We intuitively know that scientists are sceptical but we often don't realize its extent. Scientists spend more time disproving things than what is imagined. For instance, at CERN supercollider, they re-test the laws of physics each time they use a higher energy scale. One can't stop being in awe of the rigorous process through which ideas go through before they are accepted.
Scientists were on one such quest for the past 3 decades. Einstein's General Theory of Relativity (GTR), first postulated in 1915 gave us a new theory of gravity. We all learnt Newton's formula for gravity in school. While Newton gave us a formula for the force between the two bodies, he did not tell us the mechanism through which this force acts. Einstein's GTR gives this mechanism and also an alternate formula to calculate the gravitational force between bodies.
On small scales, both the Newton's and Einstein's formulae give same results, of course with a small difference that can be ignored for all practical purposes. But Newton's formula fails on solar scales. For example, Newton's formula can't explain the shape of Mercury's orbit, while Einstein's formula can.
Extending this, the obvious question was - Just like Newton's formula that works on the terrestrial scale but fails on a solar scale, is it possible that Einstein's formula works on a solar scale but fails in extreme conditions?
Such extreme conditions are experienced near black holes. The mass of the black hole at the centre of our galaxy is about 4 million times the mass of the sun. Stars are orbiting around it at a speed of the order of millions of km per hour.
Testing GTR near black holes was an elusive quest for scientists given the difficulty of conducting the experiment. The well known and marked star, named S2, that revolves around the black hole at the centre of the universe has a speed of 25 million km per hour and an orbital period of 16 years. It means that it takes 16 years to trace out the first orbit which forms the baseline, and another 8 years to follow it through. It's a 25-year long single-minded quest. The problems don't end there. It is hard to build equipment to carefully capture the light from such far distances, considering all the stardust and all sorts of crazy things in between.
Finally, after 25 years of sustained efforts, scientists have confirmed that S2 star orbiting the black hole at the centre of our galaxy follows Einstein's law of gravity, and NOT Newton's. A victory for perseverance and hard work.
Wait a minute. This is not going to end here. Two other groups are working parallelly on the same problem for the past 25 years. One of these groups has set up equipment at the South Pole where they collect data for 6 months and analyse it for the next 6 months. Their results are expected to be published by next year. Scientists will wait to confirm the findings from these two experiments. We will then have a more reliable confirmation of the GTR!
There are two lessons for all of us from this. While the importance of hard work and perseverance is an evident lesson, we should also note the rigour required to make a statement about the natural universe. Contrast this with the rigour behind the statements of several popular figures (read con-men) on the natural universe. The reasoning often is - our ancestors told so, I feel so. For someone who is aware of the rigour of the scientific process, it should be extremely disturbing to hear such statements made out of thin air, without any rigour. Believing them is an insult to human intellect.
Question Everything. Shed dogma. Embrace science.