It can be an ugly thing to see scientists fight. What with all the shouts of "Hey, I wear glasses!" and the breaking of laboratory equipment - kidding, kidding.
Scientists get uppity and protective of their work like everyone else, sometimes for good reasons and other times for some very, very petty reasons.
Luckily, most of the time, no one sabotages someone else's work or slanders them or imprisons them or anything. Most of the time.
No. 01 - Galileo v. the Church/Pope Urban VIII
Poor Galileo Galilei has become the poster child for the whole "small-minded church persecutes obviously correct scientist who threatens their power" thing.
Back in the 17th century, Galileo dared to defend the Copernican view that the sun (as opposed to the Earth) was at the center of the solar system.
To Pope Urban VIII, this smacked of heresy, as it dared to challenge the Roman Catholic Church's assertion that the Earth was the center of all things and the Bible's assertion that the Earth was immobile and that the sun rose and set over the Earth.
Galileo was charged with heresy, imprisoned and later sentenced to house arrest.
Geez, if daring to challenge the Bible were that much of a crime today, there'd be a lot fewer people out on the streets.
No. 02 - Edison vs. Tesla
You know a feud's gotten bad when someone kills an elephant.
The electrocution of Topsy, an admittedly ornery circus elephant who was already scheduled for death, was perhaps the lowest blow in Thomas Edison's campaign against Nikolai Tesla's proposed alternating current-based electrical infrastructure (Tesla eventually won out).
What started out as an argument over whether alternating current (AC) or direct current (DC) could more practically serve the country's power needs had, by the 1890s, turned into a war of accusations, with Edison arguing that alternating current was dangerous and could electrocute people.
In the end, Tesla's AC system won: not because it was better at electrocuting anyone, but because its power was easier to transmit and easier to convert to different voltages.
No. 03 - Evolution vs Creationism
Evolution may just be a given in most scientific circles these days, but it took quite the journey to get here.
From Darwin's 1859 On the Origin of Species and the debates in England that followed, to the Scopes Monkey Trial in 1927, to the "intelligent design" debates of today, this is a feud that doesn't look like it's going to stop anytime soon.
To this day, evolution is a polarizing topic in much of society, with creationists looking to find compromises that might let both Darwin and the Bible both be 100 percent right.
Good luck with that.
No. 04 - Cope vs. Marsh and the "Bone Wars"
Edward Drinker Cope and Othniel Marsh were early dinosaur hunters, but they spent an awful lot of time acting like they were hunting each other (so much so that their exploits have been called "the Bone Wars"). .
At one point, Marsh went so far as to bribe Cope's digging crew to bypass their boss and send their early finds on to him.
They also went out of their way to discredit each other's research publicly. The two men followed each other across all of North America hunting for fossils; between the two of them, they discovered 130 new species of dinosaurs, including apatosaurus (which Cope discovered) and brontosaurus (actually an apatosaurus that Marsh mistook for a new, unique species).
No. 05 - Hawking vs. Susskind
Now, if you've watched any science fiction, you know the basic deal with black holes: the massive gravity-fueled traps consume everything that crosses their paths.
So what would happen to all that information - info on what something looked like, sounded like, was like - that fell in if that black hole were to evaporate (it's something black holes do, trust us)?
For 20 years, Stephen Hawking insisted that the information would be lost. He even proved mathematically that his theory worked...but Hawking's theory gave guys like Leo Susskind the willies.
Wasn't one of the fundamental tenets of physics that nothing was ever lost, just rearranged and scrambled into new, sometimes unidentifiable forms?
Hawking eventually conceded, with Susskind reconciling their divergent views via something called the "holographic principle," postulating that the whole universe may, in a way, be a hologram.
Go wrap your brain around that one.
No. 06 - Einstein vs. Heisenberg and Quantum Mechanics
If a tree falls in a forest and no one's there to hear it, does it make a sound?
If you had asked Werner Heisenberg and the other early advocates of quantum mechanics, they might have insisted that if no one was there to see or hear the tree, then the tree didn't even exist, in a way.
To Albert Einstein, this was beyond troubling. He once said that he liked to believe that "the moon is still there even if we don't look at it."
But would looking at the moon change it? It might, if you bought into Heisenberg's worldview.
His "uncertainty principle" states that the more you know about a particle's position, the less you can know about its momentum, and vice versa. In other words, something about that particle will always be uncertain.
To Einstein, the man who once insisted "God does not play dice," this just didn't work. So, did these two guys duke it out or fight dirty? Nope, they visited each other at their houses all grown-up-like.
Einstein was in fact one of Heisenberg's heroes, and he desperately wanted the elder physicist's approval. He never got it.
No. 07 - Margaret Mead vs Derek Freeman
If you're going to pick a fight with someone, it's so much easier if you wait till they're dead.
That's what Derek Freeman did. The New Zealand-born anthropologist did in fact correspond with Margaret Mead, the prominent American cultural anthropologist whose 1928 study of Samoan adolescence he criticized, while she was alive, but he never came out and publicly assailed her work until 1983, five years after her death.
Mead's work had depicted a somewhat idyllic society where young women enjoyed sexual freedom and where the culture promoted well-adjusted youth.
Her time spent in Samoa pointed her toward the conclusion that culture, not biology, determined behavior, a doctrine that might still be controversial fodder for discussion today.
No way, said Freeman. He himself spent time in Samoa in the 1940s, some years after Mead, and reached a set of different conclusions about the society…so why'd he wait so long to publish? You can't ask him, because by now he's joined Mead in the dead anthropologists' club.
No. 08 - Newton vs. Leibniz
How many high-school students hate the man who discovered calculus?
Well, both Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz wanted very much to be that most-hated (and, yes, very important) man.
So, who is the father of calculus?
Newton seems to have started working on the then-cutting edge mathematics (today, high-school fare) before Leibniz, who had taken a look at some early Newton manuscripts.
But Newton dragged his feet, and by the time he got around to publishing his work, Leibniz had beaten him to the punch.
Their work took some different approaches, but described the same things. Much of the scientific and mathematical community supported Newton and accused Leibniz of plagiarism; that's why these days, Newton gets most of the credit…but the calculus we use today looks a lot more like Leibniz's.
No. 09 - Climate Change
Aren't we done with this already?
While the vast majority of scientists insist that climate change (née global warming) is in fact happening, a few isolated souls still refuse to believe.
They're kind of the scientific community's much-less-evil (ok, much-much-much-less-evil) version of holocaust deniers, met with general disdain by most scientists who don't own lots of oil-company stock.
The idea of the "greenhouse effect," by which rising carbon dioxide leads to higher average worldwide temperatures, has been around since 1896, and while this warming was noticeable as early as the 1930s, it took until the 1970s and 1980s for the scientific community to start shouting loudly at the world.
It took even longer for the general public to hear them and grow concerned, in part due to a heavy-handed campaign by the fossil-fuel lobby and in part because it's so much easier not to think about the future.
But then Al Gore came around with An Inconvenient Truth and won the Nobel Prize, and now we're all on the same page, right? Well, maybe.
No. 10 - Shapley/Curtis debate
Back in 1920, when it happened, this debate was so big that astronomers know it simply as "the Great Debate." And, like a political debate, this one happened on a single day, with a room full of people.
The Smithsonian Institution was the host for the debate, with Harlow Shapley arguing that the Milky Way galaxy was the center of the universe, with all other galaxies a part of the Milky Way; Heber Curtis, on the other hand, believed the Milky Way was just one of many galaxies.
Nowadays, sixth-grade students and anyone who's ever watched a planetarium show knows that Curtis was more right about the nature of our universe…but Shapley may have been more right about the nature of our galaxy, placing our sun at the outskirts of the Milky Way, while Curtis placed it dead center. It's nice when everyone gets to say they were right about something.