Scientific Tipping Points

September 19, 2018

For our blog post “Debunking Denial” we are inaugurating a new series called “Scientific Tipping Points.”  In this series, we will review the history of a number of various controversial issues in science.  In each of these issues, we will attempt to identify a “tipping point:” that is, a single incident, campaign, book or argument that turned the tide in a struggle between competing points of view.

As should be obvious, it is frequently difficult to identify a single “turning point” in what is often a long and protracted struggle to determine the truth and convince the public regarding a controversial issue.  In some of these issues, one might feel that a single tipping point does not exist – the eventual resolution of the issue may depend upon a series of events, none of which constitutes a tipping point.

As a result, the “tipping point” that we choose will frequently be accompanied by some uncertainty.  Even if we could prove that the tide of public opinion or scientific consensus followed chronologically from the event that we choose as a “tipping point,” this does not necessarily prove that the shift in consensus was caused by that event.  Nonetheless, the search for historical “tipping points” may provide some guidance regarding particularly effective approaches to resolve ongoing controversies in public appreciation of scientific results.

However, you do not have to agree with our choice of a tipping point to understand the scientific questions at stake in the issues that we choose.  The first entry in our series is “The Banning of DDT.”  We hope that you enjoy all of the entries in this series and we welcome your questions or comments on these posts.