A physicist’s latest attempt to justify scientism reveals a deplorable ignorance of history, logic and philosophy of science.

Tom Solomon, astronomer and physicist at Bucknell University, makes a valiant attempt to defend scientism (the view that ‘science’ is exceptional and superior to any other search for knowledge). In his article on The Conversation, “Scientific theories aren’t mere conjecture – to survive they must work,” he begins by expressing his frustration at public distrust of Big Science.

The theory of evolution also shows a mismatch: Whereas there is virtually universal agreement among scientists about the validity of the theory, only 33 percent of the public accepts it in full. For both climate change and evolution, skeptics sometimes sow doubt by saying that it is just a “theory.”

Solomon undoubtedly has the wisdom to go beyond consensus, which would invoke bandwagon and authority fallacies. But his defense is largely pragmatic:

The issue is not whether a scientific theory is settled, but rather whether it works. Any successful scientific theory must be predictive and falsifiable; that is, it must successfully predict outcomes of controlled experiments or observations, and it must survive tests that could disprove the theory.

The “prediction” test, unfortunately, is known to philosophers of science as the fallacy of “affirming the consequent.” The “falsifiability test,” further, requires more nuance after the collapse of logical positivism to survive Quine’s and Kuhn’s insights into the nature of actual scientific practice: i.e., anomalies rarely falsify popular theories.theories

 

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