I thought I might just post this TED talk by Naomi Oreskes (H/T Andy Skuce, Critical Angle). It’s a good talk about consensus, the appeal to authority, and how we counter manufactured doubt, but what I liked was how it addressed the realities of doing science. There’s the rather naive view that science is about developing a hypothesis, testing this hypothesis, and either rejecting or accepting the hypothesis depending on whether it passes – or not – the tests. One problem is that even this isn’t quite right, in the sense that a hypothesis can pass tests and still be false, and a hypothesis can fail tests and still turn out to be correct.
Additionally, most science today doesn’t really work like this. Most scientists are not expecting to falsify a fundamental law or do research that leads to a new fundamental law. Most science today is about observing and collecting data and then trying to understand what this data tells us about what is being observed. It often involves modelling, but most of this is based on well-established laws and so even if a model doesn’t correctly represent what’s being observed, one wouldn’t immediately conclude that something had been falsified. It probably just means that the model is missing something.
Anyway, that’s all I’ll say. You can watch the video to learn more.