openPR Logo
Press release

Science Gone Wrong: Welteislehre

01-21-2008 08:44 PM CET | Science & Education

Press release from: Austrian Science Fund FWF

Pseudosciences revolve conventional sciences in the course of history. This shows particularly the Welteislehre. The illustration shows the solar system according to Hanns Hörbiger, Signatur HA, S/476/122, Technical Museum Vienna.

Pseudosciences revolve conventional sciences in the course of history. This shows particularly the Welteislehre. The illustration shows the solar system according to Hanns Hörbiger, Signatur HA, S/476/122, Technical Museum Vienna.

What we classify as science is determined by the times we live in. That has been shown by a project of the Austrian Science Fund FWF on the phenomenon of Welteislehre (the Cosmic Ice Theory). At the start of the 20th century, a broad swathe of the general public believed in this now discredited theory of what the universe is made of and how it was created. The findings of this project are now being published as part of a comprehensive anthology of pseudoscience.

The term pseudoscience is used to describe a theory that claims to be scientific but which is neither objective nor rational in its approach. One such example is the Cosmic Ice Theory "discovered" by the Austrian Hanns Hörbiger in 1894, which states that ice was the basic substance of all cosmic processes and that ice moons, ice planets and the "global ether" (also made of ice) determined the entire development of the universe. In the modern world, this theory is seen as nothing more than an obscure idea with no scientific basis.

But, as a project run by the Institute of History at the University of Vienna has now shown, that was not always the case. Even though contemporary scientists rejected the Cosmic Ice Theory, it did enjoy a great deal of popularity in German-speaking countries during the mid-1920s. Indeed, it eventually developed into an established world view.

The theory enjoyed widespread popularity primarily due to the way in which Hörbiger communicated his world view, as project scientist Dr. Christina Wessely explains: "The Cosmic Ice Theory portrayed the world in a simple and vivid manner, in the form of a story. Astronomical and geological processes were paired up with spectacular stories in the vein of fantasy-laden adventure novels. And while this theory was easy to follow, conventional academic sciences seemed only to offer numbers and abstract equations, appearing incomprehensible and out of touch. As a result, the Cosmic Ice Theory seemed less esoteric to the man on the street than the conventional sciences." As a result, when it came to defining what constituted scientific understanding, the "common sense" of the wider public and the methodical approaches of the scientific community came into conflict.

Following the death of Hanns Hörbiger at the beginning of the 1930s, the popularity of the Cosmic Ice Theory began to wane, only to be resurrected by National Socialism. As well as Heinrich Himmler, who supported research in this area and made it part of his own personal remit, Hitler was also interested in the theory. The scientific standing of the Cosmic Ice Theory was therefore to be underpinned through political pressure, despite major resistance from German physicists and astronomers. However, after the Second World War, the Cosmic Ice Theory was not just discredited as incorrect but was also seen as national socialist pseudoscience and consequently all but vanished from social consciousness.

The FWF project, which examined large volumes of previously unexplored materials, delivers an important insight into the social, philosophical and political importance attached to the popularisation of natural science and technology during that period. It contradicts the current assumption that the sciences enjoyed an uninterrupted rise in popularity, and instead indicates that they often had to struggle in the face of "false views of the world".

Dr. Wessely explains: "The Cosmic Ice Theory clearly illustrates how the boundaries between science and pseudoscience can become blurred. It exemplifies that the history of modern science is inextricably intertwined with fantastic imaginations and spectacular mistakes. These mistakes often call modern sciences into question, challenging them and yet simultaneously driving their ongoing development. In the end, pseudoscience does more to strengthen the scientific discourse than it does to damage it. These and other findings on the phenomenon of the Cosmic Ice Theory will shortly be published in an anthology of pseudoscience that Dr. Wessely is co-editing.

Image and text will be available online from Monday, 21st January 2008, 09.00 a.m. CET onwards:

Scientific Contact:
Dr. Christina Wessely
University of Vienna
Department of History
Dr. Karl-Lueger-Ring 1
1010 Vienna, Austria
T +43 / 1 / 4277 - 40 878

Austrian Science Fund FWF:
Mag. Stefan Bernhardt
Haus der Forschung
Sensengasse 1
1090 Vienna, Austria
T +43 / 1 / 505 67 40 - 8111

Copy Editing & Distribution:
PR&D - Public Relations for Research & Development
Campus Vienna Biocenter 2
1030 Vienna, Austria
T +43 / 1 / 505 70 44

Vienna, 21st January 2008

The Austrian Science Fund (FWF) is Austria's central body for the promotion of basic research. It is equally committed to all branches of science and in all its activities is guided solely by the standards of the international scientific community.

This release was published on openPR.

Permanent link to this press release:

Please set a link in the press area of your homepage to this press release on openPR. openPR disclaims liability for any content contained in this release.

You can edit or delete your press release Science Gone Wrong: Welteislehre here

News-ID: 35765 • Views: 1667

More Releases from Austrian Science Fund FWF

Human rights: Extrajudicial complaint mechanisms particularily suitable
Reconciling corporate interests with human rights is a difficult endeavour. A research project funded by the Austrian Science Fund FWF demonstrates that non-judicial complaint mechanisms may be an adequate avenue for conflict resolution. For a number of years, companies have been facing increased pressure when it comes to human rights violations. Numerous multinational corporations such as Shell Oil, Texaco or Unocal were accused of such violations, resulting in years of
Body language in the classroom
Body language plays a crucial role, particularly in communication between teachers and students. This is the outcome of a project funded by the Austrian Science Fund FWF which focused on the hidden elements of teaching. An encouraging smile, a sceptical frown, a negating shake of the head: body language is very diverse and effective. With the discovery of mirror neurons, brain researchers corroborated its impact by demonstrating how these nerve cells
Art history – In the eye of the beholder
What viewers of a work of art see and feel is informed by their socio-cultural background and by how familiar they are with the image. Art historians have now verified this theory with the help of methods that are usually used in psychology. This project is funded by the Austrian Science Fund FWF. The influence culture has on an individual's experience and behaviour is a long-standing object of research
Targeting chronic pain
With the support of the Austrian Science Fund FWF, the neurophysiologist Ruth Drdla-Schutting is investigating the role astrocytes play in the genesis of chronic pain. With the help of innovative gene technology (DREADDs), scientists are tailoring treatment specifically to these cells that are the most numerous found in the central nervous system. Pain is an important protection system of the human body. But when it becomes chronic, as it frequently

All 5 Releases

More Releases for Vienna

Blue bleu blau blu 2017 Vienna
BIENNALE AUSTRIA association presents on occasion of the exhibition "blue bleu blau blu 2017 Vienna“ positions of artists from Australia, Denmark, Egypt, Germany, Finland, Israel, Italy, Kenya, Netherlands, Russia, Switzerland, Serbia and Austria on the subject of BLUE from 16 – 22 October 2017 at AUSSTELLUNGSRAUM, Gumpendorfer Strasse 23, 1060 Vienna, Austria. “Leonardo da Vinci describes the nature and effect of the color BLUE as immaterial, BLUE is not a color
Harvard + Vienna = Economics at International Top
Harvard, Hong Kong, Berlin: Economist with excellent international connections accepts post at MODUL University Vienna The new head of the Department of International Management will begin researching and teaching immediately at Austria's leading private English-language business university The internationally active economist Professor Horst Treiblmaier has been appointed the new head of the Department of International Management at MODUL University Vienna. After holding academic posts in several countries, including at the University
The VIENNA DESIGN WEEK ambassadors convey a feeling of Vienna to Berlin
With its “Embassy”, the VIENNA DESIGN WEEK opens its temporary branch from June 3 to 7 at the International Design Festival DMY in Berlin for the second time. Design highlights of last year’s Passionswege (Paths of Passion), the central part of the festival programme, will be on display. In the framework of “DMY Allstars”, three young designers present experimental projects that were developed in collaboration with traditional Viennese companies. The
Vienna Tour Company, Vienna City Tours Announces New Website
Vienna City Tours, a company that offers guided tours in Vienna, Austria, announces their new website. The company offers many different types of Vienna tours that can be personalized to fit any tourist. VIENNA, AUSTRIA – Vienna City Tours, a company that specializes in guided tours in Vienna, recently announced their new website design. The website allows customers to easily find what types of tours are available and is full of information
VIENNA DESIGN WEEK - Vienna – A City Full of Design
The aim of VIENNA DESIGN WEEK is to show and enable people to experience the many-faceted creative work in the fields of product, furniture and industrial design, but also positions of experimental design. After a successful first festival last year, the work of numerous designers from Austria and abroad will also be presented this October with a growing programme of events. International Design in Vienna In cooperation
Campus Vienna Biocenter – Department of Biotechnology: from Vienna to Reykjavi …
Universities from five European countries have signed student exchange agreements with the Department of Biotechnology of the University of Applied Sciences "fh-campus wien" in Vienna. Among them is the renowned King's College London, which has made this possible via a special arrangement. Five universities have simultaneously signed co-operation agreements with the Department of Biotechnology of the University of Applied Sciences "fh-campus wien" in Vienna. This agreement allows the 55 students