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See Inside Scientific American Volume 308, Issue 5

Recommended: From Darwin to Einstein

Books and recommendations from Scientific American



Simon & Schuster

From Darwin to Einstein: Colossal Mistakes by Great Scientists That Changed Our Understanding of Life and the Universe
Mario Livio
Simon & Schuster, 2013 ($26)

Astrophysicist Livio unmasks the flaws in the work of some of our greatest scientific minds in this meditation on the winding, unpredictable path of discovery. Chemist Linus Pauling, a favorite to win the race to determine the structure of DNA in the 1950s, astonished his colleagues by proposing an erroneous “triple helix” model. The mistake allowed James Watson, Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins to sneak past him to the Nobel podium. Charles Darwin was slow to grasp that the concept of “blended inheritance”—the theory that parental traits are blended in offspring the way paint colors might mix on a palette—was incorrect and in conflict with natural selection. Livio shows how these mistakes and others acted as catalysts that enabled scientific breakthroughs.

This article was originally published with the title "Brilliant Blunders."

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