ThoughtTopper Institute: The Scientific Method and Settled Science

The Scientific Method and Settled Science


As thoughtful readers have learned since the launch of the Global Language Monitor in the fall of 2003, all objectivity in media is suspect, and for good reason.  The non-bias claimed on all sides of the political equation is itself, biased, since all media have come to see their particular viewpoint as objective and true, right and just, supported by the facts, scientific or otherwise, and agreed to by all learned people (who happen to agree with their particular beliefs).The fact that their audiences steadfastly agree with their positions only serves to re-enforce their particular biases. We all think so, so it must be true!  ( and it is logically consistent, is a frequent addition.)

One of the most dangerous of these biases is the concept of settled science.
Science, by definition, can never be settled.

The Scientific Method has been adhered to since the Enlightenment.   It is composed of five or six steps

  1. Observation
  2. Hypothesis
  3. Experiment
  4. Record and analyze data
  5. Compare the results to the hypothesis.
  6. If necessary, either modify the hypothesis or the experiment

There is always more complete data to be found and always room for another test of the hypothesis, to ensure completeness.

Another time-honored tradition is the custom of employing Occam’s Razor in the decision-making process.   Occam’s Razor is stated in Latin as  Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem (Do not multiply things without necessity).  The principle is essential for model building because, for a given set of data, there is always an infinite number of models explaining the data.

The principle is essential for model building because, for a given set of data, there is always an infinite number of models explaining the data.

In other words, if you have two choices 1) a snowball moves because invisible, alien drones take it and deliver it to its target, or 2) angular momentum you must choose No. 2 because that is the simplest.

If there is any fact in science that cannot be debated, its Einsteins Theory of Relativity.  Yet nonetheless, every year there are numerous well-publicized challenges to differing aspects of the Theory. How can this be if the Theory of Relativity is settled?

The answer is because this is part of the scientific method!

Lest this be seen as an argument against human-enhanced Global Warming, please allow me to point out that this is not the case.  We consider Global Warming as close to settled science you can get but not for the reasons you might think.

Settled Science is not a new term, in fact, its use stretches back some 150 years, although the settled science that it described would seem a Hall of Infamy in the early 21st century.

Settled Science in the late 1800s:

  • The division of Humankind into races differentiated by alleged Intellectual Potential (or limitations), Color of Skin, Shape of the head, and Geographic Location.
  • Segregation of women and girls from higher education.  Alleged reasons:  women’s brains could not deal with rigorous thinking and men would become physically and psychologically unhinged in their presence.  
  • Excluding women from voting for much the same issues.

Settled Science in the early 1900s:

  • Space flight is not possible because there is nothing in space for an engine to push against.
  • Since space cannot be empty, there needs to be a substance and name it ether.
  • The Universe cannot be infinite, so we live in an island universe that we call the Milky Way.  

Settled Science later in the 20th century

  • There are so many safeguards built into nuclear power plants that the odds of an accident are 50,000,000,000 to 1.
  • A population bomb would wipe out millions or billion of humans before the end of the century.
  • An impending Ice Age would settle upon Northern climes before the end of the century with great death and destruction in its wake.
  • Being gay or lesbian was classified as abnormal and a psychiatric condition by the experts in the field.

Settled Science early in the 21st century

  • That nothing can exceed the speed of light was a given until it was recently proven that the Inflationary Stage of the first moments of the Big Bang expanded thousands or millions of light-years in less than a millionth of a second.

With Occams Razor in mind we must come to the conclusion that settled science is a term that often contradicts the Scientific Method, itself and,therefore, must be used with great caution.


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