The Apparatus of Golgi: Science As It Should Be

Carl Sagan said that science is unique in having it’s own built-in error correcting machinery:

The scientific way of thinking is at once imaginative and disciplined. This is central to its success. Science invites us to let the facts in, even when they don’t conform to our preconceptions [ . . .] One of the reasons for its success is that science has built-in, error correcting machinery at its very heart. Some may consider this an overbroad characterization, but to me every time we exercise self-criticism, every time we test our ideas against the outside world, we are doing science. When we are self-indulgent and uncritical, when we confuse hopes and facts, we slide into pseudoscience and superstition.

Sagan 1997: 35 [emphasis added]

Of course, scientists are only human, and are sometimes as susceptible to self-indulgence and reluctance to criticise their own “pet” theories as the next person. But not always.

Richard Dawkins (2006) shares the following story about the reaction of a highly respected “elder statesman” of science to evidence countering his long-held opinion about a structure inside living cells called the Apparatus of Golgi (GOL-jee).

An animal cell. The Apparatus of Golgi is labelled 6. For other labels, click on the link

I have previously told the story of a respected elder statesman of the Zoology Department at Oxford when I was an undergraduate [c.1960]. For years he had passionately believed, and taught, that the Golgi Apparatus (a microscopic feature of the interior of cells) was not real: an artefact, an illusion. Every Monday afternoon it was the custom for the whole department to listen to a research talk by a visiting lecturer. One Monday, the visitor was an American cell biologist who presented completely convincing evidence that the Golgi Apparatus was real. At the end of the lecture, the old man strode to the front of the hall, shook the American by the hand and said — with passion — “My dear fellow, I wish to thank you. I have been wrong these fifteen years.” We clapped our hands red.

Dawkins 2006: 283


Dawkins, R. (2006). The God Delusion. Bantam Press.

Sagan, C. (1997). The Demon-Haunted World: Science As A Candle In The Dark. Random House Digital, Inc