Wednesday, August 10, 2016

"That just isn’t how science works"

I like this, from William C at Stoat:
That rather forgets the “anomalous” precession of the perihelion of Mercury, as well as some more esoteric effects. But it also blows a hole in the idea that a single conflicting experiment invalidates a theory. That just isn’t how science works. I find I wrote about science before but didn’t cover this point, perhaps because it was too obvious. So, the unexplained precession of Mercury didn’t suddenly cause everyone to lose all faith in Newtonian gravitation. For any number of reasons. It still worked, obvs, in all the places it had worked before. And, well, maybe the observation was wrong? Who knows, whenever this kind of thing happens people will make lots of suggestions as to how to rescue it: perhaps there was a dust belt between Mercury and the sun?
Science simply isn't as straightforward as people like Karl Popper portray it, idea verses experiment. One experiment rarely rules out anything. It's more like how Paul Feyerbend describes it -- kind of a mess, but a good, organic, thought provoking mess.

In A Midsummer's Night Dream, Shakespeare wrote, "The course of true love never did run smooth." I once read something that takes that further: The course of true anything never did run smooth. And that includes science.

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