Superseded theories in science

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The obsolete geocentric model places Earth at the centre of the Universe.

This list catalogs well-accepted theories in science and pre-scientific natural philosophy and natural history which have since been superseded by scientific theories. Many discarded explanations were once supported by a scientific consensus, but replaced after more empirical information became available that identified flaws and prompted new theories which better explain the available data. Pre-modern explanations originated before the scientific method, with varying degrees of empirical support.

Some theories are discarded in their entirety, such as the replacement of the phlogiston theory by energy and thermodynamics. Some theories known to be incomplete or in some ways incorrect are still used. For example, Newtonian classical mechanics is accurate enough for practical calculations at everyday distances and velocities, and it is still taught in schools. The more complicated relativistic mechanics must be used for long distances and velocities nearing the speed of light, and quantum mechanics for very small distances and objects.

Some aspects of discarded theories are reused in modern explanations. For example, miasma theory proposed that all diseases were transmitted by "bad air". The modern germ theory of disease has found that diseases are caused by microorganisms, which can be transmitted by a variety of routes, including touching a contaminated object, blood, and contaminated water. Malaria was discovered to be a mosquito-borne disease, explaining why avoiding the "bad air" near swamps prevented it. Increasing ventilation of fresh air, one of the remedies proposed by miasma theory, does remain useful in some circumstances to expel germs spread by airborne transmission, such as SARS-CoV-2.[1]

Some theories originate in, or are perpetuated by, pseudoscience, which claims to be both scientific and factual, but fails to follow the scientific method. Scientific theories are testable and make falsifiable predictions.[2] Thus, it can be a mark of good science if a discipline has a growing list of superseded theories, and conversely, a lack of superseded theories can indicate problems in following the use of the scientific method. Fringe science includes theories that are not currently supported by a consensus in the mainstream scientific community, either because they never had sufficient empirical support, because they were previously mainstream but later disproven, or because they are preliminary theories also known as protoscience which go on to become mainstream after empirical confirmation. Some theories, such as Lysenkoism, race science or female hysteria have been generated for political rather than empirical reasons and promoted by force.

Discarded theories[edit]




Astronomy and cosmology[edit]

Geography and climate[edit]




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. ^ Antipodes and antichthones do literally exist as opposite points on the Earth and people who live on and around them, but do not have any of the unique properties ascribed to them by ancient or medieval authors.


  1. ^ Melanie A. Kiechle (April 21, 2021). "Revisiting a 19th century medical idea could help address covid-19". Washington Post.
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ "Spontaneous generation | Examples & Experiments | Britannica".
  4. ^ Skinner, Michael K. (2015). "Environmental Epigenetics and a Unified Theory of the Molecular Aspects of Evolution: A Neo-Lamarckian Concept that Facilitates Neo-Darwinian Evolution". Genome Biology and Evolution. 7 (5): 1296–1302. doi:10.1093/gbe/evv073. PMC 4453068. PMID 25917417.
  5. ^ Williams, Elizabeth Ann (2003). A Cultural History of Medical Vitalism in Enlightenment Montpellier. Ashgate. p. 4. ISBN 978-0-7546-0881-3.
  6. ^ Bechtel, William; Williamson, Robert C. (1998). "Vitalism". In E. Craig (ed.). Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Routledge.
  7. ^ Havelock Ellis, Studies in the Psychology of Sex, vol. 5 p. 218
  8. ^ Trefil, James S. (2003). The Nature of Science: An A-Z Guide to the Laws and Principles Governing Our Universe. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. p. 309. ISBN 0-618-31938-7.
  9. ^ "AAA Statement on Race". American Anthropological Association. Retrieved December 15, 2018.
  10. ^ "germline theory". Glossary. NCBI.
  11. ^ Lefers, Mark. "germ-line theory". Glossary. Northwestern University. Retrieved February 28, 2012.
  12. ^ Jensen, William B. (1990). "Whatever Happened to the Nascent State?" (PDF). Bulletin for the History of Chemistry (5): 26–36. Retrieved May 6, 2017.
  13. ^ De Leon, Professor N. "Dalton's Atomic Theory". Chemistry 101 Class Notes. Indiana University Northwest. Retrieved August 26, 2013.
  14. ^ Rob Garner. "NASA's WFIRST Will Help Uncover Universe's Fate". Retrieved September 3, 2023.
  15. ^ Cathcart, Michael (2009). The Water Dreamers: How Water and Silence Shaped Australia. Melbourne: Text Publishing. chapter 7. ISBN 978-1-921520-64-8.
  16. ^ An inland sea, the Eromanga Sea, did exist there in the Mesozoic, but not during any period of human history
  17. ^ Glacial Theory
  18. ^ Crain, Stephen and Diane C. Lillo-Martin (1999). An Introduction to Linguistic Theory and Language Acquisition. Oxford: Blackwell.
  19. ^ Steven Novella, MD. "Psychomotor Patterning". Retrieved October 16, 2014.
  20. ^ 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
  21. ^ 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
  22. ^ 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.
  23. ^ 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.

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