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The word science, simply means knowledge. These days the word is used to mean a systematic and organized method of acquiring knowledge.

The thing is, though, that there’s a whole lot of so-called junk-science out there. There is, however, an easy way to tell if what you’re reading about is good science (that is science that is properly performed) or junk-science.

Good science starts with an idea, based on what is known and observed. Why is such a thing this way or that way? Why does this happen? Why does it not happen under some circumstances when it clearly should be happening?

So, an idea is formed that explains what is known and observed. But that’s just the start. There are a number of other details and terminologies, but the next steps are crucial to good science.

The people with the idea try to prove it wrong. If it’s wrong, then everyone goes back to working on another idea that might explain what is happening. Everything gets written down carefully, so that everyone else can double-check that no mistakes were made during the tests.

Over in junk-science land, it also starts with an idea. The people with the idea then attempt to prove it right. They may also fail to write down their test records carefully and completely.

Why is attempting to prove a theory right, wrong; and why is attempting to prove it wrong, right?

Let’s borrow from the problem of induction for a moment, specifically black swans.

At one point, it was maintained that a black swan was an impossibility. Not that there weren’t any, but that there could not be any. All swans were clearly white. As it turns out, there are some substantial populations of black swans, but the people who were talking about swans just weren’t aware of them.

So, assuming your idea is that all swans are white, junk-science is not going to go looking for black ones. You’re going to check all your available swans, find that they’re all white and consider yourself right. If someone mentions that they’ve heard of black swans, well, that’s a rumor. An anomaly. It goes against all of your data, so it’s probably wrong, right?

Wrong.

Good science hears about a black swan, and tries to find them. Good science starts with the same idea: All swans are white. Then good science ignores the white swans and starts looking for swans that are not white. Black swans, grey swans, yellow swans, green swans.

If a swan is found that isn’t white, then careful checking is in order. Is it a swan? Are there more non-white swans?

Clearly the idea itself is flawed, and a new idea about swans is in order. And that’s okay! If you don’t like being wrong, don’t get into science. Good scientists are, in the main, excited to be wrong. It means they’ve found something that is more interesting than it appeared to be at first.

Good science takes the time to look further than its own window and its own back-yard. Good science tries to prove itself wrong, because only by finding your own errors can you get closer to the truth.

Categories: Culture, Maundering, Science.



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