Superseded theories in science

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
The obsolete geocentric model places Earth at the centre of the Universe.

In science, a theory is superseded when a scientific consensus once widely accepted it, but current science considers it inadequate, incomplete, or debunked (i.e., wrong). Such labels do not cover protoscientific or fringe science theories that have never had broad support within the scientific community. Furthermore, superseded or obsolete theories exclude theories that were never widely accepted by the scientific community. Some theories that were only supported under specific political authorities, such as Lysenkoism, may also be described as obsolete or superseded.

Some theories have been discovered to be incomplete or not hold precisely, but remain in use as practical approximations. For example, all of Newtonian physics is satisfactory for most purposes, and so is widely used except at velocities that are a significant fraction of the speed of light. It is also simpler than relativistic mechanics and so is usually taught in schools. Another case is the belief that the Earth is approximately flat. For centuries, people have known that a flat Earth model produces errors in long-distance calculations, but considering local-scale areas as flat for the purposes of mapping and surveying does not introduce significant errors.

In some cases, a theory or idea is found baseless and is simply discarded. For example, the phlogiston theory was entirely replaced by the quite different concept of energy and related laws. In other cases an existing theory is replaced by a new theory that retains significant elements of the earlier theory; in these cases, the older theory is often still useful for many purposes, and may be more easily understood than the complete theory and lead to simpler calculations. An example of this is the use of Newtonian physics, which differs from the currently accepted relativistic physics by a factor that is negligibly small at velocities much lower than that of light.

Superseded theories[edit]

Scientific theories are testable and make falsifiable predictions.[1] Thus, it is a mark of good science if a discipline has a growing list of superseded theories, and conversely, a lack of superseded theories can indicate problems in following the use of the scientific method.




Astronomy and cosmology[edit]

Geography and climate[edit]

  • Climatic determinism
  • Topographic determinism
  • Moral geography
  • Cultural Acclimatization




Obsolete branches of enquiry[edit]

Theories now considered incomplete[edit]

These theories that are no longer considered the most complete representation of reality but remain useful in particular domains or under certain conditions. For some theories, a more complete model is known, but for practical use, the coarser approximation provides good results with much less calculation.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Popper, Karl (1963), Conjectures and Refutations, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, UK. Reprinted in Theodore Schick (ed., 2000), Readings in the Philosophy of Science, Mayfield Publishing Company, Mountain View, Calif.
  2. ^ Executive Board of the American Anthropological Association. "scientific racism". AAA Statement on Race. American Anthropological Association. Retrieved 15 December 2018.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  3. ^ "germline theory". Glossary. NCBI.
  4. ^ Lefers, Mark. "germ-line theory". Glossary. Northwestern University. Retrieved 28 February 2012.
  5. ^ Jensen, William B (1990). "Whatever Happened to the Nascent State?" (PDF). Bulletin for the History of Chemistry (5): 26–36. Retrieved 6 May 2017.
  6. ^ De Leon, Professor N. "Dalton's Atomic Theory". Chemistry 101 Class Notes. Indiana University Northwest. Retrieved 26 August 2013.
  7. ^ Cathcart, Michael (2009). The Water Dreamers: How Water and Silence Shaped Australia. Melbourne: Text Publishing. chapter 7. ISBN 9781921520648.
  8. ^ An inland sea, the Eromanga Sea, did exist there in the Mesozoic, but not during any period of human history
  9. ^ Crain, Stephen and Diane C. Lillo-Martin (1999). An Introduction to Linguistic Theory and Language Acquisition. Oxford: Blackwell.
  10. ^ Steven Novella, MD. "Psychomotor Patterning". Retrieved October 16, 2014.
  11. ^ Hassani, Sadri (2010). From Atoms to Galaxies: A Conceptual Physics Approach to Scientific Awareness (illustrated ed.). CRC Press. p. 387. ISBN 978-1-4398-8284-9. Extract of page 387
  12. ^ Casimir, H. B. G.; Brugt, Hendrik; Casimir, Gerhard (2010). Haphazard Reality: Half a Century of Science. Amsterdam University Press. p. 32. ISBN 978-90-8964-200-4. Extract of page 32
  13. ^ Aerodynamics: Selected Topics in the Light of Their Historical Development,book by Theodore Von Karman, 1954, Dover Publications, p10 and following pages Detailed discussion of Newton's sine-square law, invalidity in the general case and applicability at high supersonic speeds.
  14. ^ Orme, Anthony R. (2007). "The Rise and Fall of the Davisian Cycle of Erosion: Prelude, Fugue, Coda, and Sequel". Physical Geography. 28 (6): 474–506. doi:10.2747/0272-3646.28.6.474. S2CID 128907423.

External links[edit]