Damned knowledge

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Damned knowledge, a term coined by Charles Fort (who collected and published accounts of many anomalous phenomena), is knowledge suppressed, discounted, or not recognized as real because it does not fit into the dominant paradigm of the time (or, sometimes, because it fits too well).

Reasons for suppression of knowledge include conflict with the political tenor and public authorities of the times, established scientific knowledge, and plain incredibility.

An example is the support for Copernican heliocentrism (the idea that the Earth is not the centre of the universe but rather that the Sun is) given by Galileo Galilei in the 17th Century. Galileo made improvements to the telescope and developed innovative scientific methods. However, his published findings were heavily criticised by the Church on theological grounds, and he was threatened with torture and death. He was tried by the Inquisition, finally being condemned to life imprisonment and being forced to deny his published findings in 1633. Only in 1992 did the Church under Pope John Paul II apologize for its attitude to this acclaimed scientific pioneer.

There are many other examples of damned knowledge in the history of science, and it is perhaps an evolving problem given the increasing modern involvement of governments in the funding and therefore directions of scientific research.

Fort's proposal that there was "damned knowledge" was, at the time, quite out of step with the prevailing scientific worldview. Three decades later, Thomas Kuhn's landmark work, Structure of Scientific Revolutions explored similar terrain, namely, how scientific ideas which fall outside of (or which challenge) a prevailing paradigm can sometimes change profoundly what people think in what is known as a paradigm shift.

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