In preparing for lecture yesterday, I has having a hard time coming up with a concise summary of the story of Heaviside's telegraph equation theory. In broadest strokes, what happened was that Oliver Heaviside discovered a new way to operate a telegraph. His idea was dismissed and opposed by powerful engineers, and effectively suppressed until it was revived a decade later in the US for making long-distance telephone calls. The net effect for AT&T was to save atleast 100 million dollars in capital investment and operations costs.
The problem I was having was finding a concise metaphor to summarize how Heaviside's superior idea was suppressed for a decade. The closest I could come up with was a new phrase -- "original memetic sin". Hopefully, the name has some degree of self-explanation. Below, I'll give a definition, explain the motivation for the name, show how it applies to Heaviside's experience, and talk about how it relates to other idioms. Google doesn't seem to know about the name, but there's still a good established idiom out-there already, I'd love to know.
Definition: "Original memetic sin" is when an idea making sense of a certain set of facts spreads through a community, takes hold, and its presence in the minds of the community members makes them resist new, similar, but better ideas explaining the same facts. The name picked as is a variation on an idea original antigenic sin, in epidemiology and immunology, which in turn derives from the theological concept of original sin. The term "memetic" is used in place of "antigenic" to indicate that it is a cultural concept or meme that has been transmitted and is effecting the spread of competing ideas/memes. It is perhaps too heavy a lift on first pass, though, to explain the gritty details of immunology.
Oliver Heaviside's story is an good illustrative example. In the 1850's, there was a major problem in the young field of electrical engineering. Telegraphs were a rapidly developing technology, but nobody knew how they actually work. Beyond a few basic rules, their design and operation was essentially a processes of trial and error. But for the first trans-atlantic cables, that wasn't good enough -- we actually needed a good working theory for sending messages. Enter William Thomson, one of the most influential physicists of the 1800's and soon to be annointed Lord Kelvin for his discoveries, including the Kelvin temperature scale. Thomson came up with a theory that worked pretty well, outperformed that of his competitors, and increased his fame. Thomson's theory became a meme that spread through the engineering community as the standard description of telegraph operation. The infrastructure of the British telegraph system then evolved according to the best practices of this system.
Several decades later, Oliver Heaviside realized that Thomson's theory had a small flaw, and that this small flow had large implications making better telegraphs. He wrote up his idea and tried to publish it. But Heaviside was not a person with high social standing, his methods shared allot with Thomson's theory, and because of the way the British telegraph service had evolved, it was hard to test Heaviside's idea to see if he was actually right.
The community of electrical engineers resisted Heaviside's idea. His publications where censored, his reputation impeached, and the results of his experiments were dismissed in favor of "practical experience" and the meme of Thomson's established idea. This was in spite of the ultimate factual superiority of Heaviside's theory. Only years later later in America did Heaviside's idea flower into it's full memetic potential.
Original memetic sin is an amplified version of "anchoring". Anchoring is a cognitive phenomena where the outcome of a negotiation is strongly biased by the first values put on the table. It also describes a person's reluctance to abandon their initial beliefs about something. Anchoring is a component of original memetic sin, but just a part.
There is a phenomena related to anchoring in learning, where it is easier to teach somebody who comes to a subject fresh, than somebody who has absorbed bad habits and ideas from biased practical experience or bad teaching.
There is also a social component of group-think which normalized anchors across the community of study. A "cultural contagion" similar to epidemic spread, and a hallmark of memetic theory.
There is a comparitive component to original memetic sin -- it only applies to memes that share a "niche" and are sufficiently similar to obstruct each other's co-existence in the mind.
One of the implications of original memetic sin is that bad ideas tend to get stuck in a culture, and can be hard to change (surprise-surprise). Institutions like universities can help combat this by providing a forum where ideas are diverse, fluid, and better ideas are always valued over worse ones. They can act as incubators for ideas, then, reducing the start-up costs for the spread of good ideas.