10 Popular Scientific Theories That Might Be Totally Wrong


Despite what some people may tell you, a scientific theory is an explanation of the natural world which has repeatedly been substantiated by scientific experiments and evidence. They’re incredibly difficult to “disprove.” Gone are the days when humans thought that vermin spontaneously generated atop the surfaces of open food bowls, but every once in a while a piece of a theory can be erroneous, or potentially wrong. 

Here are 10 scientific theories that might be wrong.

(No, evolution is not on this list.)

10. Dark Matter

Observations of the expansion of the universe revealed something strange about galaxies. They don’t appear to obey the laws of physics. Or, rather, the visible matter present in galaxies seems to be inadequate for them to function as they do without flying apart.

Cosmologists and mathematicians came up with the idea that there was, perhaps, an invisible form of matter that accounted for what was missing in these galaxies which would allow for the appropriate amount of gravity to account for the velocity of most galaxies. They called this invisible matter “dark matter.”

The idea seemed promising, and scientists raced off to find this mystery, invisible form of matter.

Why it might be wrong:

After decades of searching, we haven’t actually found any dark matter, and other physicists are beginning to find other ways to explain the apparent impossible velocity of galaxies. One of those varying approaches revolves around the idea that gravitational mechanics function differently at large scales.

9. Holographic Universe

The holographic universe theory is the idea that our three-dimensional universe is actually a two-dimensional projection that merely appears 3D. Now, this isn’t to suggest that the universe is some form of simulation like in The Matrix. The idea is that some distant two-dimensional surface may contain all the information required to describe our universe. Basically, if the holographic principle is true, then the three-dimensional reality that you perceive may be an illusion.

Why it might be wrong:

The holographic principle is what physicists use to connect string theory to general relativity, and recently evidence has come to contradict what string theory has to offer. There’s also no proof for this holographic principle, and scientists can’t really agree on what would constitute proof either. 

8. Planetary Formation Theory

The theory goes like this: 4.5 billion years ago, gravity pulled together a massive cloud of gas and dust together to form the sun and the bodies of our solar system. Rocky planets ended up orbiting closer to the sun, while more gaseous bodies like Jupiter and Neptune ended up orbiting the sun farther out, near the outer reaches. 

Why it might be wrong:

Nothing in science is static. For years, we thought that our star system was typical, common. But when we began to discover exo-planets with the Kepler space telescope, we discovered that much of what we assumed about alien star systems turned out to be wrong. We found gas giants (what are known as a hot-Jupiters) orbiting close to their parent stars. Red dwarf systems composed entirely of Earth-like rocky worlds (like Trappist-1) and other strange orbital configurations that left astronomers puzzled and scratching their heads. While the accretion disc theory hasn’t been thrown out entirely, these discoveries have forced scientists to come up with new models to explain how these alien systems might have formed. Especially now that it looks like our solar system is fairly unique when compared to our celestial brothers and sisters.

7. Planet Nine

Based on the same methods that astronomers used to predict the existence of Neptune and Pluto, astronomers have long searched for this mysterious planet nine, hoping to explain aspects of the sun’s axial spin and why icy asteroids beyond Neptune’s orbit appear to cluster. 

The Kuiper Belt is composed of icy objects that orbit the sun beyond Neptune. While the Kuiper Belt is home to primarily boulder sized asteroids—some of which are nearly 2000 kilometers across—and small bits of planetary material  left over from the formation of the solar system, most of these objects share similar elliptical orbits to that of Pluto. 

Why planet nine might not exist:

We just haven’t found it. Which means that the object is probably too dark to see with our current telescopes. There is also the theory that planet nine isn’t a planet at all, that it’s actually a primordial black hole (which would have to be around the size of a softball). There’s actually quite a bit of evidence for this. While searching for planet nine, astronomers have also observed small gravitational lensing events that could be explained by a black hole. The black hole would have to be completely dormant, meaning that it hasn’t consumed any material since the formation of the universe. 

Honestly, though, how cool would it be if our own solar system ended up being home to a black hole left over from the formation of the early universe? 

6. Multiverse Theory

The idea that our universe is a speck in an infinite sea of identical universes is not really a new one. Scientists and science fiction writers have long speculated about the existence of alternate realities to our own, imagining that each choice that they’ve made could have an opposite, resulting in an entirely different universe to our own. Physicists have even suggested that the “bruising” found in the lower right-hand corner of the cosmic microwave background is actually the result of our universe colliding with another.

Why it might be wrong:

There just isn’t enough evidence. And that’s not for a lack of trying, either. Some physicists even go so far as to call the many worlds theory as “fringe.” 

5. Dark Energy

Much like dark matter being the solution to the problem of galaxies not appearing to have enough matter to be moving at their incredible observed velocities, dark energy is a means of explaining the apparent accelerated rate at which the universe is expanding. Before observations showed otherwise, it was thought that the universe’s expansion should have been slowing down. Dark energy is supposed to be a kind of repulsive force that prevents the universe from collapsing in on itself (an event which would be called the Big Crunch). 

Why it might not exist:

Quoting Carl Sagan, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

In a study published by The Astrophysics Journal, researchers Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea, claim that they’ve found proof that dark energy doesn’t exist at all. The team found that supernovas in younger galaxies are fainter than in older galaxies. This throws a monkey-wrench into the idea that supernovae luminosity doesn’t evolve over time, which would also mean that dark energy doesn’t exist. 

4. The Laws of Physics

The laws of physics suggest that there are basic scientific rules that exist across the known universe. Gravity attracts, the speed of light is constant, water is wet—that sort of thing. They also deal with things like thermodynamics, which suggest that matter cannot be created nor destroyed under natural circumstances. The laws of motion state that an object will remain at rest or in a given state unless acted upon by an outside force. 

Why it might be wrong:

Okay, you got us; they’re not wrong, but recent studies have suggested that the laws of physics have changed over time as the universe has aged, and that they may not even be constant throughout the universe today! 

In a paper published in the journal Science Advances, scientists from UNSW Sydney reported that four new measurements of light from a point 13 billion light-years away from us showed confirmation of variations in the constant of electromagnetism. If those findings are accurate, it could mean that the electromagnetic constant in this distant region of space is different than it is here. 

3. Galaxy Formation

It’s thought that galaxies formed in the early universe because of dark matter halos. These dark matter halos pull in gases and material, eventually forming what we know as a galaxy. But spiral and disc galaxies like our own are a slightly different story. They’re thought to be created in a method known as “hot mode” galaxy formation, where gas falls into the center of the galaxy—condensing and cooling. It’s a gradual, time intensive process. Thus, spiral galaxies like our own wouldn’t have formed in the early universe.

Why it might be wrong:

It’s thought that spiral galaxies couldn’t have existed in the early universe, due to extremely harsh conditions. But the discovery of the Wolfe Disk, a galaxy that is both a spiral shaped galaxy, and way older than it should be (only 1.5 billion years after the big bang). Considering how old it is, its existence suggests that we might have to rethink our theories on the formation on spiral galaxies as a whole. 

2. The Big Bang

The Big Bang theory suggests that 13.8 billion years ago, all the matter in the observed universe that we see today exploded from a single point, smaller than the end of a pin, an extremely small singularity. It’s the leading theory on explaining what might have caused the universe’s beginning. We can’t actually turn back the clock, and peer into the past, so most of what we know about the Big Bang is through mathematical equations and models.  

Why it might be wrong:

It’s not that the Big Bang theory is wrong. There’s a lot of evidence to suggest that most of the theory is right. We can predict what most likely happened up to ten to the power of negative twenty-three seconds after the Big Bang happened. But there are problems with other parts of the theory. We can’t test what happened during the time before ten to the power of negative twenty-three seconds after the big bang happened. It’s not testable. It’s thought that the strong and weak force of electromagnetism was actually one force. There just isn’t enough direct evidence for those early stages (and sizes) of the universe.

1. String Theory

String theory was originally meant to be the “theory of everything.” A thing which would unify quantum physics with the standard model. Albert Einstein worked on a lot of things before he died, some of them outside the norm in terms of what was accepted at the time. Even though he never got to realize his theory of everything, Einstein’s dream is continued today.

The theory revolves around the idea that individual particles are bound by things called “strings,” which, depending on how a given string would be “vibrating,” would produce quantum gravity.

Why it may be wrong:

The math proposed by string theory works up to a point, but if combined with other fields, it quickly falls apart. Part of the problem is that there are multiple versions of string theory. And though they were later combined into a more unified theory that combines the behaviors described in other versions of the theory, it would seem that even after adding an additional dimension to their equations, that the behavior of strings in the equation only favors the most idealized conditions. 

Basically, it is almost impossible to make the standard model work with string or M Theory.

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