I could say I'm not sure about this one, but actually I am. When done properly, science is a continued, strenuous struggle to peel away falsehood. That means that, at any given moment and despite a lifetime's work, you can be proven wrong.
In fact the science philosopher Karl Popper (1902-1994) made it every scientist's duty to do just that.
The so-called "null hypothesis" is inserted into the scientific method for this purpose.
According to Popper, a statement can be considered scientific if it leads to a prediction that can not only be tested, but proven false.
That brings up the question of how we prove a statement is not true. In my backyard there's an alien spaceship and, just because you haven't seen it, doesn't mean it isn't there.
In many cases, however, "false" isn't quite as severe as it seems. Newton's laws of motion, for example, are almost always correct and are only inaccurate in extreme conditions.
It's not that Newton's laws are wrong, but that they are incomplete.
While nothing is perfect, science is an attempt to limit the human propensity for self delusion.
There's nothing more comfortable than being absolutely certain you're right.
Living with uncertainty can be deeply unsettling: it's far easier to settle into the cosy folds of dogma, whether from an immutable text or an authority figure whose views cannot be changed.
And when was the last time you heard a politician say they were wrong?
Scientific uncertainty does not mean we can never be sure of anything. There's a spectrum from pure speculation to things about which we are very confident. Each has its place as long as we acknowledge it.
Unfortunately one of science's greatest strengths makes it vulnerable to attacks from those with vested interests.
While it's been known with considerable confidence for a long while that climate change caused by humans is real, it's been undermined by a campaign that says it's unproven.
The scientific approach contrasts with other modes of thinking, each of which have their place as long as we use them in the right way.
Creative thinking sees things that don't already exist. It sees unexpected connections, gives aesthetic pleasure or offers new insights.
Legal thinking is essentially formal logic based on codified arguments.
Political thinking is about power and persuasion that more often appeal to emotion rather than facts.
The problem strikes when political thinking leaks into, and pollutes science. Right now that's a grave problem because the Earth is not interested in human logic.
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