When is Evidence Enough? Pangea Controversy and the Drift of Evidence

When is Evidence Enough? The Pangea Controversy and the Drift of Evidence

Pablo Ariel Pellegrini

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Pangea representation (Wegener, The Origin of Continents and Oceans, 1924).

Pangea representation (Wegener, The Origin of Continents and Oceans, 1924).

In 1912, Alfred Wegener, a German climatologist and geophysicist, made public his theory about Pangea. He suggested that in a remote past there was a supercontinent, Pangea, which broke up around 200 million years ago, and that the pieces drifted to give place to present continents. Although he submitted evidence to sustain his theory, such as the fitting form of the continents and climate similarities, the mainstream of scientific community was not convinced. Not until fifty years later was a consensus formed around the theory of Pangea, when new evidence was submitted.

Wegener's theory has frequently been seen as having been misunderstood in his time, or even lacking sufficient evidence when formulated. This project aims to reconstruct Wegener's case by studying the evidence he prompted in relation to the level of inference he extracted from it, the adversaries he consequently faced, and the strategy he pursued to present his theory; these kind of elements may play a key role in the social acceptance of a scientific fact.

The background question of this project is: "When is evidence enough for the diverse actors involved in controversial science?" Alfred Wegener's controversial theory of the continental drift will be analyzed in these terms.