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Why should we trust science? It's because we don't trust ourselves

Why should we trust science? It's because we don't trust ourselves

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Many of us accept that science is our trusted guide to what we should believe, but not all of us do.

Mistrust of science has sparked skepticism on several key issues, from denial of climate change to the hesitance of vaccines during the COVID pandemic. And while most of us may tend to dismiss such skepticism as unwarranted, it raises the question: Why should we trust science?

As a philosopher focused on the philosophy of science, I find this question particularly intriguing. After all, diving into the work of great thinkers can help provide answers.

common arguments

One of the first thoughts that might come to mind is that you should trust scientists because what they say is true.

However, there is a problem with this. One is whether what scientists say is really true. Skeptics will point out that scientists are just human and prone to making mistakes.

Also, when looking back at the history of science, we often find that what scientists believed in the past turns out to be false. This suggests that what scientists believe today may one day prove to be false. After all, there was a time in history when people thought that mercury could cure syphilis, and that a bump on the skull could reveal a person’s personality traits.

Another attractive suggestion as to why we should trust science is that it is based on “facts and logic.”

This may be true, but unfortunately it doesn’t do much to convince someone who tends to deny what scientists say. Both sides of the dispute claim they have the facts on their side. It is well known that climate change deniers say that global warming is just a “theory”.

Poppers and the scientific method

One of the strong answers to the question why we should trust scientists is that they use the scientific method. Of course, this begs the question: what is the scientific method?

Perhaps the most famous explanation comes from Einstein Medal-winning mathematical physicist and philosopher of science Karl Popper, who inspired Nobel laureates in biology, physiology and medicine.

For Popper, science proceeds by what he calls “speculation and refutation.” Scientists face a question and offer a possible answer. This answer is a guess in the sense that I don’t know if it’s right or wrong, at least initially.

Popper says scientists do their best to refute this conjecture or prove it wrong. It will also be tested and eventually replaced by something even better. This is how science progresses.

In some cases this process can be very slow. Albert his Einstein predicted the existence of gravitational waves over 100 years ago as part of his general theory of relativity. But it was only in 2015 that scientists were able to observe them.

For Popper, at the core of the scientific method is an attempt to refute or disprove a theory called the “falsification principle”. If a scientist, despite their best efforts, has been unable to refute a theory for a long period of time, then in Popper’s terms the theory is “confirmed.”

This suggests a possible answer to the question of why we should believe what scientists say. That’s because, despite their best efforts, they were unable to disprove that the ideas they were telling us were true.

majority rule

A recent book by science historian Naomi Oreskes further clarified the answer to this question. Oreskes acknowledges the importance Popper placed on the role of refuting theory, but also emphasizes the social and consensual elements of scientific practice.

For Oreskes, the reason we trust science is that there is a consensus among the (relevant) scientific community that certain claims are true. .

It’s a quick way to show how scientific ideas usually go right before consensus is reached.

A scientist may submit a paper about some idea to a colleague, who then discusses it. One of the purposes of this discussion is to find the problem. If the paper passes the test, the scientist may write a peer-reviewed paper on the same idea. If the judges deem it to be of sufficient value, it will be published.

Others may put their ideas to experimental testing. Consensus is likely to be reached if enough of these go through. That’s right.

A good example of this transitional theory is the theory of global warming and human impact on it. In 1896, it was suggested that increasing carbon dioxide concentrations in the earth’s atmosphere could lead to global warming.

In the early 20th century, another theory emerged that not only was this happening, but carbon dioxide released from human activity (burning fossil fuels) could accelerate global warming. Although it gained some support at the time, most scientists were still not convinced.

However, over the course of the second half of the 20th century and into the 21st century so far, the theory of human-induced climate change has passed an ongoing test, with one recent meta-study finding that more than 99% of the relevant scientific community Discovered. Accept that reality. It probably started as a mere hypothesis, passed the test for over 100 years, and is now almost universally accepted.

Conclusion

This does not necessarily mean that you should uncritically accept everything scientists say. Of course, there is a difference between one isolated scientist or small group saying something and there being a consensus within the scientific community that something is true.

And of course, for a variety of reasons—pragmatic, financial, or otherwise—scientists may not do their best to refute some ideas. And even if scientists repeatedly try and fail to refute a given theory, the history of science will prove it wrong when new evidence comes to light at some point in the future. It suggests that it is possible to

So when should we trust science? The view that seems to have emerged from Popper, Oreskes, and other writers in the field is that despite scientists doing their best to disprove ideas, , if the consensus remains that it is true, then there are good, but erroneous, reasons to trust what scientists say. .


When history is full of revolutions in thought, should we really believe that scientific facts will last forever?


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