Science doesn’t prove a thing
In my first post I wrote about how a lot of people don’t understand what the scientific method is, and then I realised, I missed something of even greater importance. People don’t understand how science works.
How does science work? Well:
A scientist starts with a hypothesis – which is basically a guess to an answer of a question. They then carry out a series of experiments and compare the results to the expected consequences if said hypothesis was correct.
The results either support, or reject, that hypothesis. Notice that the hypothesis is not proved, but simply supported.
I can blabber on but nobody can explain this better than the late Richard Feynman.
“You can always prove any definite theory wrong. Notice however we never prove it right”
Science gathers evidence
Hypotheses that have only been put through a few experiments are tentatively accepted. It is important for a hypothesis to be approached at different angles to truly discover if the expected consequences can hold true.
Once a hypothesis has been substantially tested, and it is widely accepted, it becomes a theory. Theories that have practically been tested to death, and are still supported, can advance into a paradigm.
Paradigms become the overarching theory of a discipline. E.g. Darwins theory of evolution pretty much governs all that is biology in one way or another. However, even paradigms we cannot be 100% sure of. We can just say that it is extremely likely that it is correct.
An opening for scepticism
Personally I think it is exactly this that causes so many people to be sceptical of science. As scientific knowledge grows and evolves, sometimes what was long thought to be correct, can suddenly change.
Maybe you saw on the 2nd of August edition of New Scientist the blaring head line saying “FA(C)T. Did we really get 40 years of dietary advice wrong?” . This article discusses how saturated fats may not be as bad as originally thought. It’s these changes to ideas that people have commonly accepted that could confuse people. ‘Isn’t science meant to be facts?! Why would it change?’
This is nothing new though, theories are proved wrong all the time – throughout history. It was believed for thousands of years that life could arise from spontaneous generation as a theory developed by Aristotle. It was only later with Louis Pasteur’s experiments were Aristotles theories decisively dispelled.
Does anyone have any other good examples of theories that were long thought to be correct before being shot down by further research?
To be honest, I can understand how people that don’t understand this are so sceptical of science. In their eyes – science is always changing. But really, science is always evolving.
“… tomorrows experiment may succeed in proving what you thought was right, wrong.”