Approaching the 100th anniversary of the maiden voyage and subsequent nearly immediate sinking of the ship marketed as 'unsinkable' - the RMS Titanic, also known as the world's largest metaphor - it has become synonymous with bold claims that ironically come back to haunt the claimants.
In science, Lord Kelvin is a popular example of that, believed to have said "There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now, All that remains is more and more precise measurement" shortly before Albert Einstein took the lid off of physics and shook the whole concept around.
At 11.40 p.m. on Sunday, April 14th, 1912, the Titanic, bound from Southampton to New York, struck an iceberg just off the coast of Newfoundland and sank within three hours, dropping four kilometers to the bottom of the Atlantic ocean.
'She cannot sink' did not mean what he thought it meant. Credit: Archive America.
There are obvious reasons, in hindsight, why it struck the iceberg - the absence of binoculars in the crow's nest and the shortcomings of the radio operator - and why two-thirds of the passengers and crew lost their lives - the lack of lifeboats - but there were also structural deficiencies in the ship and those contributed to its demise, but they don't get a lot of attention.
Richard Corfield, writing in Physics World, highlights the work of two metallurgists, Tim Foecke and Jennifer Hooper McCarty, who combined their own analysis with historical records from the shipyard in Belfast where the Titanic was built and found that the rivets that held the ship's hull together were not uniform in composition or quality and not been inserted in a uniform fashion.
This meant that, in practice, the region of the Titanic's hull that hit the iceberg was substantially weaker than the main body of the ship – Foecke and McCarty speculate that the poorer-quality materials were used as a cost-cutting exercise.
From The New York Times, 2008
As well as the actual make-up of the ship, it also appears that the climate thousands of miles away from where the ship actually sunk may have had a hand in events. At times when the weather is warmer than usual in the Caribbean, the Gulf Stream intersects with the glacier-carrying Labrador Current in the North Atlantic in such a way that icebergs are aligned to form a barrier of ice.
In 1912 the Caribbean experienced an unusually hot summer and so the Gulf Stream was particularly intense; the Titanic hit the iceberg right at the intersection of the Gulf Stream and the Labrador Current.
"No one thing sent the Titanic to the bottom of the North Atlantic. Rather, the ship was ensnared by a perfect storm of circumstances that conspired her to doom," writes Corfield.
Laws Of Physics Did Not Get The Memo About The Titanic Being Unsinkable