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Plate Tectonics – why it was adopted

10 April 2013

In a letter to the NCGT journal of March 2013, see www.ncgt.org, Karsten Storetvedt describes his experiences trying to get geology articles published that do not follow the consensus preferred line. Facts and concepts that discredit Plate Tectonics theory, he claims, are either ignored or explained away and papers exposing critical problems with the favoured doctrine are rejected – but the reasons given for not publishing are often non-specific or just patently biased. Sounds familiar.

He says it is an illusion  that the revolutionary, at the time, ideas of lateral continental drift and plate tectonics became embraced because growing facts demanded it. This was not so, he asserts, , rather the mass conversion event, by geologists, to the super-mobilistic view of the Earth's lithosphere, was little more than a trendy contraption instigated by palaeo-magnetic studies in the late 1950s (the so called magnetic stripes found on the sea floor, although even this is somewhat ambiguous as further research has suggested they do not always conform to the stripes so enthusiastically embraced at the time). This took Wegener's drift model for granted – marrying the two lines of research (one active at the time and the other lying dormant for over 50 years). Alternatives and less mobilistic solutions were not discussed. All of a sudden, in the 1960s, Alfred Wegener became a geological hero whereas previously to the discovery of the sea floor magnetic stripes, he had been marginalised. This is in spite of the fact that Wegener's theory was mauled about a bit to get it to conform to the gradualist model, and the adoption of plate movement at annual rates so small as to be negligible.

The Geoscientist journal in October 2012 described Wegener's model as 'the greatest revolution in earth sciences since James Hutton …' which is straining it a bit considering Plate Tectonics in the modern sense is quite unlike Wegener's ideas as published in the early 20th century. It was a major turning point in the teaching of geology and was embraced whole heartedly by academic geologists, the prime movers and shakers in earth science politics.

Storetvedt, however, makes the point, it was never verified by experiment – it was just accepted as a favourable explanation that fitted into the new palaeo-magnetic data (at the time). The result, he says, has been a succession of sticky plaster fixes in order to keep the consensus model afloat. He claims the earth science community has been led into disarray, accompanied by profound alienation towards other theories. It seems plate tectonics has trouble when it comes to hard supporting evidence and like climate science, the 'defenders of the faith' aremore inclined to be emotive rather than objective. Even worse, it seems geologists, and earth scientists in general, refuse to acknowledge there might be some regional problems with the theory. It is a fact that geologists, in principle, accept as fact the global warming mythology, openly claimed the palaeo record proves that co2 enhances warming – where the evidence we have now, in 2013, is that higher co2 levels do not do much at all. Baby, its cold outside.

The Storetvedt letter then goes on to quote Thomas Kuhn (1970) who portrayed science, not as it is usually presented but as heavily influenced by human and non-rational factors. Here we might all raise a cheer, lift our glass or whatever, and where have we all encountered a similar blocking mechanism, a refusal to accept what is glaringly obvious to outsiders. See the letter for more on Kuhn. Basically, he described your average scientist as emotionally attached to the consensus – or what he learnt by heart at college and university. Kuhn said science is not a steady cumulative process of gaining knowledge piece by piece but consists of major stand stills punctuated by intellectual revolution – the paradigm shifts. Such was the case in the 1960s. Are we on the verge of another shift? No, it is a long way off.



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