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So my friend's elderly mom, early 90s. . .
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Posted 3/26/2021 18:59 (#8917708 - in reply to #8917620)
Subject: How science works


And we come to the crux of the issue at last - a fundamental misunderstanding of science.  The scientific illiteracy that so threatens our republic. 

The scientific method is defined as a process - a process of discovering truths about our world.

We start with past knowledge taught to us, some of which is proven true and some of which is speculation about how the world works, but isn’t proven beyond a doubt to be true.

We observe the world (the sun comes up and goes down)

We formulate a hypothesis (the sun revolves around the earth).

We test the hypothesis (yup, moon also revolves around the earth.  Sun is just brighter.  Everyday, it still happens).

Our hypothesis may evolve (yo, there are a bunch of planets out there we can see with telescopes.  How do the patterns match up with the sun revolve into around the earth?)

We test the evolved hypothesis.  Over and over in many incrementally different ways.  We eventually get a high levels of matching statistical data. (An extremely involved set of math modeling planets moving in their own little circles independent of the sun, that matches up with what we can see through a telescope)

We now have a theory (these planets move in a crazy convoluted way like gears turning but not meshing together, but the math works, eureka, we have found it)

This theory makes sense to the common man, matches up all the previous observations where planets were showing up in long-known and predictable places but the math didn’t work, these issues are now resolved, eureka, pass the wine.

Theories are believed to be true but haven’t been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.  Skeptics are invited to take a stick and whack them.  Big laurel crowns get placed on the heads of people who legitimately disprove theories because a lot of future wasted effort is saved by looking anew at the hypotheses.  (Except for Galileo)

Theory stands until someone challenges it with new data (Galileo says hey - you have a crazy complicated model but I have an extremely simple concept - the earth and all the other planets revolve around the sun, the math is simple, predicting where planets will be is simple, this is dramatically simple and better than your crazy convoluted idea)

The theory stands for centuries after some political spats are resolved.

We get more observations, hypotheses, and theories.  Newton discovers gravity.  It is tested rigorously.  All sorts of things about how things move on Earth’s surface are tested rigorously.  These theories become scientific laws (Laws of Motion).  Fact.  They cannot be disproven.  This is a big deal.  Most scientific laws can ultimately be derived, more or less, from relatively simple underlying mathematical relationships, but this only happens after extensive years, decades, centuries of observation and brilliant folks poking around the edges to make everything line up.

Newton expands the theory to the theory of universal gravitation.  Apples falling from trees make sense.  Planets rotating around the sun make sense.

Theory hangs around for a century and around it the ability to make observations evolves with better technology.  Theory is rigorously tested.  Universal gravitation becomes a law.

Technology advances.  Better measurements are available.  New phenomena are observed.  

Law of universal gravitation is absolutely believed to be true.  Except for a few edges.  Einstein figured out special relativity related space and time.  But IIRC there are some rough spots if you get into weeds about universal gravity and how they works in frames of reference etc.

Whoa, problem.  Law of universal gravitation conflicts with theory of special relativity.

Einstein says hold my beer and watch this and thinks up general relativity of which universal gravity is a subset that is true under certain conditions like most of what we observe on earth.

All along hypotheses are tested and combined with prior knowledge to create theories which may or may not later qualify as laws.  Technology evolves, our ability to observe gets better, we challenge theories and poke around the edges and teach our kids more stuff at ever younger ages.  And our understanding evolves.  The sky is blue to a kid so she asks why.  Mom and dad make up an answer because she needs to understand light prisms and how light filters through water vapor to understand, but she needs to know the phases of matter first.  And eventually that child may be in a physics lab poking around the frayed corners of worn theories expanding the boundaries of science.  Because new observations are made and combined with known facts about how the world works and the frontier of knowledge continues to evolve and be pushed predominantly forward.

If you are open to ever-evolving outcomes, you understand science and the scientific method.  If your risk assessments changed through last year as different situations came up and new information came to light, you get the scientific method.

If you don’t and they didn’t, you can be a good person, you just aren’t talking my language.  In the meantime, whether or not you have the background, math, and time to understand general relativity or Newtonian gravity, it still hurts when an Apple falls on your head.  Because that is how the underlying world works.

Edited by sand85 3/26/2021 19:02
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