On The Scientific Method

What motivated me to write this was the spate of incredibly desirable medical “cures” making the scientific and skeptical blogosphere… From time to time you’ll get something like this- some brilliant theory or procedure or tonic or device that “scientists can’t explain”.  These almost always turn out to be frauds expounded upon by liars, and that’s because they (unfortunately, along with most of the general public) don’t understand how science works.

There is no secret cabal or mystic collection of forces that defines what is correct and scientific.  Theories may be in vogue, influential people may have some pet idea they won’t give up on, but all scientific hypotheses live and die on the question: Does it work? (or, if you prefer, does it really do what you think it does?)

There’s nothing arcane or mysterious about that; the only complexity is how you test it.  Every scientific discipline has its own way of testing its hypotheses, making sure the effect isn’t due to some other hidden reason, and making sure the experimenters aren’t systematically fooling themselves, but they’re all trying to answer the same question: Does it work?

This is NOT the same as “how does it work?”  There are many things science cannot yet explain: so-called room temperature semiconductors, the nature of dark energy, love… and yet science can prove they’re real things and they exist.  Theorists enrich our understanding by working out the hows and whys of the world, but we don’t have to wait for them to provide a mechanism before we certify the existence of a phenomenon. (for instance, it was recognized that light seemed to travel at the same speed regardless of the direction of motion of the light source YEARS before Einstein came up with General, or even Special Relativity)

Instead, I have no doubt that a great many scientists (we and our loved ones get cancer just like everyone else) would gladly embrace the discovery of something that could actually cure cancer, and leave the question of HOW the cure worked for another day.  If the medical and scientific community is opposing these treatments it is NOT because “we don’t know how they work”, it’s because the treatments do not work.

The statement “scientists don’t know how this works” is irrelevant. What they’re really saying “You can ignore those other scientists, those elitist eggheads are too stupid and jealous to understand how it works, so they’re out to get me.”  Of course, the FDA won’t let alternative practicioners call it a cure.

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