8 incredibly dumb theories famous scientists actually believed

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Dec 16, 2012, 12:07 PM EST

It's a common misperception that scientists are super-smart know-it-alls. In fact, many revolutionary scientists were simply crazy eccentrics who adhered to the scientific method. Even noted scientist superstar Carl Sagan would joke about all of the ridiculous theories he'd made throughout his unparalleled career.

To show that scientists don't have a robotic adherence to truth and logic, here are 8 insane theories from some of the most important scientists in history:

Isaac Newton

His Genius Changed the World Because:

He first proposed key fundamental laws of gravity and motion which are still in use today

But He Was Also Convinced of This Dumbass Theory:

The Bible is really a humongous cryptic code which predicts the future.

Isaac Newton spent a great deal of time pursuing the discovery of hard scientific principles. So, when John Maynard Keynes got hold of Newton's office papers while writing a biography, he naturally expected a treasure trove of deep intellectual thought. Instead, he found thousands of pages of religious conspiracy theories.

The texts indicated that Newton had spent a great deal of the last half of his life trying to find the secrets of the future coded into the Bible. Newton learned Hebrew and began to obsessively analyze the architecture of the Temple of Solomon (based solely on its description in one Bible chapter). He went so far as to sketch detailed drawings of the Temple, so he could stare at the angles and see the future ... somehow.

Oh, sure, he's revered as a scientist. But whenever we try to show someone our detailed map of the island from LOST, we get branded as crazy.

So what did this famous supergenius learn from his decades of poring over the Bible? Well, he claimed the world would end in 2060. So, while we still have to make the world safe for our children, we no longer have to concern ourselves with making the world safe for our children's children.


His Genius Changed the World Because:

He popularized the Pythagorean theorem. This solved the key life mystery that was finding the length of the side of a triangle.

But He Was Also Convinced of This Dumbass Theory:

Using a system of mirrors and human blood, it is possible to write on the moon.

This is so nuts, we'd probably chalk it up to legend if Pythagoras wasn't such a well-known freak (he forbade his followers from touching or eating beans). In one of his more fanciful flights of pseudo-science, the philosopher declared that he had conceived of a system by which one could write on the moon.

Luckily he failed, otherwise this is how the technology would be used today

How exactly he planned to execute this has never been fully explained. Still, Pythagoras declared that writing on the moon took just a few simple steps. First, one would write on a mirror in blood. Presumably, they would draw the Bat Signal. Then, by placing the mirror "opposite" the moon, the writing would be reflected onto the moon's shiny surface.

William Herschel

His Genius Changed the World Because

He discovered Uranus, Oberon and Titania

But He Was Also Convinced of This Dumbass Theory:

The sun's surface is cool, and inhabited by aliens with enormous heads.

William Herschel was a prominent astronomer in the late 1700s whose homemade telescopes utilized new principles still used today. By 1790, his discovery of Uranus and several of Saturn's moons placed him at the forefront of his field. So it was with great reverence that the scientific community regarded his 1795 paper, "On the Nature of the Sun and Fixed Stars." That is, until everyone realized that it was a bunch of impossible hogwash.

For starters, Herschel claimed that, although it certainly did look like a blistering ball of angry fire, the sun was cool on the surface. The discrepancy, Herschel claimed, was due to, like, clouds and stuff.

You can't see it because of all the fire,but it's actually raining

Herschel was also obsessed with the notion that all planets were habitable and probably house aliens. Since he considered the sun to be a planet, Herschel explained that aliens on the sun would have to have special body parts to deal with all the sunshine. According to Herschel's calculations (yes, he actually sat down and tried to work this out on paper), anyone with a normal-sized head would explode on the sun. Which pretty much resembles all of our doodles from grade school. An alien on the sun, Herschel reasoned, would have to have a huge head so it wouldn't explode.

They must not have any eyes, because ofthe constant blinding light surrounding them.

Herschel's assertions were placed under the scrutinizing eye of the astronomy community. Within 50 years, nearly all of his wild claims about Planet Sun would be disproved. We can only assume his claims were the result of staring at the sun with a giant telescope.

William Reich

His Genius Changed the World Because:

His theories about the effect of human neuroses on society remains a key part of sociology

But He Was Also Convinced of This Dumbass Theory:

We can accumulate enough sexual energy to shape galaxies. Also, this sexual energy is blue.

There are a lot of famous psychoanalysts with more-than-crazy theories. Everyone knows that Sigmund Freud couldn't walk down the street without pointing and shouting, "Look at what that guy's doing, symbolically!" But that's because most psychoanalysts are nutso, as proven by the "takes one to know one" theorem.

What makes William Reich's theory so uniquely insane is his steadfast devotion to it, even in the face of national scrutiny, scandal and prison. William Reich was convinced that something called "orgone" was the sexual energy to which all life must bend. He claimed that St. Elmo's fire was caused by the sexual energy emitted by excited frogs. If you were to ask Reich the age-old question "Why is the sky blue?", his answer would be something like, "Because of the suppressed sexual libido of billions of animals escaping up into the atmosphere."

Reich, once considered the most prominent psychoanalyst of the 1940s, began devoting all of his time to the study of this totally imaginary substance. Reich built metal boxes called "orgone machines," in which animals or people would sit and their orgone would be collected. He even managed to attract the attention of Einstein, who had like 10 mistresses and should've been a huge source of erotic energy. Einstein researched the box thoroughly, concluded it was stupid, and went back to saving the universe through physics. In response, Reich crafted a 25-page letter explaining how germs and Brownian motion weren't taken into account. We imagine it read like modern-day Internet rants by Timecube guys.

Reich managed to keep his orgone racket going for years, eventually making a giant research laboratory. However, in 1947, he kinda sorta implied that orgone prevented cancer, which caused the scientific community to flip out. With a critical eye turned toward his ideas, Reich's decade-long work studying orgone was proven to be completely without merit.

But maybe that's just becausescientists aren't that horny

Needless to say, when you claim that your invention cures cancer, you'd damn well better have some sort of evidence to back it up. Investigating Reich's orgone devices, the FDA stated they were "a fraud of the first magnitude."

Reich responded to the allegations by utterly losing whatever semblance of his sanity remained. He would belligerently threaten FDA inspectors who tried to look at his orgone generating building. He began to believe that President Eisenhower personally had his back and was flying military planes over the building for security. The FDA got so pissed at him, they actually ordered all his work to be destroyed. Reich was sentenced to two years in jail. He died in prison, we assume from an overabundance of orgone energy encountered in the prison shower.

Linus Pauling

His Genius Changed the World Because:

He founded molecular biology

But He Was Also Convinced of This Dumbass Theory:

Vitamin C cures terminal cancer

Linus Pauling ranks among the top scientists in the entire history of the world. His work laid out the fundamental principles used by modern scientists in nearly every field. As the only person to win an unshared Nobel Prize twice, he is easily one of the biggest brains of all time. Which is why it's so surprising that he thought Vitamin C was a wonder tonic.

It all started when a colleague recommended Vitamin C supplements for Pauling's recurring sniffles. Excited by his results with the common cold, Pauling decided to go way overboard and test Vitamin C on terminal cancer. Pauling started injecting cancer-stricken people with Vitamin C. Somehow Pauling managed to conclude that his treatment resulted in a 400 percent increase in survival chances.

Instead of painful chemotherapy,just shoot up some OJ!

Again, screwing around with cancer claims can really catch a scientist some heat. The Mayo Clinic repeatedly tested Pauling's findings and could not reproduce the results. Rather than just agree to follow the rules of science, Pauling denounced the findings and advocated Vitamin C as a cancer cure until his death. He died from prostate cancer, which leads us to imagine he stuck a lot of Vitamin C in his butt to try to fight off the disease.

William Shockley

His Genius Changed the World Because:

Co-inventor of the transistor, he founded the electronic age

But He Was Also Convinced of This Dumbass Theory:

Unskilled black people having too many babies would undermine the civil rights movement

William Shockley's unparalleled work developing transistors led to Silicon Valley becoming the tech center it is today. However, his beliefs about race and eugenics reads like a YouTube comments section. He believed that stupid people having babies would completely undermine society's ability to exist, to the point where people with IQs under 100 should be encouraged to get sterilized.

Shockley expressed fear that black people making progressive generations increasingly more moronic would halt the positive effects of the civil rights movement. Never mind that Shockley's dumbass theory does its own job of retarding civil rights. A media firestorm erupted that never fully subsided until after Shockley's death.

"The opposite is true too: Smart scientistsshould have mandatory sex partners ... Please?"

Shockley died estranged from most of his family and member of the academic community. Several scientists have advocated that Shockley's opinions were blown out of proportion by the media and have a sound fundamental basis. However, "Let's kill all the dumb people" is a theory sometimes bandied about by socially undereducated researchers who are sick of being weeded out evolutionarily for being ugly.

Nikola Tesla

His Genius Changed the World Because:

His work with circuits and electricity founded our modern existence

But He Was Also Convinced of This Dumbass Theory:

A death ray could be built that would cut the Earth in half

Nikola Tesla's discoveries paved the way for most of the modern conveniences afforded to us with the use of electricity. His mind worked at a pace that was only rivaled by Edison. Tesla's inventions transformed the world from the dingy, tech-free society of the 1900s to the wired community of today. But his greatest desire seemed to be making the world worse, not better.

Using extensive diagrams and testing, Tesla believed he had invented a death ray. He called it a "superweapon that would put an end to all war." He claimed that he could shoot a bolt that had millions of volts of electricity, taking out an entire fleet of enemy planes if necessary.

Tesla had most of his ideaswhile licking a 9-volt battery

Sure of his idea, Tesla tried to enlist the U.S. government, who said, "No thanks, we've already got this other guy working on a super weapon. Maybe you've heard of him? His name is Einstein." Tesla shopped his death ray around Europe, but no one was really interested in buying a death ray. So he pretty much gave up and started working on some other invention.

"I will destroy the world unlessyou give me... ah, forget it."

Peter Duesberg

His Genius Changed the World Because:

He isolated the cancer gene and revolutionized microbiology

But He Was Also Convinced of This Dumbass Theory:

AIDS is not caused by HIV, but rather by recreational drug use.

There was a time when Peter Duesberg was a respected member of the scientific community. This was also the time before Duesberg had a strong role in the deaths of hundreds of thousands.

After building a huge following in the microbiology community, Duesberg decided that he'd rather be a professional a-hole. He came up with the Duesberg hypothesis, which claims that drugs cause AIDS, mainly intravenous drugs which had flooded the gay scene.

Duesberg has a real technical-sounding paper supporting his claims. However, his studies neglected to incorporate the fact that HIV causes AIDS and no one else is really arguing about this. Normally, Duesberg would be lumped in with the thousands of other science nutjobs, except for one thing. One ridiculously horrifying thing ...

In 2000, Duesberg joined South African President Thabo Mbeki's AIDS advisory panel. Several researchers have estimated that the delays in AIDS treatment caused by South African's denialism of common scientific knowledge led to the unnecessary deaths of 300,000 Africans.

Our goal in writing this list was not to take popular scientists down a peg, but rather to show a human side to these unsurpassed geniuses. Also, we hope this serves as a reminder to modern scientists that just because they're the smartest people in the world doesn't mean they won't make really, really stupid mistakes that could hurt a lot of people if left without scrutiny. Mistakes like falsely claiming vaccinations lead to autism, leaving a fan on in a closed room can kill you, or Internet science comedy writers aren't good in bed.