Skepticism, Debunking, and the Scientific Method
I have seen many claims that the scientific method should be scrapped. It is claimed that the scientific method is not an acceptable method for arriving at new knowledge. Iíve heard things like the scientific community is part of a massive conspiracy, that it is a "cult" (complete with high priests and incomprehensible jargon), or that it is simply not good enough to explain the world around us.
"Skeptic" and "debunker" are often used as interchangeable words, often in a very derogatory sense.
My question is: What would we do without the scientific method, skeptics, and debunkers?
Firstly, lets look at skeptics and debunkers. In my opinion, both of these are necessary for the advancement of science. By their simplest (and pertinent to science) definitions, a skeptic is a person who questions rather than blindly accepting any new theory as true; while a debunker exposes false claims as what they are, false (or "bunk"). Without questions, how can we find answers? ALL claims, theories, and conclusions should be questioned. That is how the truth of the matter is arrived at, is it not? Additionally, when false claims are put forth as truth (knowingly or unknowingly), shouldnít they be exposed as false? If they are not, then how will the truth ever come out? By "truth" I mean those things that are testable, verifiable fact.
This brings us to science and the scientific method. The scientific method is a way of exploring the world around us. Simplified, there are a series of steps that take place in the scientific method: examination of the world around us, the creation of hypotheses to explain what was observed, followed by the testing of these hypotheses. Of course, if the tests show that our hypotheses are wrong, itís time to make a new set and test them. Is the scientific method perfect? By no means. Is it the best method available? In my opinion, yes it is.
The scientific method has an amazing track record. It has given us more real knowledge than any other method I know of to attain new knowledge. And by knowledge, I mean that which is proven to be true, rather than simply accepted to be true. For example, the computer I am using to write this article, along with the word processing programs, which allows the computer to do anything at all, were created using the scientific method.
Yes, science and the scientific method have their drawbacks. Scientists are human beings, and, as such, are fallible creatures. However, if one scientist makes a mistake, itís a pretty good bet that, sooner or later, another scientist will discover that mistake and correct it. Once again, skepticism plays a major role in science. It was once commonly believed that the Earth was flat. If no one had come along to question this "fact," we might still be afraid to sail around the world. If a debunker hadnít come along and shown the claim that disease is caused by evil spirits to be false, we would not now be able to cure and treat many forms of life-threatening disease.
Has science discovered everything there is to know? Of course not. Will it? Probably not. For every bit of new knowledge that is uncovered, there are often more questions found which need to be answered. What better way to do so than with the scientific method?
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