atomic_fungus (atomic_fungus) wrote,

#4043: White Wendesday, again.

Mrs. Fungus and I don't have a lot planned today, just little things--mostly staying in and doing as little as possible.

That does not stop me, however, from delving into a few fundamental issues about the finality of science.

AoSHQ has a post up discussing the radius of the proton.

Now, the radius of the proton is set at 0.88 femtometers because two experiments agreed. But verifying this figure using a third method returned a figure of 0.84 femtometers, and physicists have to figure out why this one reports a different number.

You see, this is how science actually works, when it's being done correctly: you take measurements and you use different methods and then explain the discrepancies, and when one experiment disagrees you don't throw it away. You must, in fact, explain why its results are invalid. You publish all the data in both raw and processed form.

But wait--if we apply the kind of science used by climatologists, why are these physicists not simply denoucing the third experiment as having been done by proton size deniers? The science is settled and there is concensus that the radius of a proton is 0.88 femtometers, and there's no use in further experimentation to refine that number because we all agree, and only a criminal or a lunatic could possibly disagree with us.

Climatology, however, is not science. Someday it's going to be consigned to the same dustbin that holds phrenology and a host of other nonsense which was deemed legitimate at the time but has since been deemed arrant nonsense.

I'm going to say it again: the science is never settled, except in a few very limited cases, because the more you know about the fundamental functioning of the universe the more you can see how the pieces fit together. The best example is the Laws of Thermodynamics, which have never, never, ever been falsified. We call them "laws" because of that.

The Law of Universal Gravitation--some theories call that one into question now, even though it was previously considered "settled science", because the universe is not acting as if it's the case. The alternative explanations require other equally unlikely solutions to the problems. (I would wager that the solution is, in fact, very simple and requires no new theory, but does require an Einstein or a Feynman to see it.) So even laws aren't safe, because they're built on an imperfect understanding of how the world works.

It's just how things are.

* * *

Mrs. Fungus is playing WoW and it sure sounds like she's having a good time. So what am I doing here?

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