The science paradox

Is science defined by scientists or is it the other way round?

Scientists proceed by trying to prove their hypotheses wrong and can be certain only when they know they are wrong: ‘ … we make measurements, we make models and we try and give some answers. The key thing to understand is science is never right. It’s the one discipline where you can be absolutely wrong, you can be shown to be wrong, but it’s just the best we can do given our current knowledge – that’s very important.’ (Interview on BBC Radio 4 Today Programme on 16th June with the scientist Brian Cox.)

So is science identifiable as the set of scientists who can never know for sure when they are right – and can those scientists be right in saying: ‘science is never right’? For like the barber who shaves everyone who doesn’t shave himself and therefore can and cannot shave himself, these scientists can and cannot be right.   But there is a deeper paradox at the heart of science, namely science does and doesn’t owe its presence to the work of scientists – being populated and popularised by scientists who do not know whether their current state of knowledge is right, yet who strive assiduously to prove that it is by doing the opposite.

Mike Laidler



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