Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Even a Scientist Can Be Wrong

 

I recently heard of a statement made by Neil deGrasse Tyson that I thought must have been a misquote. I looked into it and, sure enough, that wise man who’s quoted on tee shirts and coffee mugs said, “The good thing about science is that it’s true, whether or not you believe in it.”

Whoa. The list of superseded scientific pronouncements is a long one, but I seem to recall a couple of real bloopers from his own field of expertise. It was once thought – as late as the early 20th century – that our own galaxy was the extent of the universe. Lo and behold, it is now accepted that there may be 100 billion galaxies comprising the universe – and counting. Now that’s a major whiff.

Not to mention the fact that luminaries such as Einstein, Shapley, Hoyle, and Gold believed that the universe was static, that is until Hubble peered through the Mt. Wilson telescope and verified the findings of that crazy Catholic priest George Lemaitre who had been trying to tell them the universe was expanding, and had been since the explosion of the primal atom (I won’t say creation).

Stay tuned for more alterations in “settled science.” It’s the nature of things.

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  1. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western ChauvinistJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Science is the pursuit of truth about the natural world. It ain’t truth itself. Duh.

    • #1
    • November 22, 2020, at 9:40 AM PST
    • 23 likes
  2. PHCheese Member

    They can’t handle the truth .

    • #2
    • November 22, 2020, at 10:01 AM PST
    • 9 likes
  3. James Lileks Contributor

    Trofim Lysenko approves of this message!

    • #3
    • November 22, 2020, at 10:13 AM PST
    • 15 likes
  4. Arahant Member

    Remember that study that was done that found that on average Tea Partiers were smarter and better informed than Progressives? Science!

    • #4
    • November 22, 2020, at 11:33 AM PST
    • 11 likes
  5. Muleskinner, Weasel Wrangler Member

    “Whenever a theory appears to you as the only possible one, take this as a sign that you have neither understood the theory nor the problem which it was intended to solve.”

    Karl Popper

    • #5
    • November 22, 2020, at 11:38 AM PST
    • 18 likes
  6. Gossamer Cat Coolidge

    Perhaps we need a new T-shirt: “The good thing about science is that wrong theories are wrong, even if you believe them.”

    • #6
    • November 22, 2020, at 11:56 AM PST
    • 14 likes
  7. Muleskinner, Weasel Wrangler Member

    Joseph Moure: Neil deGrasse Tyson …

    Often wrong, never in doubt.

    • #7
    • November 22, 2020, at 12:16 PM PST
    • 21 likes
  8. kedavis Member

    Gossamer Cat (View Comment):

    Perhaps we need a new T-shirt: “The good thing about science is that wrong theories are wrong, even if you believe them.”

    I’d buy at least one of those.

    • #8
    • November 22, 2020, at 12:56 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  9. Gossamer Cat Coolidge

    kedavis (View Comment):

    Gossamer Cat (View Comment):

    Perhaps we need a new T-shirt: “The good thing about science is that wrong theories are wrong, even if you believe them.”

    I’d buy at least one of those.

    Maybe I should modify it to: “The good thing about science is that wrong theories are wrong, even if scientists believe them.”

    • #9
    • November 22, 2020, at 2:27 PM PST
    • 6 likes
  10. kedavis Member

    Gossamer Cat (View Comment):

    kedavis (View Comment):

    Gossamer Cat (View Comment):

    Perhaps we need a new T-shirt: “The good thing about science is that wrong theories are wrong, even if you believe them.”

    I’d buy at least one of those.

    Maybe I should modify it to: “The good thing about science is that wrong theories are wrong, even if scientists believe them.”

    That might be better. Thing is, it’s possible that many of the scientists promulgating these theories don’t actually believe them, they may just understand what is required these days in order to get paid.

    • #10
    • November 22, 2020, at 2:31 PM PST
    • 9 likes
  11. Cow Girl Thatcher

    This just shows how old I am, but I’ll tell you anyway. When I was in high school, I heard about the theory of continental drift…Alfred Wegener’s idea about the continents used to be one piece and all that. But, it wasn’t taught as something that was considered by scientists to be reasonable. Twenty years later, I’m back in college, finishing my degree after getting married and having five kids. I’m in a geology class and the teacher is talking all about Wegener and the tectonic plates, Pangea, etc. as though everybody knows about this, blah, blah. 

    After class I approached him, and said, “Hey, wow…didn’t this used to called “continental drift” and no one believed in it because there was no established way that it could occur?” He smiled at me, and replied, “Science is always changing because scientists are always looking at what is going on, and — lo and behold! Wegener is back! They found the engine for the movement: magma. But now they refer to it as tectonic plate movement, instead of continental drift.” (I knew about geology from personal experience: I grew up about 150 miles from Yellowstone Park and there were at least three hot springs in the valley where I lived that people had built swimming pools around.)

    So, every time I hear the term “the science is settled” since 1993, I just roll my eyes and think of Alfred Wegener and my geology class at Ventura Community College…Right, uh-huh, sure it is…

     

    • #11
    • November 22, 2020, at 3:59 PM PST
    • 21 likes
  12. Dotorimuk Coolidge

    They still can’t tell you whether it’s healthy to eat eggs.

    • #12
    • November 22, 2020, at 4:05 PM PST
    • 13 likes
  13. Metalheaddoc Member
    MetalheaddocJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Anyone remember phlogiston? The luminiferous ether? The geocentric universe? Cold fusion? Science is often right until its proven wrong. 

    • #13
    • November 22, 2020, at 4:08 PM PST
    • 9 likes
  14. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western ChauvinistJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Metalheaddoc (View Comment):

    Anyone remember phlogiston? The luminiferous ether? The geocentric universe? Cold fusion? Science is often right until its proven wrong.

    Inquiry is the whole point of science! Your hypothesis has to withstand scrutiny to become a theory. And then the theory has to withstand further scrutiny by scientists over the years — or it’s wrong! Back to square one. This “belief” in science is repugnant. No decent scientist should subscribe to it. “Belief” my beige bahookie

    There is nothing the Left can’t ruin. Change my mind.

    • #14
    • November 22, 2020, at 4:14 PM PST
    • 7 likes
  15. Bill Nelson Member

    You misunderstood Dr Tyson. Science is a constant search for better understanding. All science is postulated in theories, some more solid than others. But it is always “truth”, the theories being clearly stated but there is always some possibility that parts of a theory may be refined or corrected.

    For example, theory says that the speed of light cannot be exceeded. But there is new theory that just after the Big Bang, the newly born universe expanded faster than the speed of light.

    • #15
    • November 22, 2020, at 4:24 PM PST
    • Like
  16. kedavis Member

    Metalheaddoc (View Comment):

    Anyone remember phlogiston? The luminiferous ether? The geocentric universe? Cold fusion? Science is often right until its proven wrong.

    Reminds me of this episode:

     

    • #16
    • November 22, 2020, at 4:28 PM PST
    • 1 like
  17. MiMac Thatcher

    The problem with Tyson isn’t wether some scientific theory is true or not-it is that he believes in scientism-the belief that only that which is scientifically measurable & provable is important or real. Not only can science not prove that point, but common sense shows that is not true. As an example, one can not measure nor prove the love of your spouse/parent-altho that is one of the most important facts in your life. 

    • #17
    • November 22, 2020, at 5:27 PM PST
    • 13 likes
  18. Mike Rapkoch Moderator

    Nothing Gold Can Stay

    Robert Frost

    Nature’s first green is gold,
    Her hardest hue to hold.
    Her early leaf’s a flower;
    But only so an hour.
    Then leaf subsides to leaf.
    So Eden sank to grief,
    So dawn goes down to day.
    Nothing gold can stay.

    Here is truth that goes well beyond the limits of science.

    • #18
    • November 22, 2020, at 6:11 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  19. Cow Girl Thatcher

    MiMac (View Comment):

    The problem with Tyson isn’t whether some scientific theory is true or not-it is that he believes in scientism-the belief that only that which is scientifically measurable & provable is important or real. Not only can science not prove that point, but common sense shows that is not true. As an example, one can not measure nor prove the love of your spouse/parent-although that is one of the most important facts in your life.

    Thank you for giving me a name for this concept: Scientism… I’ve always known that there are things that cannot be measured or “proved” and one of them is spirituality, or the understanding of God and His reality. I’ve always felt that we have three “realms” or “natures” or whatever …. physical, intellectual, and spiritual. But I used to get smacked down by arguments that unless it can be proved/measured by science, then it isn’t real. So, now I have a term to identify that with: scientism. AND… our spiritual nature is NOT an emotional reaction. Emotions are part of our physical nature. So…I guess I need to do some thinking on this, and see if I can write my concept down in a coherent way. 

    • #19
    • November 22, 2020, at 6:15 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  20. Theodoric of Freiberg Member

    Today’s scientific truths are just our current version of the “truth.” Real scientists understand this fact. deGrasse Tyson is no more a scientist than Bill Nye is.

    • #20
    • November 22, 2020, at 6:58 PM PST
    • 9 likes
  21. David Foster Member
    David FosterJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I wonder if Tyson has ever run across Korzybski’s dictum: The Map is Not the Territory.

    • #21
    • November 22, 2020, at 7:05 PM PST
    • 5 likes
  22. Theodoric of Freiberg Member

    Cow Girl (View Comment):

    So, every time I hear the term “the science is settled” since 1993, I just roll my eyes and think of Alfred Wegener and my geology class at Ventura Community College…Right, uh-huh, sure it is…

    When Wegener proposed this idea, he was tarred and feathered by the scientists of his day. This happens all the time. Science is a human endeavor. As such, it is far from infallible. All science can really tell us is what we think reality is at the moment. We can never be absolutely sure we are correct. As Richard Feynman said, we can never prove a scientific theory correct, we can only prove it wrong. Until we can prove it wrong, it is the current truth.

    Thus, science is never settled. Anyone who says otherwise is ignorant or lying.

    • #22
    • November 22, 2020, at 7:14 PM PST
    • 10 likes
  23. kedavis Member

    Theodoric of Freiberg (View Comment):

    Cow Girl (View Comment):

    So, every time I hear the term “the science is settled” since 1993, I just roll my eyes and think of Alfred Wegener and my geology class at Ventura Community College…Right, uh-huh, sure it is…

    When Wegener proposed this idea, he was tarred and feathered by the scientists of his day. This happens all the time. Science is a human endeavor. As such, it is far from infallible. All science can really tell us is what we think reality is at the moment. We can never be absolutely sure we are correct. As Richard Feynman said, we can never prove a scientific theory correct, we can only prove it wrong. Until we can prove it wrong, it is the current truth.

    Thus, science is never settled. Anyone who says otherwise is ignorant or lying.

     

     

    • #23
    • November 22, 2020, at 7:24 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  24. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western ChauvinistJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Theodoric of Freiberg (View Comment):
    Until we can prove it wrong, it is the current truth.

    Mr. C (an engineer/scientist/experimentalist) says until a theory is proven wrong, it’s the best explanation we have so far. I like that better than fiddling with the word “truth.” Something is either the truth or it isn’t. But, science deals in explanations for what we observe, not “truths.” 

    Intellectual humility is a field of study being pursued at Hillsdale College (by philosophy professor Dr. Church and his colleagues as Edinburgh University). It would behoove scientists like deGrasse Tyson to take a course or two in it.

    • #24
    • November 22, 2020, at 7:27 PM PST
    • 8 likes
  25. kedavis Member

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):

    Theodoric of Freiberg (View Comment):
    Until we can prove it wrong, it is the current truth.

    Mr. C (an engineer/scientist/experimentalist) says until a theory is proven wrong, it’s the best explanation we have so far. I like that better than fiddling with the word “truth.” Something is either the truth or it isn’t. But, science deals in explanations for what we observe, not “truths.”

    Intellectual humility is a field of study being pursued at Hillsdale College (by philosophy professor Dr. Church and his colleagues as Edinburgh University). It would behoove scientists like deGrasse Tyson to take a course or two in it.

    • #25
    • November 22, 2020, at 7:32 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  26. David Foster Member
    David FosterJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Sometimes, scientists disagree about practical matters of the utmost urgency and importance. Such a case was the secret British debate about air defense technology, conducted in the face of imminent war. See my post Radar Wars.

    It would have done no good to lecture Lord Swinton, the decision-maker, that he should just ‘believe the science.’

     

     

    • #26
    • November 22, 2020, at 8:20 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  27. OmegaPaladin Moderator

    Bill Nelson (View Comment):

    You misunderstood Dr Tyson. Science is a constant search for better understanding. All science is postulated in theories, some more solid than others. But it is always “truth”, the theories being clearly stated but there is always some possibility that parts of a theory may be refined or corrected.

    For example, theory says that the speed of light cannot be exceeded. But there is new theory that just after the Big Bang, the newly born universe expanded faster than the speed of light.

    No, it is not always “truth”. 

    A scientific theory can be completely wrong. For example, the Land Bridge theory to explain why animals were similar on different continents, or the luminiferous ether (which was taught as truth, and the legendary scientist Maxwell even derived properties of the ether based on its characteristics). There are countless cases of scientific controversies that went back forth between brilliant minds – such as whether protein or DNA was the carrier of genetic information, the structure of DNA, the structure of benzene, the nature of “spiral nebulae” (aka galaxies), etc. 

    I remember reading a really awesome paper my group published on the binding and activation of a particular protein domain. It was clearly written and well-argued, but the authors told me it had been a massive challenge publishing it as it challenged accepted notions. Respectfully, I think you need to read more history of science or talk with practicing researchers.

    Science is a process for generating and testing theories on how things work. You can create theories using scientific methodology that are wrong. That’s how we can refute them. Get new evidence and new arguments, and the science is unsettled, if it ever was settled in the first place.

    • #27
    • November 22, 2020, at 8:41 PM PST
    • 7 likes
  28. kedavis Member

    OmegaPaladin (View Comment):

    Bill Nelson (View Comment):

    You misunderstood Dr Tyson. Science is a constant search for better understanding. All science is postulated in theories, some more solid than others. But it is always “truth”, the theories being clearly stated but there is always some possibility that parts of a theory may be refined or corrected.

    For example, theory says that the speed of light cannot be exceeded. But there is new theory that just after the Big Bang, the newly born universe expanded faster than the speed of light.

    No, it is not always “truth”.

    A scientific theory can be completely wrong. For example, the Land Bridge theory to explain why animals were similar on different continents, or the luminiferous ether (which was taught as truth, and the legendary scientist Maxwell even derived properties of the ether based on its characteristics). There are countless cases of scientific controversies that went back forth between brilliant minds – such as whether protein or DNA was the carrier of genetic information, the structure of DNA, the structure of benzene, the nature of “spiral nebulae” (aka galaxies), etc.

    I remember reading a really awesome paper my group published on the binding and activation of a particular protein domain. It was clearly written and well-argued, but the authors told me it had been a massive challenge publishing it as it challenged accepted notions. Respectfully, I think you need to read more history of science or talk with practicing researchers.

    Science is a process for generating and testing theories on how things work. You can create theories using scientific methodology that are wrong. That’s how we can refute them. Get new evidence and new arguments, and the science is unsettled, if it ever was settled in the first place.

    Reminds me of this:

     

     

    • #28
    • November 22, 2020, at 8:51 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  29. Gazpacho Grande' Coolidge

    Metalheaddoc (View Comment):

    Anyone remember phlogiston? The luminiferous ether? The geocentric universe? Cold fusion? Science is often right until its proven wrong.

    What’s still unresolved is the Screaming Genitals theory.

    • #29
    • November 23, 2020, at 4:09 AM PST
    • 1 like
  30. Theodoric of Freiberg Member

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):
    But, science deals in explanations for what we observe, not “truths.” 

    You are correct. Looking back, it would have been better if I placed quotes around the word “truth.” That would have been more accurate.

    Scientists consider the currently most plausible theory to be the best explanation of observed phenomena until it is proven wrong. They also diligently work to prove theories wrong. When science is practiced correctly, skepticism rules and belief has nothing to do with it.

    • #30
    • November 23, 2020, at 5:45 AM PST
    • 4 likes