Scientists have discovered that 100 years of studies based on incorrect assumptions will have to be rewritten:
A new study by scientists from Oregon State University and the Environmental Protection Agency showed — much to the surprise of the researchers — that soil clings tenaciously to the first precipitation after a dry summer, and holds it so tightly that it almost never mixes with other water.
The finding is so significant, researchers said, that they aren’t even sure yet what it may mean. But it could affect our understanding of how pollutants move through soils, how nutrients get transported from soils to streams, how streams function and even how vegetation might respond to climate change.
…”We used to believe that when new precipitation entered the soil, it mixed well with other water and eventually moved to streams. We just found out that isn’t true.”"This could have enormous implications for our understanding of watershed function,” he said. “It challenges about 100 years of conventional thinking.”
One might have thought that something as close to home as soil hydrology would be well understood by now. Findings like this illustrate that many scientific surprises lie in store, even in very well-established fields.
The conventional thinking about conventional thinking should be that one might fruitfully expect it to be wrong. Scientists such as Fred Hoyle and Tommy Gold made that their bread and butter, and while it often embroiled them in controversy, their greatest contributions were arguably made by rejecting the criteria of conservatism and standing the conventional theories on their heads. It’s not a surefire method - but as in the case of soil hydrology, it sure helps to consider that the conventional assumptions might be only, you know, assumptions.