Over the past few centuries, science has made great progress due to the implementation of rigorous testing procedures, consistency in experimentation, and the sharing of knowledge and experiences across people. These practices have allowed us to make more accurate predictions about nature and helped lead to many advances in life sciences, engineering, technology, and other fields.

However, this success is not guaranteed indefinitely. There are already several signs that things may be breaking down at our most fundamental level – the understanding of matter itself!

Science as we know it was born out of the careful observation, analysis, and interpretation of patterns observed in natural phenomena. But what constitutes a pattern and how do you determine if something is part of a pattern without having seen it before? This question has plagued scientists since ancient times and even up until now.

It’s easy to think that because someone else used similar reasoning to arrive at their conclusions then they must also be correct. After all, why would anyone disagree with the same arguments that worked for them? Unfortunately, though, this isn’t always the case and sometimes two very different looking theories will produce completely opposite results.

This article will talk about some examples of this and how we can identify when such instances occur so that we can better evaluate which theory seems to make the most sense.

We cannot rely on scientific knowledge

how certain is scientific knowledge

Recent events have exposed just how tenuous our understanding of science is. As we are constantly being told, “Science proves that __________!” or “The studies show that _________________.”, it becomes difficult to ascertain what actual truths exist in this space.

It also becomes increasingly hard to know where opinions arise from. In fact, some believe that many academic institutions actively promote certain beliefs and ideologies.

In his book The Corruption of American Science, author Francis Collins argues that academia has become so politicized that even well-intentioned scientists may not be able to separate their personal beliefs from their work.

This can lead them to artificially strengthen an argument or conclusion based on pre-existing biases instead of using sound logic. It also means they may cherry pick data that supports their position while ignoring or discounting contrary evidence.

Given all this, how can we really trust anything claimed by scientist?

We cannot. And that should worry us.

When we look to experts for answers, it raises additional questions about who they are, what their qualifications are, and if they are biased or not. On top of that, we often do not get second chances to verify their claims.

So how do we evaluate expert testimony today?

Fortunately, there are procedures and guidelines designed to help mitigate these issues. But first, let’s take a closer look at why scientific knowledge is so precarious today.

Science changes

how certain is scientific knowledge

Over time, science comes into conflict with itself and other knowledge systems. This is because scientists are human beings and thus like to debate about things and ask new questions.

Science also evolves as technology advances and experiments can reveal unexpected results. For example, when experimenting with electricity, people sometimes discover that water has an opposite charge to electrons!

These shifts occur because the individuals working in scientific fields are passionate about their field and research it heavily. They learn from each other and take input from others seriously, which helps ensure the accuracy of information we have.

However, just because two people agree on something does not mean that they know what is true. It could be due to a difference of opinion or perception.

It is important to remember this as you read articles claiming that X theory is wrong while another article claims that Y theory is wrong. Both may be right depending on your own beliefs and experiences.

Something that will help is reading past comments under the article, seeing how many different points of view there are on the topic. This way, you can get a sense of whether these ideas seem reasonable or not.

Science is imperfect

how certain is scientific knowledge

We now have a very strong argument that scientific knowledge is not completely certain! If it were, science would be impossible to exist as we know it today. The more research you do in one field, the less confident you can be of your conclusions in other fields.

Take geology as an example – before the discovery of plate tectonics in the 1970s, scientists were pretty sure our planet was always hot. They assumed there was no way for cold material to reach the core, making the whole thing very warm.

But in 1972 researchers found evidence supporting plate tectonic theory and since then we have a much better understanding of how our planet works. By studying past plates and rocks, we are able to make accurate predictions about what will happen with future ones.

This has caused us to reevaluate the idea that our planet is permanently heated up at its center, and has led some to question whether or not people should give up air conditioning in order to save energy.

Science should be updated

how certain is scientific knowledge

Recent events have shown that this is not the case. There are many examples of science being debunked or theories that have been disproven. This raises an important question: how certain can we say scientific knowledge is?

The concept of “scientific certainty” was made popular in the 18th century when scientists, such as Newton and Galileo, worked to develop the field by creating systematic ways to approach questions of nature.

By defining clear rules for reasoning from facts towards conclusions, they were able to give greater confidence to their answers.

However, today this needn’t be the case! New discoveries constantly challenge our understanding of nature, and new methods can lead to wrong conclusions.

This doesn’t mean we can’t form opinions based on evidence, but it does mean we must be careful about what degree of certainty we place on them.

Science is too important to be trusted

how certain is scientific knowledge

After all, science has given us things like GPS, mobile phones, and computer chips. All of these work by systematic observation and analysis with repeatable experiments.

They are also how we find out what causes disease and cures for it. Scientists use experimental methods to test theories about nature’s ways.

By testing hypotheses against natural laws, we get more accurate information to understand the world around us. That knowledge can help us solve other problems, from finding new resources to avoiding environmental disasters.

But there is a crucial difference between scientific knowledge and expert opinion. People who claim special knowledge that goes beyond the evidence simply because they say so lack one thing: proof.

There are no proofs in science, only conclusions backed up by repeated experimentation. We trust this process and our confidence in the results increase as time passes and others reproduce the findings.

That’s why people with conflicting opinions rarely succeed in changing anyone else’s mind even if they are very persuasive.

We must rely on science

how certain is scientific knowledge

Over the past two centuries, we have seen an ever-increasing reliance on scientific knowledge to inform our lives and livelihoods. Technology runs on physics and chemistry! Medical treatments are based on studies that show they work for certain conditions or diseases.

We need this confidence in the reliability of science because it is very difficult to assess whether something works beyond placebo effects.

A placebo effect happens when participants believe they’re being treated with a drug or procedure that has an actual benefit, so they feel better about themselves or perceive their health to be improving.

There are many examples of placebos having profound benefits – from aspirin for fever reduction and pain relief to herbal remedies like ginkgo biloba for improved cognitive function and surgery using noninvasive techniques (like diet changes) as effective alternatives to medication for some types of chronic disease.

But while powerful, a placebo can also have unforeseen negative consequences. For example, a sugar pill may reduce inflammation, but it could also make you crave carbs — potentially leading to weight gain.

So even if there isn’t any true medicinal value to a treatment, people may still recommend it out of convenience or desire for its perceived health benefits. Unfortunately, these false hopes can do more harm than good.

Science is too important to doubt

how certain is scientific knowledge

Over the past few centuries, science has progressed into an incredible tool for understanding our world. Scientists have made discoveries that have changed the way we understand ourselves, life, and the universe around us.

With every new discovery, scientists prove how well scientific knowledge grows through testing of theories against empirical evidence. This process is repeated over and over again as newer theories are disproven or old theories improved upon.

Science is so valuable because it uses systematic reasoning to come to conclusions, leaving no room for personal beliefs or emotions. It is also non-biased, applying the same rules to both sides of an argument.

Because of these reasons, most people trust the results of experiments conducted in the field of science. However, this isn’t always the case! There are many examples of industries using faulty methods that don’t work and therefore trick people into buying their products.

For instance, there was a time when snake oil medicine was very popular. These were expensive health supplements that usually had little effect but cost quite a bit. Because they worked by claiming to improve blood circulation, some people believed them and spent lots of money on them. Unfortunately, most of these remedies do not work and can be harmful to your health.

Similarly, there was a time when homeopathy was all the rage.

Science is always correct

how certain is scientific knowledge

One of the biggest misconceptions about science is that it is never wrong. This claim is sometimes repeated so often that it becomes gospel. But this assertion is not true!

When scientists are talking about “science” they usually mean one specific thing, which is called empirical or naturalistic (or just-plain-sense) knowledge. Empirical knowledge comes from studying observable and measurable phenomena in nature or through experimentation conducted under controlled conditions. Naturalistic knowledge is what we gain by exploring and observing everything around us, including people and ideas.

This article will talk more about scientific errors and how to identify them, but first let’s review some basic things you should know about empiricism.