triangular, quadruple and hexagonal. The scientists concluded that there can be no pentagonal symmetry in crystals, since they cannot create periodic order – as anyone who has tried to cover a bathroom floor with five-sided tiles knows. In countless observations over many decades, crystallographers indeed saw only geometric crystals, all of them possessing rotational symmetry.

Then in April 1982

Shechtman looked at the pattern of points created by the crystal of the alloy he had prepared in the lab from aluminum and manganese, he saw a structure that contradicted both rules: the 10 points that appeared through the microscope attested to the existence of pentagonal symmetry; and the immediate conclusion was that the crystal did not possess a periodic structure. Shechtman had discovered a new world, in which there are solid crystals, but the known order was gone.

As is more common in science than we would like to admit, Schechtman wasn’t hailed as an original thinker or feted for a new discovery. He was belittled and ostracized by his colleagues because he had found something new when the science was clearly settled.

Now this is not to say that every discovery is, in fact, a discovery. I was alive when cold fusion debuted  — the physics phenomenon not the software — and every day publications retract articles they have published, some of these articles are esoteric and/or irrelevant but some have wormed their way into medical practice.

The point is that science is never, by its very nature, “settled.” That’s why we have people called “scientists.” Sometimes those people, like Schechtman and like the people who are questioning Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, take aim at the very bedrock of some scientific disciplines. The scientific method, with its focus on controlled experimentation and reproducibility of results, offers the best insurance against fraud.

This remains the primary objection of those of us who find the APG theory underwhelming. (To cut through the underbrush here, conflating APG and climate change is simply an Alinskyite tactic. Everyone believes in climate change, no one is arguing the Ice Age didn’t exist.) The scientists involved are part of an incestuous little group practicing something barely one-step much more akin to witchcraft than science. They are secretive. They are politically driven. And when they are challenged, something that is at the core of the scientific method, they howl “the science is settled.”

They seek nothing less that the silencing of men who owe their allegiance to the truth and not to some political agenda. They are the ones who will receive the Nobel Peace Prize not the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

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