Science progress

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I would like to address the sophistry in the letter “ ‘Settled’ Science?” (Jan. 30). The argument that science is simply another political ideology propagated by scientists in their own self-interest is actually an old screed from radical left humanists. Ironically it has now been co-opted by those on the radical right.

Nobody has described the situation better, or answered it better, than the late Isaac Asimov in 1989:

“The young specialist in English Lit … lectured me severely on the fact that in every century people have thought they understood the universe at last, and in every century they were proved to be wrong. It follows that the one thing we can say about our modern ‘knowledge’ is that it is wrong. …

“My answer to him was, ‘ … when people thought the Earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the Earth was spherical they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the Earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the Earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together.’ ”

There are good reasons that a study of history is not a complete waste of time. The iconic example of “wrong science” is Newtonian mechanics, which was shown to be only an approximation of the way the universe really works at speeds much slower than light. Despite the fact that it is “wrong,” the classical physics invented by Newton 300 years ago continues in widespread use by modern engineers.

Of course the writer is quite correct that science is “forever refining and reforming our models of reality.” But if he believes that makes science wrong, then his view is wronger than anything in climate science, a fact he tacitly acknowledges every time he gets on an airplane.


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