13 April 2014 @ 09:44 am
You know you're getting old when . . .  
Revolutionary scientific theories discovered in your time are SOP to youngsters.

Specifically, I've been watching Granite Flats, a nifty little period drama with a strong sfnal feel set in a small town in Colorado, circa 1961. Interesting characters, and the four main kids are stunningly good--excellent actors, and good writing.

Now and then a mild and inevitable period error, but then came the real howler, plate tectonics presented by a kid to her classmates, as standard science. Um, no. I remember the theories we were taught about continental drift (and anti-continental drift theories) all through the sixties. Some of the ideas about plate tectonics had been around for decades, but tech wasn't able to back up the theories until the sixties, after which the late sixties saw a number of really exciting papers on the subject, and in 1970, in our Oceanography class, the prof laid it all out for us. New, exciting stuff.

So, yeah. Still, I thoroughly enjoy the show. Hope they keep it up.
Tags: ,
( 34 comments — Leave a comment )
asakiyumeasakiyume on April 13th, 2014 04:58 pm (UTC)
I remember it being presented to us in school in the late 1970s as a groundbreaking new idea, and not yet totally accepted. Yeah: totally NOT accepted theory in the 1960s!
movingfingermovingfinger on April 13th, 2014 05:25 pm (UTC)
If they presented it with period-accurate science, though, dollars to doughnuts that's what a lot of people watching the show would learn and retain. Never underestimate science education in the US.
Sherwood Smithsartorias on April 13th, 2014 05:29 pm (UTC)
Well, period-accurate science would be the stuff we were taught. But the plate tectonics info was good stuff, just ten years too early.
harvey_rritharvey_rrit on April 13th, 2014 05:38 pm (UTC)
But any GPS would have shown by Columbus' time that Spain was getting closer to China. (Which is why it would have made sense to wait.)
Sherwood Smithsartorias on April 13th, 2014 05:41 pm (UTC)
I know! But would anyone listen? Noooooooo.
marycatellimarycatelli on April 13th, 2014 05:45 pm (UTC)
I was just reflecting this morning on how the dinosaur-killing asteroid was in my lifespan. It was among the theories when I was still a child, but it was definitely recent enough that I read a lot of other theories, too.
Sherwood Smithsartorias on April 13th, 2014 06:04 pm (UTC)
Oh, yes. I remember when that one was introduced.
Profiterole_profiterole_ on April 13th, 2014 06:01 pm (UTC)
That's an interesting anecdote.
fidelioscabinetfidelioscabinet on April 13th, 2014 06:45 pm (UTC)
When I was in college in the late 1970s, the t-shirts saying "Reunite Gondwanaland" were a big thing among geology majors. Because no one else had a clue what that meant.
Sherwood Smithsartorias on April 13th, 2014 06:53 pm (UTC)
I remember seeing those!
whswhs: pic#67542548whswhs on April 13th, 2014 07:10 pm (UTC)
Next thing they'll be presenting Lynn Margulis's theory of mitochondria and chloroplasts as symbiotes as accepted science. (I remember when that started gaining mainstream support in the 1970s and 1980s, and I thought it was really cool and interesting.)

Then there was John Birmingham's first novel, where a water navy fleet from the mid-twentyfirst drops into the Pacific Ocean in World War II, gets caught up in combat, and defends itself, and a young ensign on one ship looks out at the battle and says, "They're using lasers!" Ah, no; the term "laser" was coined in 1960, by analogy to the older "maser" (itself coined 1955). A 1940s officer, even one who was a fan, would have said "heat beams" or "rayguns" or "blasters."

That sort of thing doesn't totally lose me—I've read Birmingham's series through—but it definitely hurts my trust in the narrative.

Edited at 2014-04-13 07:10 pm (UTC)
Sherwood Smithsartorias on April 13th, 2014 07:24 pm (UTC)
Yeah--if enough other elements are working, one can get past those oopsies.
whswhswhswhs on April 13th, 2014 07:43 pm (UTC)
Yes, though in this case, at least, I didn't think of buying the books, and I've never had the impulse to go back and reread them.
ethelmayethelmay on April 14th, 2014 03:20 am (UTC)
No, no, it's mitochondria and farandolae. Everyone knows that.

(why, yes, I'm still bitter that L'Engle fooled me into thinking farandolae exist...)
whswhswhswhs on April 14th, 2014 03:30 am (UTC)
I think by the time I read that book I had taken upper division cell biology.
ethelmayethelmay on April 14th, 2014 04:24 am (UTC)
I was twelve or thereabouts, so I had some excuse.
asakiyume: nevermoreasakiyume on April 14th, 2014 06:30 pm (UTC)
Wait what?! They don't exist?! (I on the other hand was flabbergasted to discover that mitochondria were real.)
thistle in greythistleingrey on April 13th, 2014 08:38 pm (UTC)
Interesting! And useful for a personal reflection--it hadn't occurred to me, but because I read library books copiously and sometimes before we reached a topic for the first time in school,[*] my internal yardstick would be almost useless for dating scientific discoveries like that. Public libraries don't have money to buy new things all the time and aren't interested in weeding everything outdated....

* Seventh grade introduced the weather, e.g., but somehow there wasn't room for it before or after.
whswhs: pic#67542548whswhs on April 13th, 2014 08:45 pm (UTC)
I first learned biology from my grandmother's copy of H. G. Wells's The Science of Life, a popularization published 1929–1930; and the first biological science fiction I read was Robert Heinlein's Beyond This Horizon, revised in 1948, five years before Watson and Crick's double helix model was published. But since then I've read a fair bit of history of science for pleasure, so I have a somewhat better sense for timelines.
Malkin Greymalkingrey on April 13th, 2014 08:39 pm (UTC)
I was surprised, later, to learn that plate tectonics had been a new and still-controversial theory in the sixties . . . it was talked about like accepted fact in the rockhounding circles my family ran around in back in those days.

Of course, when your local rockhound club includes working oil-patch geologists, the state of common knowledge is going to be somewhere near the cutting edge. (Our family vacations out west were always heavy on the geology.)
Sherwood Smithsartorias on April 13th, 2014 09:24 pm (UTC)
Yeah, that makes sense.
Helen: Crochet rippleheleninwales on April 13th, 2014 09:34 pm (UTC)
You are absolutely right about plate tectonics. I had a kids' science book in the 60s which talked about the theory of continental drift, but it still had something of the wacko woo-woo theory about it. When I went to university in 1970 to study geology, the mechanism of plate tectonics was, as you say, cutting edge. The only text book that explained it was a brand new one written by the then brand new Open University.
Sherwood Smithsartorias on April 13th, 2014 09:42 pm (UTC)
Oh, yeah. I recollect in eighth grade, I think it was, we were tested on a new theory by someone who said that continental drift was fact, but it was explained by the poles violently shifting, which caused the surface of the planet to spin around on that liquid magma level in its core. And that would explain anomalies found on the various continents.
al_zorraal_zorra on April 14th, 2014 01:29 am (UTC)
The largest issue of presented information that made no sense to me as a child (I don't think this qualifies as scientific info, but at least statistics, history and anthropology, when I was in the fourth grade -- when we began in those days and where I was located, to learn American history -- which really meant the U.S.A. My textbook stated that at the time Columbus discovered the New World (where was it and all those who lived there, including animals and everything else all that other time -- biblical time? which I'd already been distrusting) there were all of 60,000 Native Americans, well they were called Indians, in all of the Americas!

My fourth grade self went, WHAT? Fargo was the largest city in our state, and Fargo-Moorehead, the twin cities divided by the Red River to be in North Dakota on one side and Minnesota on the other side, had roughly 60,000 population. I sat in that chair where I was reading my text book by the furnace radiator -- it was probably November and already winter with snow on the ground -- and thought and thought and thought and decided this could not be true. After all there were two continents and a whole bunch of islands (though Caribbean woudldn't enter my vocabulary for a while yet). And there were thoe Aztecs and Incas, and all those Indians the cowboys fought in my favorite movies, television show and dad's pulp western magazines.

Then as now, math wasn't my strong suit, though I was a lot better at it then than now -- but I decided. Nope. My text book was WRONG.

Love, C.

Edited at 2014-04-14 01:29 am (UTC)
cianthecatcianthecat on April 14th, 2014 06:40 am (UTC)
This made me laugh! I'm a geologist, and I remember being at uni in the early 2000s, and being a cheap student bought myself a geological dictionary from a second hand bookshop. All my mates thought it was hilarious when we realized the dictionary was pre-plate tectonics. It was interesting looking up stuff in though. :)
Sherwood Smithsartorias on April 14th, 2014 01:16 pm (UTC)
Oh, I bet that was interesting!
Lucy Kemnitzerritaxis on April 14th, 2014 06:20 pm (UTC)
That kid could have been me. I didn't know until later that plate tectonics wasn't accepted at that time: I thought it was newish but established. My mother was a scientific illustrator and an avid consumer of science journalism, and inspired me and my brother to take the science news to school. My school was a progressive one (another thing I didn't really understand until later) and we were avidly discussing the science news in second and third grade (especially those years. I had a fantastic teacher for them). Anyway, I did in fact present a thing about plate tectonics. Also zinjanthropus.

So maybe the writers of the show, or their parents, had an experience like mine and didn't ever realize they were out of step?
Sherwood Smithsartorias on April 14th, 2014 07:25 pm (UTC)
It could be, and they didn't think to check the dates on it. Well, the show is still very enjoyable.
Glasses Wearing Reading Geek: Glasses Kittyreadinggeek451 on April 15th, 2014 12:40 am (UTC)
When I was a kid in the 1970s, my family acquired a replica of the original 1771 Encyclopedia Britannica. I absolutely adored the entry on Elements. All four of them.
Sherwood Smithsartorias on April 15th, 2014 01:17 am (UTC)
We have a replica of the 1911 one, I think it is. It's awesome.
thistle in greythistleingrey on April 18th, 2014 08:57 pm (UTC)
This link seems apposite.... (Via jae on DW--perhaps you've seen it.)
Sherwood Smithsartorias on April 18th, 2014 09:18 pm (UTC)
I don't do DW, so I hadn't seen that link. I would have been impressed more had I not noted so many errors in Mad Men, especially smart educated people saying "I was laying in bed . . ." No one did that at that time, this is a result of bad teaching through the seventies/eighties. "Write like Matt" means making bad grammar mistakes of the kids of the eighties.

thistle in greythistleingrey on April 19th, 2014 06:23 pm (UTC)
Ah--that's what I thought I'd seen, from both you and other commenters of similar age.

I think that "laying in bed" is partly regional/dialectal--some older Midwesterners say it, too, especially those who front and raise every other vowel (pin for pen, etc.)--but certainly it seems relatively recent as a confusion in writing, which supports your point.
Sherwood Smithsartorias on April 19th, 2014 07:12 pm (UTC)
These are supposedly well educated New Yorkers, so southern vowel shifts are not in the case.

Many others, too, demonstrating how bad our educational shift dipped in the mid to late seventies, and hasn't really caught up. Bright, professional people now in their forties who have no idea what a dangling modifier is, could not name a verb tense if asked, think "gender and number agreement" something sexual in nature.

That's how language goes, there's no use railing against it, but it really stands out in supposed period pieces.

Another thing is the contemporary determinist's view of religion. Beginning with a good Catholic girl going to bed with her boss on her first day on the job, without a second thought. Um, no.
( 34 comments — Leave a comment )