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Can Science Ever Be "Settled?" 497

StartsWithABang writes "From physics to biology, from health and medicine to environmental and climate science, you'll frequently hear claims that the science is settled. Meanwhile, those who disagree with the conclusions will clamor that science can never be 'settled,' and then the name-calling from 'alarmist' to 'denier' ensues. But can science legitimately ever be considered settled, and if so, what does that mean? We consider gravitation, evolution, the Big Bang, germ theory, and global warming in an effort to find out."
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Can Science Ever Be "Settled?"

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  • I hope not (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 07, 2014 @03:28PM (#46429921)

    For well over a thousand years Aristotle's work in the physical sciences (including zooology) was considered settled... until people started testing his theories

    We called that period the "Enlightenment"

  • by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Friday March 07, 2014 @04:28PM (#46430479)

    The best description of this is Isaac Asimov's essay The Relativity of Wrong []. He points out, that while science is often wrong, as time goes on, the degree of wrongness diminishes. For instance, Einstein showed that Newton's laws of motion were wrong, but Newton was less wrong than Aristotle.

  • by ranton ( 36917 ) on Friday March 07, 2014 @04:34PM (#46430527)

    My interpretation is that there is enough confidence from the scientific community for anyone who is not a scientist researching the topic to accept the current understanding as fact. It doesn't mean they should think it is a fact, just that they should lead their life and form opinions based on the assumption that it is a fact.

    Research should of course continue, probably until the end of time, but at a certain point the general population should no longer question the findings. They simply are not trained enough to form an opinion that differs from the general consensus.

  • by i kan reed ( 749298 ) on Friday March 07, 2014 @04:34PM (#46430531) Homepage Journal

    Now, "proof" is a dangerous word in science. It's vague, it's literally impossible to do in a truly strict sense within the scientific method, and people are quick to take the term to mean something it doesn't.

    It can mean anything from basic empirical evidence of a contentious event occurring(like proof that flies lay eggs) to a theoretical framework so soundly tested and retested as to lack detectible flaws(like the law of attraction).

    The philosophical or mathematical proof takes premises, and using absolute rules arrives at inescapable and undeniable conclusions. In a sense, this is possible with science: Assume an object is in motion at a certain velocity v. Assume it's position is x. Assume no force is applied. After t time, inescapably it's new position is x+v*t, by deduction. But science allows that to be wrong just as soon as someone comes forward with an experiment where it doesn't happen(though our first guess would be that one of the assumptions is untrue, given just how reliable laws of motion are). You can never have a proof that is just true.

    Quick to confusion:
    The various definitions here are easy for people to conflate or mistake. Just look at people expecting "proof" of evolution. They simultaneously want empirical evidence of a contentious hypothesis, like you'd test in a lab, and applying the concept to an entire branch of study, which has an entirely different idea of "proof". It all adds up to a scenario where people don't get what it is that they don't get.

    And they have very high expectations from pop culture: person in lab coat gets item, "aha we know what this is now that we've run 'tests'". They see science as much the same.

  • by Kazoo the Clown ( 644526 ) on Friday March 07, 2014 @05:19PM (#46430849)
    Yes, I like to use this relative wrongness to illustrate "what's wrong" with pseudoscience. Science advances when someone finds something wrong with current theory. You learn from your mistakes. So I ask you, when was the last time someone found an error in the theory of Astrology? Of Creationism? Of anti-AGW? If mistakes AREN'T being found in these "sciences" they aren't progressing. Instead, if they're finding mistakes it's not in their own theories, but in the competing theories, like Creationism finding errors in Evolution or anti-AGW in AGW. The funny thing about that is, to the extent they are actually finding legitimate errors (and not just misinterpreting, misrepresenting or misunderstanding), they are actually contributing to making their "opponents" science better.
  • by Jane Q. Public ( 1010737 ) on Friday March 07, 2014 @05:43PM (#46431087)
    Figures. Make a comment that contradicts the politically correct dogma, get downmodded on Slashdot.

    Well, I apologize for challenging your religion. Not.

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