In the NY Times, George Johnson reviews the book Conflict in the Cosmos, recounting an episode in which Fred Hoyle's steady-state theory of an infinitely-old universe was contradicted by actual data from Big-Bang proponent Martin Ryle:
[The steady-state theory] was a minority view, but [Hoyle] and a few like-minded theorists were able to keep the plate spinning for years. Another Cambridge luminary, Martin Ryle, finally brought it crashing down. An irascible, hardheaded experimenter, Ryle thought theorists like Hoyle were daffy. In a colloquium on sunspots, Mitton reports, Ryle became so incensed by Hoyle's speculations that he dashed to the blackboard and angrily erased the equations.
Ryle, an expert at measuring stellar radio waves, was determined to disprove the steady-state theory. Continuous creation of matter would mean that galaxies everywhere are about the same age. But if the universe began with an explosion, more distant objects would appear younger, for their light has been traveling toward Earth since the beginning of time.
When Ryle's numbers were plotted on a graph, the outcome of the great debate came down to the slope of a single line. For years it seesawed, as the first Cambridge Survey of Radio Sources was followed by a second and a third. In 1961 Hoyle and his wife were invited to attend a press conference in which Ryle would present the fourth survey's results. That turned out to be a setup. Hoyle squirmed onstage while Ryle unfurled his data. ''Would Professor Hoyle care to comment?'' In a bizarre twist, The Evening Standard of London headlined the outcome: ''Universe -- Bible Is Correct.'' In the beginning was the Big Bang.
Not that Hoyle was persuaded. He was as overly impressed with his sense of cosmological aesthetics as Eddington had been with his. Big bangs popping out of nowhere, stars disappearing into gravitational holes -- call it ugly, if you like, but don't expect the universe to care.