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Can Science Ever Be "Settled?"

Unknown Lamer posted about 5 months ago | from the it's-all-a-computer-simulation-anyway dept.

Science 497

StartsWithABang writes "From physics to biology, from health and medicine to environmental and climate science, you'll frequently hear claims that the science is settled. Meanwhile, those who disagree with the conclusions will clamor that science can never be 'settled,' and then the name-calling from 'alarmist' to 'denier' ensues. But can science legitimately ever be considered settled, and if so, what does that mean? We consider gravitation, evolution, the Big Bang, germ theory, and global warming in an effort to find out."

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497 comments

i interpret it to mean (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46429771)

all attempts to disprove it have failed and until evidence can be presented to disprove or bring the results into question it is settled

it doesn't mean "this is doctrine never challenge it" it means challenge it knowing that it has been challenged before and the theory has held

Re:i interpret it to mean (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46429877)

Yeah, it never ceases to amaze me how often certain dumbasses will cite cases of past science that was thought to be settled getting debunked and using those cases as 'proof' that we shouldn't listen to what current science says, because hey, someone could disprove it at some unspecified point in the future!

Re:i interpret it to mean (4, Insightful)

jellomizer (103300) | about 5 months ago | (#46429961)

A rare scientific law means it is settled.
For most of them their are theories. the strength of the theory is based on the amount and quality of evidence for it, and lack of evidence that disproves it.

The issues we are having isn't a problem with the science per-say. But people who religion/political stance is hindered by this science. So they will blame the people who came up with this conclusions as manipulating all their data to come to the conclusion.

While they are situations where scientists manipulate their data to make their conclusion, however if the peer review is thorough it is usually disproved, or at least found to be not-reproducible.

The biggest problem is the media posting confusing a hypothesis with a theory. So average joe who doesn't know the difference, see those scientists getting it wrong again!

Re:i interpret it to mean (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46429995)

The biggest problem is the media posting confusing a hypothesis with a theory. So average joe who doesn't know the difference, see those scientists getting it wrong again!

I couldn't agree more with that statement, the average joe doesn't get a scientist who gets something wrong has still accomplished something. Knowing what isnt is one of the many steps in finding what is

Re: i interpret it to mean (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46430021)

That isn't true. The term law was used in the past with the expectation that certain things were settled. The philosophical underpinnings of science have advanced since then and the term law is no longer used. Some older theories are still referred to as laws for historical purposes however they are theories. Theromes do exist but always with a defined set of starting axioms and therefore a theorome when applied to the physical world becomes a theory.

Re: i interpret it to mean (4, Informative)

Daniel Dvorkin (106857) | about 5 months ago | (#46430137)

Theromes do exist but always with a defined set of starting axioms and therefore a theorome when applied to the physical world becomes a theory.

Theorems and theories are two different things. You're quite right, that proving a theorem requires a well-defined set of axioms; the natural world, unfortunately, doesn't provide us with such axioms*, which is why we have to use theories to describe it.

*Well, maybe. "The unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics" argues that maybe there is some axiomatic Truth at the basis of reality. But if so, we have no idea what it is yet, and anyone who tells you they know is lying.

Re:i interpret it to mean (1, Informative)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | about 5 months ago | (#46430041)

per-say

Per se

It's a bad idea to try to write something you've only heard spoken. It frequently makes you look semi-literate and/or pretentious.

Re:i interpret it to mean (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46430207)

It's is generally considered rude to correct spelling and usage errors in public too.

And consider this, the original author got their point across, so those who attack the argument on the basis of "bad form" betray their lack of a REAL argument. But we digress...

Re:i interpret it to mean (5, Funny)

fahrbot-bot (874524) | about 5 months ago | (#46430165)

A rare scientific law means it is settled. For most of them their are theories ...

The problem most people have is confusing Scientific Theory and pundit "theory" (mind the quotes). The two are not the same -- I even question Commander Data's overuse of the word theory in his many musings. I think he was sometimes a little slack in his application, but that's just a theory.

Re:i interpret it to mean (0)

WarJolt (990309) | about 5 months ago | (#46429985)

Laws have been settled and theories haven't. Thats not to say laws shouldn't be challenged, but they can be considered more or less doctrine. Think about how much science would unravel without the 2nd law of thermal dynamics and there could easily be something akin to a religious war if it was ever disproven.

Re:i interpret it to mean (2, Insightful)

maliqua (1316471) | about 5 months ago | (#46430019)

as the OP suggested a law or something that is considered settled doesn't mean its immutable simply that it has held up to enough scrutiny to be accepted and used without the need to reconfirm its results. It does not mean that it should never be questioned and reexamed, nor does it mean it cannot be changed in light of new evidence

Re:i interpret it to mean (5, Insightful)

riverat1 (1048260) | about 5 months ago | (#46430199)

No, the use of the term "law" in science is an old usage that doesn't get applied much any more. Theory and law essentially have the same meaning in science, that is something with lots of evidence to back it up and little evidence to reject it. What hasn't been relatively "settled" is science is generally called a hypothesis.

Re:i interpret it to mean (1)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | about 5 months ago | (#46430027)

Good answer. "Settled" isn't a good word because it implies the end of a process that results in the end of all motion or change. "Well-established" or "well-proven" are more accurate terms but sound like severe understatements in some cases...

The Challenge (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46430107)

The challenge is to provide a theory that is capable of being dis-proven.

As we have seen with the theory that is the obvious subject of the post, there is no way to disprove it since all possible outcomes are claimed as products of the theory. Even when it blatantly fails the empirical test, it still managers to survive as yet another caveat is bolted on to accommodate the failure.

"I predict this will happen"
"Well, it didn't happen, but that's because of this thing here, so I was still right." ad nauseam.

It's like arguing with your ex, there's always a "but" in there somewhere.

Re:i interpret it to mean (1)

Charliemopps (1157495) | about 5 months ago | (#46430117)

Close, but you're kind of going into the area of "after" is declared "Settled" which most would take to mean we're 100% sure... which is not possible. I take it to mean we're 99.99% or whatever sure this is true. We're so sure, if you want to present evidence against it, it better be pretty darn good evidence.

settled != True (5, Insightful)

Immerman (2627577) | about 5 months ago | (#46430193)

Absolutely. Settled doesn't mean True - science is unconcerned with Truth, perhaps even actively opposed to it. Because there is no theoretical way to distinguish between Truth and an extremely accurate and reliable misunderstanding. Accepting something as Truth denies the ability to challenge it - and those challenges are the very essence of science.

Settled means it has so thoroughly withstood all challenges that nobody much even bothers to challenge it anymore, and you'd better have some really solid new evidence to back any new challenge or expect to be laughed off the stage.

This is why the vast majority of anti-AGW positions are considered so ridiculous: The studies they're based on are almost universally either so laughably bad as to be obvious paid "science" propaganda, or are so badly misrepresented that the researchers themselves object to the claims being made by the pundits. Meanwhile the handful of potentially legitimate challenges are largely ignored by the media, presumably because they're either so esoteric they can't be expressed in sound bytes, or so outlandish that only other scientists could take them seriously. Unlike the propaganda being fed to the public, the larger climatology community generally treats those challenges with polite skepticism and constructive criticism because they are at least plausible, even if they need a *lot* more supporting evidence before they could be considered viable alternative explanations.

Re:i interpret it to mean (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46430209)

We consider gravitation, evolution, the Big Bang, germ theory, and global warming

Gravitation - theory
evolution - theory
big bang - theory
germ theory - theory
global warming - undisputed, but the "cause" of global warming is a theory

Its dumb to ever consider science as "settled" because once you do then nobody will spend time trying to disprove/improve it. The only people who consider science as "settled" are the people who view science as a religion ( we all know who they are ). No reasonable scientist ever considers it settled and will always search the evidences. Thats how progress is made.

Unified Theory Of Everything (2)

c00rdb (945666) | about 5 months ago | (#46429775)

Will never happen

Re:Unified Theory Of Everything (2)

bobbied (2522392) | about 5 months ago | (#46430229)

Can you prove that or are you proposing this as a universal truth?

Statistics (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46429785)

There is always, always, an infintesimally small chance you're wrong. And on a universal scale, that means you will be wrong at some point somewhere.

Because of the title no, but yes. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46429791)

It would require that the fringes of an issue become so boring, and the overhead of getting involved so high, that no one wants to investigate it anymore.

That is, until "validating boring issues" becomes retro-vogue and bad scientists start arguing bad conclusions.

More or less (5, Insightful)

BenSchuarmer (922752) | about 5 months ago | (#46429795)

Newton's laws have been pretty much settled. Einstein found a way to get more precision under certain circumstances, but Newton is good enough most of the time.

Re:More or less (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46429981)

... among other things which are basic physical truths, like the hydrogen atom having 1 proton and 1 electron. You may find variations on the basic truth, like deuterium and tritium, but that brings you into the larger truth, which is that a simple answer tends to have complications, hence the simple answer is incomplete, but it still works for most purposes. In other words, instead of a number, you give a range; instead of a speed, you give a velocity, then a velocity and an acceleration, etc.

Implied within these answers are things which you know can't be found, like a hydrogen atom with two or more electrons. I've found by experience that truths are best expressed in what they *exclude* from happening or from existing.

Re:More or less (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46429999)

Newton's laws don't handle friction well at all. It's good enough for an approximation but that's about it. Great if your working with low amounts of friction, like ice.

Re:More or less (1)

jythie (914043) | about 5 months ago | (#46430059)

And that gets into why thinking in terms of 'settled' is kinda silly. For any particular theory there is a scope to it. Newton's stuff was never debunked, it just got a change in scope, but all the equations are still used in the majority of situations... they are still right to within a certain range.

Re:More or less (2)

riverat1 (1048260) | about 5 months ago | (#46430245)

Newton's Laws handle friction just fine. You just have to include the forces caused by friction in your calculation. Of course that may be difficult but in theory it's not impossible.

Today? No! Tomorrow? Yesnomaybe! (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46429799)

Because if God had intended science to work, he would not allow that Dolby guy to be blinded by it!

Not a summary (5, Informative)

oldhack (1037484) | about 5 months ago | (#46429801)

That's not a summary, that's a click bait.

Re:Not a summary (1)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | about 5 months ago | (#46429973)

It's nothing compared to the comic strip in TFA 8-(

Re:Not a summary (1)

Nemyst (1383049) | about 5 months ago | (#46430055)

That would imply that people here RTFA.

Politics of Science (1)

ackthpt (218170) | about 5 months ago | (#46429805)

It will ensure there's plenty of work to do on both sides.

Where ignorance attempts to shroud the light of reason, the light of reason must endeavour to shine thus more brightly.

question objectivity (-1)

micahraleigh (2600457) | about 5 months ago | (#46429817)

Every time I see someone reach for the mantle of objectivity they are pushing something.

If you can't handle other people having opinions, your views are weak.

First class example is that evolutionary criticism (missing intermediate species or disputed claims of finding them, Darwin's doubled-down denial of genetics, etc) is completely forbidden in US schools. Students are smart enough to recognize Stalinism and likely to resist it.

We don't need more commissars in lab coats.

Re:question objectivity (3, Insightful)

StefanJ (88986) | about 5 months ago | (#46429893)

"evolutionary criticism . . . is completely forbidden in US schools."

Well, unless you go to school in one of those states where the school boards also don't think children should be trusted to learn about puberty, carbon dating, and history that wasn't vetted by the Club for Growth and the Daughters of Confederate Heroes.

Re:question objectivity (3, Insightful)

the gnat (153162) | about 5 months ago | (#46429917)

First class example is that evolutionary criticism (missing intermediate species or disputed claims of finding them, Darwin's doubled-down denial of genetics, etc) is completely forbidden in US schools.

They're not "completely forbidden", and they're certainly not forbidden in private schools. What is forbidden is using petty nitpicking of details, which are at best only marginally relevant to the validity of evolutionary theory, to advance religious doctrine, which is the only reason these issues are ever raised in the first place. If you want religion taught in public schools, move to Iran or some other country where superstition is mandated by law.

Re:question objectivity (-1, Troll)

ebyrob (165903) | about 5 months ago | (#46430191)

> ...to advance religious doctrine, which is the only reason these issues are ever raised in the first place...

Because that's exactly what third graders are doing when they ask questions in the classroom. Advancing their religious doctrine. Down with inquisitive third-graders!

Seriously. Slow-change Darwinism? Ya that explains it all...

Re:question objectivity (3, Insightful)

Daniel Dvorkin (106857) | about 5 months ago | (#46429975)

Stalinism

Is it petty of me to wish that people who accuse their political opponents of being Nazis, Communists, etc., could live for a little while in the world of their paranoid fantasies? If they survived the experience, a month in the actual USSR under Stalin, for example, might give them much more perspective.

Re:question objectivity (3, Insightful)

the gnat (153162) | about 5 months ago | (#46430077)

Is it petty of me to wish that people who accuse their political opponents of being Nazis, Communists, etc., could live for a little while in the world of their paranoid fantasies? If they survived the experience, a month in the actual USSR under Stalin, for example, might give them much more perspective.

Yes, it's petty, but I do it too, all the time. For instance, just last week I was thinking about how helpful a smallpox epidemic would be in demonstrating why we have vaccines. Likewise, I'd like to see the American Christians who claim to be persecuted spend some time in Saudi Arabia or China so they could understand the true meaning of persecution. I don't actually think any of these people deserve this, but I can't think of anything else that would convince them of how stupid they sound.

Re:question objectivity (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46430223)

Don't feed the trolls, kids.

Eh (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46430233)

My experience has been that people who invoke Hitler, Stalin, etc. when presented with differing viewpoints tend to have room-temperature IQs and body weights that average around 320 pounds. While it's amusing to entertain the notion of subjecting these people to the indignities that they're channeling, the correct response to these sorts of people is to mock them. Mock them, mock their belief systems, and (most importantly) mock their families.

Re:question objectivity (1)

CubicleZombie (2590497) | about 5 months ago | (#46430011)

Evolution is taught in U.S. schools. Once in a while some gray haired old man in some podunk backwoods county tries to change that and makes us all look bad. So don't believe everything you read on Slashdot.

Re:question objectivity (0)

Mr D from 63 (3395377) | about 5 months ago | (#46430251)

I came up through public education back in the 70s. When evolution was taught, it was made clear up front that it was a theory, that some didn't accept it for religious or other reasons, then the basis for the theory was taught. That worked for me to decide for myself and works just fine today. Sure, there was always controversy, but folks on both side had to make it a political battleground. Some atheists push to have religious references removed through schools and government, scaring the crap out of religious conservatives , who respond by trying to push religion back in everywhere possible, thereby scaring the crap out of the atheists. The chicken and egg battle continues, while moderates on both sides just shake their heads in frustration.

Science is never settled. But it can be accepted by the large majority given overwhelming evidence. The world was once flat.

Re:question objectivity (4, Insightful)

Jason Levine (196982) | about 5 months ago | (#46430013)

First class example is that evolutionary criticism is completely forbidden in US schools

Or maybe Evolution is just supported by so much overwhelming evidence that 99%+ of scientists accept it as the best theory. Most of the scientific discussions around Evolution are centered around how we dot the i's and cross the t's, not whether Evolution is a better theory than "last Tuesday God said 'abracadabra' and the Universe was formed as is with its 'history' as an illusion."

In a school's science class, students should learn what the prevailing scientific theories are. They should learn why those theories are the prevailing ones. However, school is not the place for students - who are just learning the material and who will have a highly incomplete knowledge of the subject - to make a determination of which theory is the "right" one.

Whenever someone says "we need to teach the weaknesses of Evolution", what they really mean is "I would like schools to teach Creationism, but that was struck down by the Supreme Court... as was Intelligent Design... so maybe if we sow enough doubt about Evolution in the students, they'll grow up believing that God created it all 10,000 years ago."

Re:question objectivity (0)

digsbo (1292334) | about 5 months ago | (#46430183)

In the past 30 years Darwinists suppressed information about inheritance of acquired traits. The Lamarckian-looking genetics that explain this are now FINALLY being accepted as science and are called, as a group of phenomenon, "epigenetics".

It is true that valid scientific criticism of Darwinian evolution was supressed.

Some of this suppression was because epigenetics at times looks like Intelligent Design as proposed by some people.

But the real science behind it was never wrong. The religious fear of real problems in the Darwinian model that suppressed all criticism, whether coming from legitimate scientists or creationists, was wrong.

Re:question objectivity (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46430253)

... they'll grow up believing that God created it all 10,000 years ago.

Ah, I see you're a fan of Fermi estimation [xkcd.com] , too. :)

Re:question objectivity (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46430101)

OK, missing species. Because things get eaten by other things, get buried deep by land slides, volcanoes, asteroids, etc, or because this planet is so fucking big, and the animal density is so small, we can't dig it fast enough to find more. But if you question evolution based on missing links (fuck that otherwise it makes sense), what is your suggestion? Magical man in the sky did it with his, err... magic wand? :) Does he kill for worship by any chance? If so, I have a counterclaim: we all came out of a magical teapot - at least it's more peaceful and doesn't want my money. You drink its blood each time you have tea. Coffee is Satan's, err... juice in this story. I know this because I received a vision from this holy teapot while writing this comment. Don't believe me? No problem. The holy teapot is all forgiving, and wishes you to live your life in peace. It would never hurt anything living.

Also, I can't find that "doubled-down denial of genetics" thing anywhere.

Re:question objectivity (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46430109)

If you can't handle other people having opinions, your views are weak.

Science doesn't have views.

Still, I liked how you used this as an opportunity for some moral relativist attempt to defend your anti-science religious doctrine.

Re:question objectivity (1)

bobbied (2522392) | about 5 months ago | (#46430257)

If you can't handle other people having opinions, your views are weak.

Excellent point! One that is lost on most in more than just scientific arguments.

It is well settled (1)

DickBreath (207180) | about 5 months ago | (#46429819)

It is quite well settled scientific fact that those who find themselves at a business disadvantage due to the existence of facts they don't like will immediately lobby for legislation to overturn these silly facts in the interest of being pro-business.

Short of that, then the next best thing is to create a controversy. Since it is a creative work, shouldn't the controversy be copyrighted? Or even better . . . patented to protect the idea! Or maybe the observations underlying scientific advancement should be made privately owned, or subject to a government auction. I wouldn't have expected anyone to take these suggestions seriously twenty years ago. But today? Who knows?

No, you don't (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46429829)

you'll frequently hear claims that the science is settled

No, you don't. Science is, by definition, always ready to accept a better theory. Nothing is settled. It's just that there are, at this moment, no better theories to explain observations.

When a better model (or theory) comes along, nobody is going to hang on to the old model. Science is never settled and always ready to accept change.

That said, in some fields you better come prepared with a very good model/theory to change the current model. Some parts of science are well understood and it takes extraordinary evidence to back up extraordinary claims.

Re:No, you don't (2)

Daniel Dvorkin (106857) | about 5 months ago | (#46430037)

you'll frequently hear claims that the science is settled

No, you don't. Science is, by definition, always ready to accept a better theory. Nothing is settled. It's just that there are, at this moment, no better theories to explain observations.

Very true. You do, however, frequently hear claims along the lines of "Warmists say it's all 'settled science!' Stupid warmists, nothing is ever settled in science!" This article does an excellent job of addressing that particular straw man.

Re:No, you don't (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46430153)

True. But the world would be better off when we just didn't pay any attention to "wamists" or "deniers" and instead focus on the science itself.

Science is a beautiful thing, it's a pity there are so many that pervert it to further their own (monetary) gains. I wish someday we could do science without politicising it. Politics and science don't mix, they are, in fact, orthogonal to each other.

TL;DR: do science, ignore the loudmouths.

Re:No, you don't (1)

slew (2918) | about 5 months ago | (#46430177)

Science is never settled and always ready to accept change.

However, science pendants are often heard claiming [npr.org] certain science is settled and are highly resistant to accept additional input.

Certainly no rational person would disagree with they, would they [wikipedia.org] ?

Settled (2, Insightful)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | about 5 months ago | (#46429831)

Claiming that a topic is "settled" is, typically, a tactic to shut a viewpoint down as no longer being a live option the community will consider in its collective deliberations.

At best, this is a necessary pruning tactic, so that old, disproven arguments can't be repeatedly raised. Without some mechanism like this, it would be difficult for groups to proceed when they have a majority, but not unanimous, consensus.

At its worst, "settled" talk is a rhetorical trick, to shut someone with a potentially valid point out of a public deliberation. We see this somewhat with climate science (since new data are regularly obtained), and also in law / public policy. For example, Marbury vs. Madison may have "settled" the law regarding whether or not court decision trump the other two branches' judgment in matters of law. But that doesn't mean the position is correct, or that the count-arguments were ever adequately resolved. One could argue that it's a thin veil over the military victor's (the North's) version of history.

Re:Settled (0, Flamebait)

Daniel Dvorkin (106857) | about 5 months ago | (#46429923)

Claiming that a topic is "settled" is, typically, a tactic to shut a viewpoint down as no longer being a live option the community will consider in its collective deliberations.

And claiming that the other side is claiming "the topic is settled" is almost always a strawman.

One could argue that it's a thin veil over the military victor's (the North's) version of history.

Nice job of concealing your ideological looniness until the end of the post.

Re:Settled (2, Funny)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | about 5 months ago | (#46429959)

Nice job of concealing your ideological looniness until the end of the post.

I'm sorry, you're looking for "Ad Hominem Attacks". That's three doors down, on the left. Cheerio! (Stupid git...)

Re:Settled (2, Funny)

Daniel Dvorkin (106857) | about 5 months ago | (#46430091)

Ah, I see you've recently discovered a Philosophy 101 list of logical fallacies. Come back when you learn enough to understand what the bullet points actually mean.

Re:Settled (1)

the gnat (153162) | about 5 months ago | (#46430135)

I'm sorry, you're looking for "Ad Hominem Attacks".

I thought it was a perfectly relevant point: why should we take anything that a neo-Confederate has to say seriously?

Virtual World (0)

invid (163714) | about 5 months ago | (#46429847)

Of course it will never be settled. Even if we are capable of comprehending all the laws of the universe and we do eventually figure them out to explain all observable phenomenon, it will always be logically valid to say there is something we haven't observed yet. Induction does not lead to logical truth. It is even possible (but unlikely) that the universe is actually completely chaotic with no laws, and what we see as gravity and the other forces just a really big coincidence.

Science isn't a thing (4, Insightful)

alzoron (210577) | about 5 months ago | (#46429849)

It's a process.

Re:Science isn't a thing (1)

sexconker (1179573) | about 5 months ago | (#46430113)

It's a process.

A process is a thing.
Every thing is a thing.
Everything is also a thing (and therefore a thing).
Nothing is a thing, but no thing is not a thing.

Re:Science isn't a thing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46430159)

Processes can settle as well.

Chemistry? (2)

deadweight (681827) | about 5 months ago | (#46429875)

I think I read there really is no more "chemistry" left to investigate. Apparently it has moved on to molecular physics. Kind of like Newtonian physics are as settled as can be. The bordlines have moved far beyond them by now.

Re:Chemistry? (1)

avandesande (143899) | about 5 months ago | (#46430079)

It depends on what you mean by chemistry- but I would say far from it as far as practical chemistry is concerned. Sure we can synthesize anything but doing so in an economical fashion is another matter.

Re:Chemistry? (1)

deadweight (681827) | about 5 months ago | (#46430139)

What I meant wasn't that we can do anything at all with chemicals - it was more along the lines that if you want to expand the borders of "chemistry", the science you are studying has moved beyond classical chemistry into molecular physics.

Re:Chemistry? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46430211)

It depends on your definition of chemistry, of course. The definition I was presented in graduate courses at UCLA is the following: the creation and investigation of elements and molecules. We are still creating new molecules (and I submit we could go on for a very, very long time), so chemistry is not dead. Additionally, I've attended recent seminars on previously undiscovered properties of water, one of the simplest molecules we know!

There are aspects of chemistry which are effectively dead, such as thermodynamics. We know everything we need to know to describe entropy, enthalpy, and energy transfer. Additionally, even ostensibly more interesting disciplines such as organic chemistry have become much easier (and therefore less scientifically interesting) with technology. It is now concievable that we could make a device that, when loaded with the correct precursors, will make many useful types of molecules at high yeild. Such a replicator would not exactly be a Star Trek replicator, but it would be a stepping stone to something like that.

The appetite for PhD level chemists is waning. I think the golden age of the science has passed us by, and savvy chemists have re-branded themselves as "nanotechnologists" in order to market themselves.

"Settled" science is akin to religion. (0, Troll)

spads (1095039) | about 5 months ago | (#46429899)

"The bible says it. I believe it. That settles it."

Re:"Settled" science is akin to religion. (2)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | about 5 months ago | (#46430039)

That's not religion, that's dogmatism. People can be dogmatic about both religious and non-religious topics. People can be dogmatic and non-dogmatic about religion.

Re:"Settled" science is akin to religion. (1)

spads (1095039) | about 5 months ago | (#46430075)

My working definition of religion would be "passionate dogmatism". Dogmatism isn't really a threat unless it's passionate (i.e. there's something critical at stake). Thus, religion is a more worrisome form of dogmatism.

Re:"Settled" science is akin to religion. (1)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | about 5 months ago | (#46430129)

You should be aware, then, that your definition of religion is inconsistent with that belief structures of many people who describe themselves with that label.

No (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46429909)

No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong.

-- Albert Einstein

I hope not (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46429921)

For well over a thousand years Aristotle's work in the physical sciences (including zooology) was considered settled... until people started testing his theories

We called that period the "Enlightenment"

Asymptotic, then a step function (1)

davecb (6526) | about 5 months ago | (#46429933)

You approach closer and close to the "absolute truth", but never get there, and every pi microns there is an e chance that there will be a step function and the whole convergence has to start again.

And then the cylons show up (;-))

Akin to product releases (1)

Bookwyrm (3535) | about 5 months ago | (#46429937)

People come up with theories, they get refined, debugged, and eventually tagged as a release candidate.

If the theories seem solid enough, there is a major/product release as something which is solid enough for other people to use in production environments.

As people keep using it, it gets minor patches/revisions. If people find a serious enough flaw/bug, then people start working on creating another major version release (or competing product.)

And, just as in software, if the new version of the theory/science is not backwards compatible to the previous one, there is much wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Re:Akin to product releases (1)

Grishnakh (216268) | about 5 months ago | (#46430125)

This isn't a very good analogy, unless you're going to constrain it to Free/open-source software.

In proprietary software, there's new versions every now and then, which both remove useful features and add new feature of questionable value, not because people found flaws or bugs, or because people really needed some new features, but rather because the company behind the software wanted to make more money by selling customers something they already had, and the people writing the software needed to justify their jobs. So we get crap like Windows 8/Metro. We get newer software which has new bugs which weren't present in the older versions, which run slower, which do less, which are uglier and have worse user interfaces.

It's not confined to proprietary software either. Just look at Gnome3. People were perfectly happy with Gnome2, but they had to toss that out and create something totally new and different (and incompatible) just because they wanted to, maybe because they had nothing better to do with their time, maybe because they wanted to justify their existence.

Your statements work for lower-level open-source projects like the Linux kernel, the Linux init systems (some people didn't think sysvinit had the features they needed, so they created upstart; some other people thought that was buggy and not architected right, so they created systemd, etc.). But for user-facing things, there's frequently completely different (and not so utilitarian) dynamics at work.

Science is a Process (3, Insightful)

SillyHamster (538384) | about 5 months ago | (#46429955)

Not a result. Thus, attempts to claim that the science is settled are attempts to shut down the scientific process.

If the results of the scientific process are good, they're reproducible, and there's no point in trying to build up a religious dogma of belief on something that simply is.

Questioning the "settled science" is science. Shut it down at the cost of shutting down science.

Summary is confused. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46429957)

The summary confuses "science", as in the process of discovery, and the various discoveries themselves and the knowledge obtained.

Science is settled with respect to we have the process and principles of exploring the rules of the universe. That has nothing to do with whether e.g. climate change exists or does not.

Various topics on the other hand, some are considered accepted fact, and others are not. The chemical composition of water, and the second law of thermodynamics are accepted as being 'settled'.

Re:Summary is confused. (1)

ttucker (2884057) | about 5 months ago | (#46430009)

Settled, but only one counterexample away from oblivion.

Isn't it like security? (1)

FuzzNugget (2840687) | about 5 months ago | (#46429963)

A process, not a product?

In a negative sense - yes (1)

mike449 (238450) | about 5 months ago | (#46429965)

Many things in science are settled beyond any reasonable doubt as false simply because they contradict obvious observed facts. Sorry, Earth is not flat and was not created literally 6000 years ago in literally 6 days.

Re:In a negative sense - yes (1)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | about 5 months ago | (#46430111)

Many things in science are settled beyond any reasonable doubt as false simply because they contradict obvious observed facts. Sorry, Earth is not flat and was not created literally 6000 years ago in literally 6 days.

Try to pay less attention to Archbishop Ussher. Contrary to popular rumour, most Christians don't pay too much attention to Anglican Archbishops (most Christians aren't even Anglicans, and as far as I know, most Anglicans don't pay all that much attention to their archbishops. especially the dead ones).

Note also that the "days of creation", even assuming they happened, cannot be based on 24 hour Terrestrial days, since the Sun didn't exist till the fourth day.

Oh Look -- (-1)

wbtittle (456702) | about 5 months ago | (#46429979)

Yet another bloke claiming settled.

Lovely RED chart at the top imbuing you with an overwhelming sense of overheating.

Then you find the "proof" of warming down at the bottom. A carefully excised anomalous temperature chart that. 0.5C total range with a tail pointing down.

Plot the temperature folks. It ain't hard. BEST has it available for free. http://berkeleyearth.org/data

All you have to do is parse and plot. I have been pawing through the data from each station. Temperature ranges everywhere. Some really cool ones in Eastern Russia. No where can you see increases over the last 150 years. Way to close to a flat line.

http://iowahawk.typepad.com/iowahawk/2011/03/longhorns-17-badgers-1.html

What the iowahawk talks about in the averages for schools is relevant to the discussion of temperatures.

Stupid question (1)

DarkOx (621550) | about 5 months ago | (#46429983)

The answer is obviously only when we have observed all that there is in the universe, and given the universe is expanding there is that which we never see: so no.

Once a theory or even a law becomes unfalsifiable its not longer science. Until every observation has been made, it remains possible a contradiction will be discovered. Therefore nothing can ever be settled.

With that said there are lots of cases like inertia where the evidence in support of it is so strong and so complete; we can reasonably depend upon its truthfulness and pretty much reject anyone who disputes it unless they have some really really solid independently reproducible observations to the contrary.

Re:Stupid question (3, Insightful)

Grishnakh (216268) | about 5 months ago | (#46430235)

There's also a difference between observations and theories. For instance, gravity is pretty much "settled". However, it's an observation. We always see that objects are attracted to other massive objects; every time we throw something in the air, it falls to the ground. At this point, it'd be stupid to say that gravity doesn't exist.

However, whyare objects with mass attracted to other objects with mass? That isn't very well understood. We have a theory that describes the relationship (the universal gravitation theory), in a simple equation that tells you the gravitational force given two objects' masses and distance apart. But why is it so? According to Einstein's theories, it's because the spacetime continuum is warped by mass like a rubber sheet, and gravity is just a side-effect of this. According to Quantum Mechanics, particles called gravitons are responsible somehow.

So we can debate all day about what exactly causes gravity, but the existence of gravity itself is really undeniable at this point.

Similarly, with evolution, the age of the earth, etc., the theories might be somewhat debatable (but not nearly as much as gravitational theories), the evidence that led to those theories' creation is pretty undeniable at this point, namely fossils and other geological evidence. Claiming the earth is 6500 years old when there's enormous evidence contradicting that claim is just stupid.

no (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46429987)

a scientist who isn't interested in writing the next chapter in the text is a disciple.

Science is as good as needed to support world view (1)

mtippett (110279) | about 5 months ago | (#46429997)

A common definition of science is "knowledge, as of facts or principles; knowledge gained by systematic study."

Science is never stable. There is always layer upon layer of detail that is waiting to be discovered. The "Standing on the Shoulders of Giants" is the underlying concept. Our level of scientific understanding is driven by our current understanding and our needs to go deeper. The knowledge can change and grow based on deeper systematic study.

In the middle ages, when transportation was limited to horse, cart and walking. The naivety of a geocentric university was sufficient for the time. And for the most part motion of planets was fairly accurately explained by epicycles. The "Science" of the age was sufficient. As travel and migration required more detailed knowledge, the science improved to explain what was seen. New models were formed, and tides, winds and so on became more accurate and combined into a deeper understanding.

The beauty of science is that as the foundations of one area is broken down and rebuilt, what replaces it must not only encompass what was there, but also link deeper into other areas that caused the original science to fail. It doesn't make the previous science and knowledge bad, just incorrect. One can't deny that a model that explained a known phenomena for that point in history was bad science.

In 40 years time*, we'll look back at the misguided fools at the start of 21st century and our futile and plain incorrect approaches to fusion. We may not be there, but we'll probably dealing with all sorts of funky and interesting materials on the way to get there.

Those of us who will have children should know that their science *will* be different in a lot of areas than our science. That is a good thing.

* Bonus points for replies that say why I chose the "40 years time".

What goes up, must come down... (-1)

PseudoCoder (1642383) | about 5 months ago | (#46430025)

That one is provable definitively every time even after some genius tries to make headlines and get a grant by trying to redefine "down". On the other hand, when you consider that the end of the last Ice Age predated the invention of the SUV by a few thousand years then you kinda have to stay open to different possibilities and keep an eye not just on the data, but also the assumptions that lead to the data. Particularly when there are so many variables and inputs.

I know how tempting it is to "tweak" a model to get the answer you want; I did it in college. And maybe that's part of it; these scientists should get out and actually be employed for a while instead of making a career out of being in an academic environment where the perception of what's at stake is more abstract.

Either way, calling science "settled" should be treated with great care. There was a time when disagreeing with "settled" science meant your ass.

Science can never be settled... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46430053)

Science can never be settled even if all that is knowable about the current set of knowable things is known. There simply may be more knowable things in the future. However there is an argument that says the universe of all things that are knowable must by definition be both finite, and therefore also discrete. So it must be shown eventually that we have found all knowable things, and we know all about all knowable things, and how they interact.

A finite and discrete universe would necessarily lead to the entire future as already planned, and we have no recourse except to experience it regardless of our personal desires or will (since a will to change something would already be in the plan).

A finite and discrete universe also would be required to eventually repeat, and any memories collected in such a universe would eventually be required to be dumped. Especially since remembering an infinite amount of things would not be possible. The question of "What was your first memory?" in an infinite universe would simply be absurd.

The alternative to knowing things about the universe, and how it works, is just to experience it anyway.

Science is settled because no one knows what it is (0)

atari2600a (1892574) | about 5 months ago | (#46430081)

College is WAY WAY WAY too late to start handing kids academic journal access. Copyrighted science? COPYRIGHTED SCIENCE!? This isn't real science. Just wait 20 years for the 'real' scientists to take over & you can keep your cute little lab coat you spent $80K/8 years on just so you can skip internal medicine altogether & work for a pharmaceutical company to poop out a new chemical analog that gets you high by curing backpain or whatever but then the class-action lawsuit comes from the stump babys or the new boobies or whatever. Fuck you, currently-still-existing-"science"-community. Fuck. You.

Axiom (1)

drfred79 (2936643) | about 5 months ago | (#46430085)

Nothing is ever settled. There are axioms that can be used to conduct further science and base theories on but without constantly proving something we'll never find out if something is wrong.

People who say something is settled want the exact opposite. They don't want anyone to test their hypothesis because the findings might be different, not necessarily the opposite, but at least different from the observed original answer.

The length of a coast (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46430087)

The best explanation I've ever heard of for science's progression as explained to a non-scientist is an analogy to the coastline paradox. The coastline paradox goes like this: What is the length of the coastline of Great Britain (or any other island/continent/thing with a coast)? If you use a kilometer long measuring stick, you'll get one answer, but you'll miss some coastline that zigs and zags a bit under the scale of 1 km. Ok, you say, so let's use a half-kilometer measuring stick, or even better a one meter measuring stick, that'll give us a more precise answer! But wait, you'll still miss features that are smaller than a meter. Science operates under the same principle. First, we take a very large look at a question, and find a minimally acceptable answer. Then, as our understanding gets better and we can refine our analysis, we move down to a smaller measuring stick and get a more precise answer, a better model for what reality is. However, just like getting to the meter measuring stick, our answers will never be precisely correct, our models for the natural world will never be completely correct, encompassing every little zig and zag of the problem. Therefore, the models can always get better and there will always be job opportunities for people who ask questions about our world.

Flame bait (1)

digitalPhant0m (1424687) | about 5 months ago | (#46430089)

This is obvious flame bait.

Perfectly settled, like a religious absolute? No, (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46430099)

But adequately settled, like a scientific consensus? Sure that happens often.

A matter of degrees (3, Insightful)

TheCarp (96830) | about 5 months ago | (#46430123)

I really liked the way one person put it to me a while back. Some people used to have some idea the earth was flat, but then some people realized that wasn't true and said it was a sphere. Well, that was clearly wrong too but a sphere is a lot closer to the truth than flat; treating wrongness as a boolean would just label them both wrong but, one is clearly a lot less wrong than the other.

So to some degree, it was settled...possibilities were excluded. Then, well its clearly not a sphere, it bulges in the middle, I have heard "slightly pear shaped" is a good description.... then you have the satellites that have precisely measured variations in gravitational field...they have an even more complex picture.

Whether it is settled or not depends on to what degree you need the answers.

Science will NEVER be settled. Counter-argument... (0)

UnknownSoldier (67820) | about 5 months ago | (#46430127)

Knowledge is Infinite, therefore Science will NEVER be "settled."

Science is a process (journey) to reach a goal (destination).

Science is about removing Falsehood.
Gnosis is about adding Truth.

Same goal, different paths. The best way to is to combine complementary paths but the Western world is too stuck on an incomplete Materialistic perspective to understand the Strengths and Weaknesses of BOTH systems.

There are many questions outside the domain of Science. But just because Science and Scientists will NEVER be able to answer them doesn't mean that we don't have other ways to find out the answer.

Everything we know about Gravitation, Evolution, the Big Bang will be turned upside down in ~ 10 years.

How long is string? (1)

mcmonkey (96054) | about 5 months ago | (#46430149)

Can "science" ever be settled?

No, almost certainly not, since that implies perfect knowledge of all existence--all that is, was, or ever could be.

Can science settle particular questions? Yes.

This misses the point of science (1)

randomiq (3549961) | about 5 months ago | (#46430163)

The point of science is to develop a better understanding of the world/universe/whatever we live in. That understanding can be refined and improved. This question doesn't even make any sense.

Truly settled science goes without saying (2)

davidwr (791652) | about 5 months ago | (#46430185)

Or to put it another way, if someone feels the need to say "XYZ is settled science" that's a clue that it might not be.

It Depends (1)

motorhead (82353) | about 5 months ago | (#46430197)

Am I buying or selling?

This question is ancient (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46430215)

Although this may seem a paradox, all exact science is dominated by the idea of approximation. -- Bertrand Russell

Question too vague. (2)

prefec2 (875483) | about 5 months ago | (#46430221)

You are not really expecting any useful answer to your question? You do not give a definition of what settled means. If it means a theory has been proven right, then by all means science is never settled. See Karl Popper for details. If it means a theory has been proven useful to us to understand a certain aspect of what we call reality, then yes there are many fields in science which are considered settled.

When I say theory, I mean scientific theory. Not that "theory" which people often use to describe that they have an opinion. If you do not know the difference then see Karl Popper again.

By the way even in religion there is no absolute truth, as the absolute truth varies between people and over time even in one person. So in general settled is only a vague term used in real life to describe some inter-subjective object of thought which is believed not to change. And in that definition many things in science are settled.

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