I read lots of books about lots of different subjects. If you have a pet theory or opinion on almost any subject you can easily find scholarly authority for it by searching the card catalogue at your local library or - better and easier still - by doing an online book search.
For example, if you want to find the orthodox view of science, there is no shortage of text books that will present it cleanly and with an air of finality.
On the other hand, if you hate being confined in a small box, there are books by folks - holding degrees, not just cranks - who will present alternatives to orthodoxy. Like Erik Learner, holder of a BA in physics from Colombia University and author of a book with the bold and startling title The Big Bang Never Happened: A Startling Refutation of the Dominant Theory of the Origin of the Universe.
Whoa. Now I'm no scientist and am unable to give a scholarly opinion as to how credible the plasma cosmology of Learner and others is. I'm just pointing out that there is more than one way to view almost any aspect of life, and that is true even among the well educated authorities. It sort of reminds of something the old scientist/mystic Isaac Newton said: "To myself I seem to have been as a child playing on the seashore while the immense ocean of truth lay unexplored before me."
Again, there happens to be online a delightful little exchange of ideas about a mathematical/statistical problem now well-known as the Monty Hall dilemma. It pitted genius Marilyn Vos Savant against, it would appear, the majority of authorities on such matters. You can read about it by clicking this link.
And notice, please, how the authorities can't resist chiding Marilyn in their disagreements and attempting to insult her ability to render her a valid judgment:
There is enough mathematical illiteracy in this country, and we don’t need the world’s highest IQ propagating more. Shame! - Scott Smith Ph. D., University of Florida
May I suggest that you obtain and refer to a standard textbook on probability before you try to answer a question of this type again? - Charles Reid, Ph.D., University of Florida
I am sure you will receive many letters on this topic from high school and college students. Perhaps you should keep a few addresses for help with future columns. - W. Robert Smith, Ph.D., Georgia State University
How many irate mathematicians are needed to get you to change your mind? - E. Ray Bobo, Ph.D., Georgetown University
You made a mistake, but look at the positive side. If all those Ph.D.’s were wrong, the country would be in some very serious trouble. - Everett Harman, Ph.D., U.S. Army Research Institute
Finally, after some back-and-forth like the above - and this was being played out in the national newspaper supplement Parade magazine - Seth Kalson, Ph.D., of M.I.T. wrote Marilyn: "You are indeed correct. My colleagues at work had a ball with this problem, and I dare say that most of them, including me at first, thought you were wrong!"
Then there followed a stream of letters from startled school teachers who had performed this little experiment in their classes and confirmed Marilyn's verdict.
But please, follow the link I gave above and read this fascinating exchange.
Well, unlike some matters, the above was an example of a dispute that could be put to a definitive test. Some matters are not so easily tested. And there it seems to me to be wise to skip any "victory" laps.
But my post isn't about science or the scientific method. It is about the hubris of authorities in general. It is about the fact that we humans have a general tendency to mistake conviction (and sometimes downright stubbornness) for proof. And if we can find authorities who champion our pet ideas, we rest so much the easier. While, like Newton, it seems even the best of us are only dabbling at the seashore.