Science, what is it good for?

Image by Michal Jarmoluk from Pixabay

Everyday, without fail, I see people arguing on social media. The subjects range from politics to daily life. One thing they share, somewhere in the thread, you’re likely to find someone holding up science as their proof of righteousness. So, what is science? Is it the great argument end-er that we are looking for or yet another reason to spark debate? If you are a scientist, you better have answered the latter. If you, as a scientist believe science works in absolute truths, kindly turn in your lab coat, you’ve missed something really important.

Science isn’t fact. (Cue comment section blow-up) Sorry, as a science-minded person, I truly understand, you want to know the truth, unfortunately, the most science can ever offer is an educated guess. The one concrete fact about science, every single bit of information generated is theoretical. Science tests ideas, it allows us to observe, calculate and theorize about what we are observing, the one thing it will not do, is generate absolute truths. The question is, why doesn’t it? The short answer is, it can’t, but why?

Everything is extremely complicated. There appears to be absolutely nothing on this earth that is influenced by only one or two easy to manipulate factors. It took early scientists little time to realize the variables influencing any one phenomenon are practically infinite, making concrete findings in science fairly impossible. To put it simply, there are far too many things to measure to know that what we are measuring is actually the cause of the thing being studied.

Consider meteorology, no, I’m not talking about TV weather people here, though some of those are indeed meteorological scientists by training, I’m talking about the folks behind the scenes, who give your local weather person their information. Those people are scientists. They spend their days compiling collected data, running simulations and models built from decades of data and observation, only to be wrong approximately 20% of the time. In a field that has literally thousands of scientists a day contributing to its advancement, we really expect them to do better than that, but the truth is, they are doing the best they can hope to, weather is infinitely complex. So is everything else.

In an infinitely complex world, science will never offer concrete facts. The best it has to give is theory. So, what is the point of science then, if not to give us all the answers? The point, is to know more. Every single experiment carried out, brings us more information. Every theory proven wrong, is a step closer to a better understanding of the world. Although science may never lead to absolute truths, it does offer us insight. Science may never allow us to determine when it will definitely rain. It does, however, provide us with a pretty good idea of which days we might need an umbrella.

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