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Scientific wager

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A scientific wager is a wager whose outcome is settled by scientific method They typically consist of an offer to pay a certain sum of money on the scientific proof or disproof of some currently-uncertain statement Some wagers have specific date restrictions for collection, but many are open Wagers occasionally exert a powerful galvanizing effect on society and the scientific community

Notable scientists who have made scientific wagers include Stephen Hawking and Richard Feynman Stanford Linear Accelerator has an open book containing about 35 bets in particle physics dating back to 1980; many are still unresolved

Notable scientific wagers

  • In 1870, Alfred Russel Wallace bet a flat-Earth theorist named John Hampden that he could prove the flat Earth hypothesis incorrect The sum staked was £500 equivalent to about £44000 in present-day terms[1] A test now known as the Bedford Level experiment involving a stretch of the Old Bedford River, in Norfolk, was agreed on: Wallace measured the curvature of the canal's surface using two markers separated by about 5 kilometres 31 mi and suspended at equal heights above the water's surface Using a telescope mounted 5 km from one of the markers, Wallace established that the nearer one appeared to be the higher of the two An independent referee agreed that this showed the Earth's surface to curve away from the telescope, and so Wallace won his money However, Hampden never accepted the result and made increasingly unpleasant threats to Wallace
  • In 1975, cosmologist Stephen Hawking bet fellow cosmologist Kip Thorne a subscription to Penthouse magazine for Thorne against four years of Private Eye for him that Cygnus X-1 would turn out to not be a black hole In 1990, Hawking acknowledged that he had lost the bet Hawking's explanation for his position was that if black holes didn't actually exist much of his research would be incorrect, but at least he'd have the consolation of winning the bet[2]
  • In 1978, chess International Master David Levy won £1250 from four artificial intelligence experts by never losing to a chess program in a ten-year span from 1968 to 1978
  • In 1980, biologist Paul R Ehrlich bet economist Julian Lincoln Simon that the price of a portfolio of $200 of each of five mineral commodities copper, chromium, nickel, tin, and tungsten would rise over the next 10 years He lost, and paid the amount the total price had declined: $57607 See: Simon–Ehrlich wager
  • In 1997, Stephen Hawking and Kip Thorne made a bet with John Preskill on the ultimate resolution of the apparent contradiction between Hawking radiation resulting in loss of information, and a requirement of quantum mechanics that information cannot be destroyed Hawking and Thorne bet that information must be lost in a black hole; Preskill bet that it must not The formal wager was: "When an initial pure quantum state undergoes gravitational collapse to form a black hole, the final state at the end of black hole evaporation will always be a pure quantum state" The stake was an encyclopaedia of the winner's choice, from which "information can be recovered at will"[3] Hawking conceded the bet in 2004, giving a baseball encyclopaedia to John Preskill Thorne has not formally conceded See: Thorne-Hawking-Preskill bet
  • In 2005, British climate scientist James Annan proposed bets with global warming denialists concerning whether future temperatures will increase Two Russian solar physicists, Galina Mashnich and Vladimir Bashkirtsev, accepted the wager of US$10,000 that the average global temperature during 2012–2017 would be lower than during 1998–2003[4] Previously, Annan first directly challenged Richard Lindzen Lindzen had been willing to bet that global temperatures would drop over the next 20 years Annan says that Lindzen wanted odds of 50–1 against falling temperatures Lindzen, however, says that he asked for 2–1 odds against a temperature rise of over 04 °C[5] Annan and other proponents of global warming state they have challenged other denialists to bets over global warming that were not accepted,[6] including Annan's attempt in 2005 to accept a bet that had been offered by Patrick Michaels in 1998 that temperatures would be cooler after ten years[7] Annan made a bet in 2011 with Doctor David Whitehouse that the Met Office temperature would set a new annual record by the end of the year Annan was declared to have lost on January 13, 2012[8]
  • In 2005, The Guardian columnist George Monbiot challenged Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute to a GB£5,000 bet of global warming versus global cooling[9]
  • In 2012, Stephen Hawking lost $100 to Gordon Kane of the University of Michigan because of the Higgs boson discovery[10]
  • Zvi Bern has won many bets connected to quantum gravity[11]
  • On July 8, 2009, at a FQXi conference in the Azores, Antony Garrett Lisi made a public bet with Frank Wilczek that superparticles would not be detected by July 8, 2015[12] On Aug 16, 2016, after agreeing to a one-year delay to allow for more data collection from the Large Hadron Collider, Frank Wilczek conceded the superparticle bet to Lisi[13]
  • In 2000 roughly 40 physicists made a bet about the existence of supersymmetry to be settled in 2011, but because LHC was delayed the bet was extended to 2016 As of Summer 2016 there had been no signs of superparticles, and the losers delivered "good cognac at a price not less than $100" each to the winners[14]
  • Also in 2016 David Gross lost a separate wager about supersymmetry, but he continues to believe in the theory[14]

See also

  • Long Now Foundation § Long Bet Project
  • The efforts of photographer Eadweard Muybridge to capture the motion of a galloping horse were not part of a wager, contrary to popular opinion
  • Pascal's wager is not a wager in the sense used in this article, nor is it scientific


  1. ^ UK Retail Price Index inflation figures are based on data from Clark, Gregory 2017 "The Annual RPI and Average Earnings for Britain, 1209 to Present New Series" MeasuringWorth Retrieved November 6, 2017 
  2. ^ Stephen Hawking 1997 Black Holes VHS New River Media 
  3. ^ Capri, Anton Z 2007 From Quanta to Quarks: More Anecdotal History of Physics Hackensack, NJ: World Scientific p 139 ISBN 978-981-270-916-5 
  4. ^ Giles, Jim 2005 "Climate sceptics place bets on world cooling down" Nature 436 7053: 897 Bibcode:2005Natur436897G doi:101038/436897a PMID 16107801 
  5. ^ Ronald Bailey 8 June 2005 "Reason Magazine – Betting on Climate Change" Reasoncom Retrieved 29 August 2010 
  6. ^ Annan, James 9 June 2005 "Betting Summary" James' Empty Blog Retrieved 13 April 2007 
  7. ^ "Yet more betting on climate with World Climate Report" James' Empty Blog 24 May 2005 Retrieved 30 December 2008 
  8. ^ "More or Less, High Speed 2 and Executive Pay" BBC 2011-01-13 Retrieved 2012-01-13 Tim Harford resolves a four year-old bet on climate change between climate scientist James Annan and astrophysicist David Whitehouse 
  9. ^ Adam, David 19 August 2005 "Climate change sceptics bet $10,000 on cooler world" London: Guardian Retrieved 13 April 2007 
  10. ^ Interview with the BBC on discovery of the Higgs Boson
  11. ^ https://wwwquantamagazineorg/20140314-betting-on-the-future-of-quantum-gravity/
  12. ^ A G Lisi 2009-08-08 "Science Pond" Science Pond Retrieved 2009-12-13 [permanent dead link]
  13. ^ "Surfer physicist wins superparticle bet with Nobel laureate" Retrieved 2016-08-22 
  14. ^ a b "Supersymmetry Bet Settled With Cognac" Quantamagazine 22 August 2016 

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