10 Most Disturbing Scientific Discoveries


Ten Most Disturbing Scientific Discoveries

Scientists have come to some surprising conclusions about the world and our place in it. Are some things just better left unknown?

Science can be glorious; it can bring clarity to a chaotic world. But big scientific discoveries are by nature counterintuitive and sometimes shocking. Here are ten of the biggest threats to our peace of mind.

1. The Earth is not the center of the universe.

We’ve had more than 400 years to get used to the idea, but it’s still a little unsettling. Anyone can plainly see that the Sun and stars rise in the east, sweep across the sky and set in the west; the Earth feels stable and stationary. When Copernicus proposed that the Earth and other planets instead orbit the Sun,

… his contemporaries found his massive logical leap “patently absurd,” says Owen Gingerich of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. “It would take several generations to sink in. Very few scholars saw it as a real description of the universe.”

Galileo got more grief for the idea than Copernicus did.

He used a telescope to provide evidence for the heliocentric theory, and some of his contemporaries were so disturbed by what the new invention revealed—craters on a supposedly perfectly spherical moon, other moons circling Jupiter—that they refused to look through the device. More dangerous than defying common sense, though, was Galileo’s defiance of the Catholic Church. Scripture said that the Sun revolved around the Earth, and the Holy Office of the Inquisition found Galileo guilty of heresy for saying otherwise.

2. The microbes are gaining on us.

Antibiotics and vaccines have saved millions of lives; without these wonders of modern medicine, many of us would have died in childhood of polio, mumps or smallpox. But some microbes are evolving faster than we can find ways to fight them.

Electronmicrograph of influenza virus particles. (Courtesy of Linda M. Stannard, University of Cape Town)

The influenza virus mutates so quickly that last year’s vaccination is usually ineffective against this year’s bug. Hospitals are infested with antibiotic-resistant Staphylococcus bacteria that can turn a small cut into a limb- or life-threatening infection. And new diseases keep jumping from animals to humans—ebola from apes, SARS from masked palm civets, hantavirus from rodents, bird flu from birds, swine flu from swine. Even tuberculosis, the disease that killed Frederic Chopin and Henry David Thoreau, is making a comeback, in part because some strains of the bacterium have developed multi-drug resistance. Even in the 21st century, it’s quite possible to die of consumption.

3. There have been mass extinctions in the past, and we’re probably in one now.

Paleontologists have identified five points in Earth’s history when, for whatever reason (asteroid impact, volcanic eruptions and atmospheric changes are the main suspects), mass extinctions eliminated many or most species.

The concept of extinction took a while to sink in. Thomas Jefferson saw mastodon bones from Kentucky, for example, and concluded that the giant animals must still be living somewhere in the interior of the continent. He asked Lewis and Clark to keep an eye out for them.

Artwork copyright by Peter Arnold, Inc./Alamy

Today, according to many biologists, we’re in the midst of a sixth great extinction. Mastodons may have been some of the earliest victims. As humans moved from continent to continent, large animals that had thrived for millions of years began to disappear—mastodons in North America, giant kangaroos in Australia, dwarf elephants in Europe. Whatever the cause of this early wave of extinctions, humans are driving modern extinctions by hunting, destroying habitat, introducing invasive species and inadvertently spreading diseases.

4. Things that taste good are bad for you.

In 1948, the Framingham Heart Study enrolled more than 5,000 residents of Framingham, Massachusetts, to participate in a long-term study of risk factors for heart disease. (Very long term—the study is now enrolling the grandchildren of the original volunteers.) It and subsequent ambitious and painstaking epidemiological studies have shown that one’s risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, certain kinds of cancer and other health problems increases in a dose-dependent manner upon exposure to delicious food.

Subject related Article: The Sugar Conspiracy

Steak, salty French fries, eggs Benedict, triple-fudge brownies with whipped cream—turns out they’re killers. Sure, some tasty things are healthy—blueberries, snow peas, nuts and maybe even (oh, please) red wine. But on balance, human taste preferences evolved during times of scarcity, when it made sense for our hunter-gatherer ancestors to gorge on as much salt and fat and sugar as possible. In the age of Hostess pies and sedentary lifestyles, those cravings aren’t so adaptive.

5. E=mc²

Einstein’s famous equation is certainly one of the most brilliant and beautiful scientific discoveries—but it’s also one of the most disturbing. The power explained by the equation really rests in the c², or the speed of light (186,282 miles per second) times itself, which equals 34,700,983,524. When that’s your multiplier, you don’t need much mass—a smidgen of plutonium is plenty—to create enough energy to destroy a city.

6. Your mind is not your own.

Freud might have been wrong in the details, but one of his main ideas—that a lot of our behaviors and beliefs and emotions are driven by factors we are unaware of—turns out to be correct. If you’re in a happy, optimistic, ambitious mood, check the weather. Sunny days make people happier and more helpful. In a taste test, you’re likely to have a strong preference for the first sample you taste—even if all of the samples are identical. The more often you see a person or an object, the more you’ll like it. Mating decisions are based partly on smell. Our cognitive failings are legion: we take a few anecdotes and make incorrect generalizations, we misinterpret information to support our preconceptions, and we’re easily distracted or swayed by irrelevant details.

And what we think of as memories are merely stories we tell ourselves anew each time we recall an event. That’s true even for flashbulb memories, the ones that feel as though they’ve been burned into the brain:
Like millions of people, [neuroscientist Karim] Nader has vivid and emotional memories of the September 11, 2001, attacks and their aftermath. But as an expert on memory, and, in particular, on the malleability of memory, he knows better than to fully trust his recollections… As clear and detailed as these memories feel, psychologists find they are surprisingly inaccurate.

7. We’re all apes.

It’s kind of deflating, isn’t it? Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection can be inspiring: perhaps you’re awed by the vastness of geologic time or marvel at the variety of Earth’s creatures. The ability to appreciate and understand nature is just the sort of thing that is supposed to make us special, but instead it allowed us to realize that we’re merely a recent variation on the primate body plan. We may have a greater capacity for abstract thought than chimps do, but we’re weaker than gorillas, less agile in the treetops than orangutans and more ill-tempered than bonobos.

 Image Source >>

Charles Darwin started life as a creationist and only gradually came to realize the significance of the variation he observed in his travels aboard the Beagle. For the past 151 years, since On the Origin of Species was published, people have been arguing over evolution. Our ape ancestry conflicts with every culture’s creation myth and isn’t particularly intuitive, but everything we’ve learned since then—in biology, geology, genetics, paleontology, even chemistry and physics—supports his great insight.

8. Cultures throughout history and around the world have engaged in ritual human sacrifice.

Say you’re about to die and are packing some supplies for the afterlife. What to take? A couple of coins for the ferryman? Some flowers, maybe, or mementos of your loved ones? If you were an ancient Egyptian pharaoh, you’d have your servants slaughtered and buried adjacent to your tomb. Concubines were sacrificed in China to be eternal companions; certain Indian sects required human sacrifices. The Aztecs slaughtered tens of thousands of people to inaugurate the Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlan; after sacred Mayan ballgames, the losing team was sometimes sacrificed.


It’s hard to tell fact from fiction when it comes to this particularly gruesome custom. Ritual sacrifice is described in the Bible, Greek mythology and the Norse sagas, and the Romans accused many of the people they conquered of engaging in ritual sacrifice, but the evidence was thin. A recent accumulation of archaeological findings from around the world shows that it was surprisingly common for people to ritually kill—and sometimes eat—other people.

9. We’ve already changed the climate for the rest of this century.

The mechanics of climate change aren’t that complex: we burn fossil fuels; a byproduct of that burning is carbon dioxide; it enters the atmosphere and traps heat, warming the surface of the planet. The consequences are already apparent: glaciers are melting faster than ever, flowers are blooming earlier (just ask Henry David Thoreau), and plants and animals are moving to more extreme latitudes and altitudes to keep cool.

Even more disturbing is the fact that carbon dioxide lingers in the atmosphere for hundreds of years. We have just begun to see the effects of human-induced climate change, and the predictions for what’s to come range from dire to catastrophic.

Global Warming – It exists, but not due to greenhouse gases.

10. The universe is made of stuff we can barely begin to imagine.

Everything you probably think of when you think of the universe—planets, stars, galaxies, black holes, dust—makes up just 4 percent of whatever is out there. The rest comes in two flavors of “dark,” or unknown stuff: dark matter, at 23 percent of the universe, and dark energy, at a whopping 73 percent:

Scientists have some ideas about what dark matter might be—exotic and still hypothetical particles—but they have hardly a clue about dark energy. … University of Chicago cosmologist Michael S. Turner ranks dark energy as “the most profound mystery in all of science.”

Dark Matter Visualization. Image Source >>

The effort to solve it has mobilized a generation of astronomers in a rethinking of physics and cosmology to rival and perhaps surpass the revolution Galileo inaugurated on an autumn evening in Padua. … [Dark energy] has inspired us to ask, as if for the first time: What is this cosmos we call home?

But astronomers do know that, thanks to these dark parts, the universe is expanding. And not only expanding, but expanding faster and faster. Ultimately, everything in the universe will drift farther and farther apart until the universe is uniformly cold and desolate. The world will end in a whimper.

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Article Source: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/The-Ten-Most-Disturbing-Scientific-Discoveries.html#ixzz23pQQqjjt

Illustrations selected by W-M Editor


  1. Jorge says

    Articles are written on certain subjects that may readily not be aware in normal circumstances.

    4. Eating red meat is being or becomeing an animal. Monkeys, gorillas, etc. are vegetarians and we are supposed to be members of that same “species”. So what the hell is everybody eating meat in this world? Undernourishment or trying to increase hypertension, reumatism, cancer, and other illnesses caused by eating meat, and not forgeting sweet Mad Cow Disease and Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease. Like to be mad, man?

    • John Fahlsing says

      Gorillas, chimps even smaller primates DO eat meat. Its proven, it filmed and yes it still goes on. SO get me a hamburger and shut the heck up!

  2. says

    ::: NEWSFLASH :::

    I didn’t think Thomas Jefferson was that dumb. I now sort of believe what I’ve heard, a single daily NY newspaper has more information in it than a person knew in their entire life span.

    #8, guy on bottom right, who ever drew him decided not to have him sitting on both of his legs. They didn’t bother filling in the other leg, and created an extra leg that is standing on the platform. The leg is transparent. Maybe this means that his leg is a ghost? (Just kidding, do not look more into that).

    Maybe a few things to add to this site: The fact that the secret service driver didn’t shoot Kennedy, that William Cooper was wrong. Proof that William Cooper was indeed wrong. Not just a blurry question in your mind. Interesting. Take the HD video, and zoom in when the front passenger thrusts forward. I had to do it myself to find out, against all the theories. The hair looks like a gun in the light reflection, and the sidewalk gutter looks like an arm. All at the same time, oh no, THE DRIVER DID IT! 😐

    Black holes and The Speed of Light.

    Now, I am not a scientist, but isn’t it SO that “nothing exceeds the speed of light”.
    I have not heard one single time someone saying that the theory is false, or questioning it. Only that “Einstein said”. I have heard however that “Black Holes” have so much pull that “LIGHT IT’S SELF CAN NOT ESCAPE IT”. If this were true, then light would NOT be the fastest thing out there. It’s one big loop that is getting on my nerves, and everyone is naturally turning a blind eye, or more probable, no one seems to care to think about something so dumb, and it is always being displayed on TV.

    Please choose one, stop looking like idiots. I guess just like “God”, the unexplainable deserves much attention once again.

    Well, the “Age” of the universe keeps rising. Once it was 13 Billion years old, then it was 14 Billion years old. Hubble had a little issue a while back, wouldn’t it be surprising if Dark matter distorting light was actually imperfections in the mirror being used. Not so flat surface hu? I see the same weirdness in 200+ year old glass windows. The conclusion is set that it is dark matter because hmm, oh, the objects that are blurry are so far away, so there is no reason to believe it’s a flaw in the telescope being used, because you would have to travel so far to the left or right, up or down, to not see a light distortion. I’d like to see multiple telescopes look at the same exact areas in space to make a comparison. Haven’t seen that happen yet.

    The 2012 “End of the World” scare.

    I see this theory dying down a bit. It will be interesting seeing people who believed it was true for many years saying “Ooooh, that was just a bogus thing spread all over the place. I knew it was dumb”. Please. Everyone was scared shitless and everyone still is. I was, until I researched more, finally.

    The Mayan Calendar consists of various leaps of years with names attached to them. There are 9 different names for the Long Count Period, ranging from 1 day (Kin) to 23,040,000,000 days (1 Alautun) (63,123,288 years. 63 million, 123 thousand, and 288 years) It just so happens that people are scared of the number “13”. It just so happens that people believe in coincidence more than they should.

    To make it short, there have been 12 of these huge leaps in years (200 years or so) that are called “Kaulapa poo poo” or something (Referring to the Mayan yearly cycle names). 12 of them. It just so happens that the 13th one starts on December 21st 2012, and guess what year it becomes, oh no I’m scared, 9 days later.. Hmm.. 2013 maybe? So just by sheer coincidence, the 13th Kualapa poopoo lands just as the year 2013 starts. 12th in 2012, 13th in 2013 and also 2012.

    This leap thing for the 12th one has been around for a few hundred years. Before that it was the 11th one, 10th, 9th, 8th, ect. The one thing to keep in mind, is that there are 20 OF THEM. NOT 13, NOT 12. 20. There are 7 more 200 year Kualapa poo poo’s, then it’s called something else. Look on Wikipedia and read about “The Mayan Calendar” and see for yourself. Look at the “Table of Long Count units”.

    I am sure we will see more end of the world prophesies. I am 1 that will call bullshit for now on. Do the math, and it adds up (I’m not sure if it’s 200 year increments or what I forgot).

  3. Jason apoyan says

    A scientific aware produces what is out there be carefull with knowledge truth is stranger than fiction hope the next class is more favourable to the world.

  4. Jason apoyan says

    A scientific discovery is trying to figure out why the producers would let these subjects here do you want something is this a game what has been given is a guided structure for knowledge to manifest so why this downgrade towards a knowledge class as we are here to create not confuse dont be an error.

  5. David Endsley says

    Here are my observations regarding this article.

    1. The Earth is not the center of the universe: Not sure how the Earth not being the center of the universe disturbs a person’s peace of mind. Most folks are too busy with daily life to concerned about it.

    2. The microbes are gaining on us: All the anitbiotics and vaccines are the problem. Have they saved lives? In some cases. But there is true scientific evidence that if we just gave our bodies the proper nutrients it needs, it would effectivly combat most infections and diseases. There is even a good body of evidence to support that mega doses of Vitamin C actually cures things like cancer.

    3. There have been mass extinctions in the past, and we’re probably in one now: Yes, there have been mass extinctions in the past. Not sure how that impacts daily life or why it would disturb one’s peace of mind.

    4. Things that taste good are bad for you: I guess it depends on what you like. Raw carrots taste good. And they are healthy for you, too. OUr tastes have been developed by all the processed junk we are given on a daily basis. If a person were to get off all that for awhile, they would develop a taste for, and really enjoy, raw fruits and vegatables. I do disagree about the steak. A steak tastes good and, if eaten in moderation, is good for you as well. But moderation is the key. A few ounces in a meal…not a pound.

    5. E=mc²: Einstein’s equation doesn’t disturb my peace of mind. It’s all the idiot’s in the position to use nuclear weapons that is disturbing.

    6. Your mind is not your own: Again, not sure how this disturbs my peace of mind. Come to think of it, if my mind is not my own, then how can my mind be disturbed? I agree that we are influenced by factors that we are not aware of. Some of those come from our environment, some come from other people, and some come from elsewhere. However, we all have the ability to choose our responses. That is what makes us different from the animals. As for the memory thing, I’m not surprised. No human being is perfect and no human being as a perfect memory. Not sure how that is distrubing to my peace of mind.

    7. We’re all apes: This has never been proven scientifically. What Charles Darwin observed were changes within a kind of animal. He never witnessed (nor has anyone else) one type of animal (such as a reptile) become another kind of animal (such as a mammal or bird). True science can only be done by observation. Since there wasn’t any humans around to observe the beginning, then we can only make certain assumptions. And those assumptions are greatly influenced by our beliefs.

    8. Cultures throughout history and around the world have engaged in ritual human sacrifice: Yep, this if very true. In fact, it is still going on today. Just not as prevalent. But, what can you expect when people worship demons? Man is not instrinsically good. Man’s heart always tends towards evil.

    9. We’ve already changed the climate for the rest of this century: This is a bunch of hogwash. More polluntants are put into the air by single volcanoe than all of what mankind has done since the beginning of the industrial age. The biggest driver of our climate is the sun. And it has been proven that the sun’s output of energy has been increasing for many decades. This is seen, not only on Earth, but on all the other planets in our solar system as well. What is disturbing to my peace of mind is that the idea that humans are responsible for the climate change and the government needs to tax us more and put more restrictions on us in order to fix it. Again…hogwash.

    10. The universe is made of stuff we can barely begin to imagine: This statement is so true. But hardly something that would disturb one’s peace of mind. The fact is, we barely understand anything about the universe. New discoveries are constantly being made. And these discoveries greatly impact various ideas that have been around for quite some time. For example: we’ve been told that the coelacanth was extinct millions of years ago. Then, in the mid-20th century, it was discovered that they are still around. We have barely begun to scratch the surface of what is contained in our universe. Nothing disturbing about that. On the contrary, it makes things a bit exciting. Oh, but your article is talking about “dark matter”. Hmmm…what’s disturbing about that? Not that they have proven by observation (again, true science) that it actually exists. So far, “dark matter” only exists in the minds of those who are trying to prove their theories to be facts.

    Well, that’s my observation of this article. Not sure why it was written or what the point of it is. I guess it’s just one person’s opinion on the state of things. Now you know my opinion. Those two opinions together plus about $5.00 will buy you cup of coffee.

      • Steve Winter says

        And I could not disagree more. Mr. Endsley is misinformed on many topics and appears to have little understanding of what science is or how it’s conducted. Everyone is allowed to have an opinion, but opinions have zero intellectual value when stacked against carefully and patiently accrued data. An incorrect opinion remains incorrect no matter how many people cling to it.


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