Norman Spencer: Truth, again

Published: 11/9/2020 3:06:55 PM On Nov. 6, Richard Stein correctly challenges the inference that “… science tells us the ‘absolute ...

Published: 11/9/2020 3:06:55 PM

On Nov. 6, Richard Stein correctly challenges the inference that “… science tells us the ‘absolute truth.’ ” I offer an elaboration from my training in physics and mathematics. Within the “hard sciences,” which in conventional usage would omit the “social sciences,” a crucial distinction is made between “hypothesis” and “theory.”

A “hypothesis” is an unproven proposition, an idea, a guess. It may be plausible or it may be blatantly crackpot. After review over time by specialists in the relevant field, that hypothesis may be accepted as “a theory.” Such acceptance is not a formal procedure; it is a general consensus only after the hypothesis has been successfully tested by others, has survived challenges and has not been found to be inconsistent with existing theory.

Mr. Stein asks for acceptance only “… after all possible alternatives have been examined.” As valid as that implies, one must be wary of those who would use such an open-ended criterion to promote misinformation or poisonous political manipulation.

Certainly, over the centuries there have been theories that ultimately failed. But the rigor of modern science, and the fluidity of worldwide communication, invalidates a citation of those histories to negate honest statements by honest scientists.

Otherwise, we wind up with the egregious label “an alternate fact.” The flaw, therefore, is in word usage when “science,” “hypothesis” and “theory” are used interchangeably. Call me hypercritical, but I cringe when I hear the dismissive phrase, “It’s only a theory.”

Norman Spencer


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Newsrust: Norman Spencer: Truth, again
Norman Spencer: Truth, again
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