At least two scientists said that an entire scientific field is resolved. In each case you will readily see their error. Less obviously, there is an error with each quote.
It is time to close the book on infectious diseases, and declare the war against pestilence won.
When then-U.S. Surgeon General William Stewart said this in 1967,1 antibiotic medicines like penicillin had saved millions of lives. Fearsome diphtheria and tetanus had vaccines by the 1950’s, and measles and polio had vaccines by 1963.2 In their place we now have international scourges like HIV/AIDS, diarrheal diseases, respiratory tract infections, tuberculosis, and malaria—hardly the end of infectious diseases.3,4 The “war” continues, and drug-resistance and an insufficient antibiotic pipeline are conspiring against the humans.1 Infectious disease is now the world’s second-leading cause of death and it is #3 killer in the U.S.1
But this quote from Dr. Stewart is likely a fiction.1,5,6 When asked about it years later, he could not recall saying it.6 Indeed, a study published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases of Poverty turned up no positive evidence—and in fact it traced the popular, but false quote back to an innocuous real one.6
There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now. All that remains is more and more precise measurement.
Like the first quote, there is no record of its supposed originator, physicist Lord Kelvin, actually saying it.7 But Lord Kelvin’s contemporaries like Albert Michelson and Philipp von Jolly are on the record saying such things around the end of the 19th century.7 In an 1894 speech, Michelson said, “…The future of Physical Science has no marvels in store even more astonishing than those of the past, it seems probable that most of the grand underlying principles have been firmly established.”7 Professor Jolly discouraged young Max Planck from studying physics, telling him in 1875 that “in this field, almost everything is already discovered, and all that remains is to fill a few unimportant holes.”7
Planck chose to study physics anyway—fortunately, he wanted to at least understand it. Twenty five years later Planck originated quantum theory.8 Nearly a hundred years on and dark energy, dark matter, and the possibility of multiple parallel universes are far from being completely understood, as are many other questions in physics.9
Colossal works are under way in antibiotics discovery10 and physics.11
1. Clinical and Infectious Diseases. 2008, 46, 155–164.
3. Clinical and Infectious Diseases. 2001, 32, 675–685.
6. Infect. Dis. Poverty. 2013, 2:3.
World infectious disease death map picture credit: http://www.bbc.com/news/health-36321394
7. Steven Weinberg’s Dreams of a Final Theory (Vintage, 1992)
8. Jagdish Mehra and Helmut Rechenberg, The Historical Development of Quantum Theory: The Quantum Theory of Planck, Einstein, Bohr, and Sommerfeld: Its Foundation and the Rise of Its Difficulties 1900–1925 (Springer, 2000), pp50–53
Galaxy collision picture credit: http://www.space.com/14768-dark-matter-universe-photos.html