by I-Hsien Porter
Santa Claus, Saint Nicholas, Christkind… many European cultures make reference to some sort of personification of Christmas. In England on Christmas Eve, Father Christmas travels on a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer, delivering presents to children.
At first glance, such a story must be fictional, since it conflicts with our existing ideas of what is possible. Flying reindeer and a man capable of visiting every child in the country is impossible. However, in a 2002 paper in Area, Richard Huggett argues the need for scientific hypotheses that challenge our existing understanding of the world.
Huggett cites the theory of continental drift, or plate tectonics, which received a dismissive response from established scientists when it was first introduced. It was only forty years later, in the 1960s, that geological evidence of spreading sea-floors was collected and continental drift theory was widely accepted.
The level of uncertainty or proof that we require before accepting a hypothesis is perhaps a decision for wider society. Of course, without sceptics there would be less of a drive for scientific rigour. However, that shouldn’t deter geographers from seeking alternative perspectives with which to understand the world.
Suggested further reading
R J Huggett (2002) Cranks, conventionalists and geomorphology. Area 34 (2): 182-189