Thursday, May 05, 2011

Quote of the Day

"Science has proof without any certainty. Alarmists have certainty without any proof."

1 comment:

Alex VanderWoude said...

Meh, honest scientists don't even *pretend* to offer proof of anything. Disproofs abound, to be sure, but nothing in science is ever proven -- that happens only in mathematics or logic. The very best science can hope for is a mountain of evidence that supports a given theory, and no unexplainable contrary evidence.

A good example is biological evolution: it will never be "proven" the way Pythagoras's Theorem or has been, but the staggering amount of evidence that supports it, plus the elegant way it explains why things in biology hang together the way they do (and not some other way), make it merely perverse to withhold assent. However, something as simple as finding a fossilized dog skeleton inside a dinosaur skeleton would definitely be a serious problem for the theory. It might even be a foundational disproof, the way Mercury's movement was a clue that classical physics were insufficient. But if this were to occur, I suspect we'd have a biologist equivalent of Einstein come along who would demonstrate that our current understanding of biological evolution is actually a special case of a broader, more comprehensive theory, just like how Newtonian physics was shown to be a special case of relativistic physics.

With regard to certainty, a good scientist will be able to offer a confidence rating on their conclusions, from "uncertain -- needs more funding" to "dead certain -- but needs more funding anyway".

You know, I try to live by a rule such that the length of my responses should not exceed that of the original post. I guess I've blown that out of the water this evening...