Today in the Wall Street Journal, UC Santa Barbara professor emeritus Dan Botkin -- a biologist who has helped solve major environmental issues and who holds degrees in physics, biology and literature -- published an excellent essay entitled "Absolute Certainty Is Not Scientific."
In his article, Dr. Botkin argues that the increasing number of scientists who declare absolute certainty in their conclusions, rather than discussing what the evidence does or does not suggest, appears to be growing, and that this trend represents an unscientific increase in dogmatism or absolutism and a move away from the true scientific method.
Using as his primary case-in-point the dogmatic assertions of many scientists about global warming, Dr. Botkin warns that, "'Period, end of story' is something that a scientist can say -- but it isn't science." He explains:
the key to the scientific method is that it is a way of knowing in which you can never completely prove that something is absolutely true. Instead, the important idea about the method is that any statement, to be scientific, must be open to disproof, and a way of knowing how to disprove it exists.This is an extremely important reminder and one that more scientists should be bringing to public attention. It is certainly applicable to the current emotionally-charged "climate change" debate (particularly after the release of a second raft of emails over the past week showing even more evidence of scientists covering up and even deleting data from their reports when it did not support their belief system), and it has been shown to be applicable many other times in the past.
For example, we have pointed out previously that the currently-favored geological theory of plate tectonics was savagely ridiculed when Alfred Wegener first proposed it in the early 1900s (interested readers can learn more about those scientists who refused to admit the possibility that continents could ever move by simply searching the web for Alfred Wegener and reading about the scorn he endured).
We have also pointed out the recent change of opinion in the world of chemistry regarding the existence of quasicrystals, and the ridicule this year's Nobel Laureate in Chemistry endured from scientists who basically declared quasicrystals were impossible, "period, end of story."
If you want to personally experience the sort of absolutism these brave individuals faced, try walking into a modern university in the United States and declaring that, in order to be scientific, the statements of Charles Darwin must be "open to disproof" and that instead of declaring the general Darwinian paradigm to be established with absolute certainty, we should be discussing what the evidence does and does not suggest, and what other explanations might explain the evidence more satisfactorily.
When you are done with that, you can also try explaining that the general theory of tectonics may not be the best explanation for the evidence either, and that numerous pieces of evidence from around the world appear to be better explained with by a catastrophic global flood (for a list of some of this evidence, with links to discussions of each, see this previous post, among others).
If you're still hungry for more, you can visit some medical doctors next and ask whether the link between dietary cholesterol and heart disease has been proved to the point we can say, "Period, end of story" and whether there are any other hypotheses which might explain the evidence we have better than the reigning theory.
As we've pointed out in the previous post entitled, "Think politics and science don't mix?" there are plenty of examples from history of personal opinions and political dogmas forcing their way into "science" and being asserted as "scientifically proven" when in reality those opinions were the exact opposite of science.
Dr. Botkin may not agree at all with any of the conclusions offered in the Mathisen Corollary book or this blog, but judging from his arguments, he would certainly approve of the propriety of examining evidence and reaching conclusions other than those that have been declared to be absolute certainty, and with the statement by Edgar Smith Craighill Handy quoted in more than one previous post that "there is only one sure way of being in the wrong, and that is by asserting dogmatically what is not true."
Dr. Botkin has done us all a valuable service by pointing out that even scientists can fall into this trap, but that when they make such statements of absolute certainty, it is not science.