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The Science is Never Settled.

6 Oct 2014
I like word play as much as the next guy, probably more, but a handful of sayings have crept into the language in recent years that try the patience of anyone who believes that words have meaning. Even allowing for the plasticity of English, there are limits to reasonable flexibility. Let's examine the top five that really get my goat. Do you have some of your own? Let me know.

#5 - Look It Up On My Web Site. This saying pops up with increasing frequency in discussions with political candidates. Instead of talking about the intricacies of an issue with you, they want you to "look it up on my web site". In other words, they want to get rid of you. They don't want to talk to you, and least not about the issue at hand. They want you to scram, get lost, vamoose. When I question a candidate I am judging how he/she delivers the answer as much as the content of the answer. When I hear this "look it up on my website", the candidate generally loses my vote. This "get lost" was first used on me by an unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate back in Texas, surprisingly another Democrat, who loathed my close connection to Howard Dean. Just the other day, though, a local Congressional candidate used it on me. She now has a BIG hole to dig out of to get my vote, but she has until Election Day, since I never vote early.

#4 - The Definition of Insanity is Doing the Same Thing and Expecting a Different Result. Widely and incorrectly attributed to Albert Einstein, this saying has no validity in either a scientific or social context. This is the definition of Perseverance, not insanity! Ask any soldier, or inventor, or anyone who has had to fight through failure before finding success. To put it in martial arts terms, if I punch you in the face and you do not fall down, am I insane to think that if I keep punching you will eventually fall down? The correct answer: you're insane to stand there and let me punch you, but if you do, sooner or later a different result is inevitable.

#3 - It's a No-Brainer. Arrrgh! The best response to any who says this is something along the lines of, "thank you for self-identifying as a non-brain user". Seriously, anyone who says this is identifying herself as an ideologue who will believe what she will believe in spite of evidence. You don't have to use your brain because the processing of evidence is irrelevant! That's what's being said. Do you really want to advertise to people that your beliefs are absolute and disconnected from rational thought?

#2 - The Exception That Proves the Rule. Students of logic, unite! The idiots of ideology surround us. My friends, exceptions NEVER prove rules. By definition exceptions DISPROVE rules. It goes something like this: The first dog I ever see has three legs so I say to myself, "a dog is an animal with three legs". The next time I see a dog and it has four legs do I say, 'AHA! The exception that proves the rule!'? No, I say I was wrong, some dogs have four legs. One of the most fundamental rules of logic is this: something cannot be always true if an exception can be found. You can qualify the rule and say "sometimes" or "under certain conditions" a rule is true, but if there is an exception you can never say it is always true.

#1 - The Science Is settled. Like #4 above, anyone who says this is exposing himself as knowing nothing about science. It might well be used by someone who also uses #3. The essence of science is probabilistic assessment, which is subject to change as new information arrives. It is the opposite of absolutism, which is why religious people take exception with scientific theories. In recent years we've seen dozens of modifications to theories of human evolution, human migration, exo-planet count and size, climate change, and much more. Two human species, Denisova hominims and homo floresiensis ("hobbit people"), have only recently been discovered. Science is based on models that are only as good as their ability to predict the future. Climate change data has forced scientists back to the drawing boards to explain the recent decade's pause in temperature increase. Does that mean their models are completely wrong? Not necessarily; more often it means adjustments are needed, not rewrites. But when someone says "the science is settled" about anything, they are saying they have turned from science to ideology (or theology), and they are dead set to believe something without regard to new data. The science is never settled.


You may also like this related article: Einstein's Mistake and the Rise of Religious Science (173)
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