Fred Hoyle : biography
Sir Fred Hoyle FRS (24 June 1915 – 20 August 2001) was an English astronomer noted primarily for his contribution to the theory of stellar nucleosynthesis and his often controversial stance on other cosmological and scientific matters—in particular his rejection of the "Big Bang" theory, a term originally coined by him on BBC radio. In addition to his work as an astronomer, Hoyle was a writer of science fiction, including a number of books co-written with his son Geoffrey Hoyle. Hoyle spent most of his working life at the Institute of Astronomy at Cambridge and served as its director for a number of years. He died in Bournemouth, England, after a series of strokes.
While Hoyle was well-regarded for his works on nucleosynthesis and science popularization, his career was largely dominated by the controversial positions he held on a wide range of scientific issues, often in direct opposition to the opinions and evidence supported by the majority of the scientific community.Mitton, Simon, Fred Hoyle a life in science", chapter 12, Cambridge University Press, 2011. Hoyle often expressed anger against the labyrinthine and petty politics at Cambridge and frequently feuded with members and institutions of all levels of the British astronomy community, leading to his resignation from Cambridge in September 1971 over Donald Lynden-Bell being chosen to replace retiring professor Roderick Oliver Redman (rather than his own preference). This resignation was the "watershed" moment in Hoyle’s career, after which he was only a maverick outsider pushing fringe claims.Mitton, Simon, Fred Hoyle a life in science", chapter 11, Cambridge University Press, 2011.
In addition to his views on steady state theory and panspermia, Hoyle also supported the following claims:
- The correlation of flu epidemics with the sunspot cycle, with epidemics occurring at the minimum of the cycle. The idea was that flu contagion was scattered in the interstellar medium and reached Earth only when the solar wind had minimum power.
- The fossil Archaeopteryx was a man-made fake.Shipman, Pat, Taking Wing: Archaeopteryx and the Evolution of Bird Flight, pp 141-145, Simon and Schuster, 1998. This assertion was definitively refuted by, among other strong indications, the presence of microcracks extending through the fossil into the surrounding rock.
- The theory of abiogenic petroleum, where natural hydrocarbons (oil and natural gas) are explained as the result of deep carbon deposits, instead of fossilized organic material. "The suggestion that petroleum might have arisen from some transformation of squashed fish or biological detritus is surely the silliest notion to have been entertained by substantial numbers of persons over an extended period of time."
- The use of the fifty-six Aubrey holes at Stonehenge as a system for the neolithic Britons to predict eclipses, using them in the daily positioning of marker stones (a theoretically possible, but practically impossible system) as proposed in his 1977 book On Stonehenge. It should be noted that the use of the Aubrey holes for predicting lunar eclipses was originally proposed by Gerald Hawkins whose book of the subject Stonehenge Decoded (1965) predates Hoyle’s.
Nobel Physics Prizes
Hoyle was also at the center of two controversies involving the politics for selecting the Nobel Prize for Physics. The first came when the 1974 prize went, in part, to Antony Hewish for his decisive role in the discovery of pulsars, Hoyle made an off-the-cuff remark to a reporter in Montreal that "Yes, Jocelyn Bell was the actual discoverer, not Hewish, who was her supervisor, so she should have been included." This remark received widespread international coverage. Worried about British libel laws, Hoyle wrote a careful letter of explanation to The Times.
The second controversy came when the 1983 prize went in part to William Alfred Fowler "for his theoretical and experimental studies of the nuclear reactions of importance in the formation of the chemical elements in the universe." Hoyle had been one of the key and original workers in nucleosynthesis, so there was some suspicion that Hoyle was denied the third place in the prize because of his earlier public disagreement with the 1974 award.Mitton, Simon, Fred Hoyle a life in science", p. 301-305, Cambridge University Press, 2011. An alternative view is that the Nobel Prize is not just an award for a piece of work, but a recognition of a scientist’s overall reputation. With Hoyle having loudly championed many disreputable and disproven ideas, the Nobel committee may have not wanted to award Hoyle the Prize and validate Hoyle’s "rubbish".