Unlike rock stars, scientific ideas do not usually burn out. They fade away and outlast their usefulness.
This is what motivated a new survey of 166 scientists and intellectuals, asking which ideas ought to be “retired” from science, not quite because they are wrong, but because they are old and ineffective, like nature versus nurture, left-brain versus right-brain, or carbon footprints.
As with Newton’s law of gravity, which gave way to Einstein’s, many of these ideas were once on the cutting edge, but have since been revealed as incomplete, outdated and bland. So the survey, released Tuesday by U.S. literary agent John Brockman, founder of the web salon Edge.org, is like spring cleaning for science. The point is to clear away junk, but sometimes you rediscover something useful under the couch.