The essence of science is not to find the truth but to constantly discuss it  opinion

The essence of science is not to find the truth but to constantly discuss it opinion

Scientists would do well to use concepts like “truth” and “reality” very carefully. The alleged facts must remain open to discussion.

In the L.C The March 4 issue contains a fascinating contribution from Elke Vollmer, who calls herself an independent scientist, with her basic message that finding the truth is the essence of science. A popular view, but there is a lot to be said about it.

The reason for his contribution was a scientific article published in 2001 about snail hunting. Vollmer announced that the 2001 study would be provided with critical commentary in 2023, again by highly qualified scientific critics. When the authors from 2001 responded to this again, Vollmer dismissed it as “concealment and disinformation” and “diversionary maneuvers.” This is heavy talk, especially under the title that finding the truth is the essence of science, which suggests, at the very least, that the truth was violated in 2001, and that the truth – fortunately – emerged in 2023.

There is no consensus on what truth is

I do not participate in the discussion about shell fishing and the impact of mechanization on the supply of shells and nuns; I lack the experience necessary for this. But much more could be said about this resonant statement about the relationship between truth and science. First of all, it stands to reason that scientists should be very careful when using important concepts like “reality” and “truth.”

There have been many philosophical (scientific) debates on the question of what truth is, both in the natural sciences and in the social sciences. There is no consensus on this. The fundamental question is whether behind, below or above the reality we live in every day, there lies the “true” reality that can be known through scientific research. Or on the other hand, this fact depends on the way we investigate reality. To make matters more complicated: even the question of what we should understand of reality has not been answered unambiguously from a philosophical (scientific) point of view.

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Repetition can provide new perspectives

Beyond this conceptual fog, there are at least three arguments why science's claim to truth is so weak. First, the history of science proves that many facts of the past have been debunked. Even proven claims from the natural sciences have been called into question. This is more common in the social sciences.

Repeated research can reveal new perspectives and expose methodological shortcomings. This is not a bad thing, because instead of finding the truth, it touches more on the essence of science: the ongoing critical discussion of the results of scientific research.

Different models of research

The second argument for scientific humility is that there is no such thing as a fixed, uncontroversial method for scientific research. Science can be conducted within different sets of principles – paradigms. For example, there are scientists who rely heavily on the idea that everything is measurable, and they are so-called quantitative scientists. But there is also a scholarly tradition that sees this quantitative approach as too reductive, and thus opts for the so-called qualitative research approach, where things like perception, essence, context, and experience dominate.

It would take us a lot to clarify the differences between these models of thinking at this point. Obviously, the same phenomenon can be studied through different models of thinking and lead to different results. It also appears time and again that discussions between scholars who do not share the same paradigm of thinking, and therefore do not share the same paradigm, are very difficult. But ruling out either is unscientific, to say the least.

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Continuously search for loopholes and weaknesses

As for the third reason for the lack of truth at the core of science, I agree with the famous Austrian-British philosopher of science Karl Popper (1902-1994), who reversed the common position that science and truth are extensions of each other. He stated that science should constantly seek to disprove knowledge. Instead of verification, science must constantly look for falsifications. This means that a scientist must not only present his research as transparently as possible so that other scientists can look for gaps or weaknesses in this research, but scientists must also not take the results of scientific research as (completely) correct.

Therefore there is no finding of truth, but rather a constant intellectual attack on the alleged facts. Especially given the social impact of science, as Vollmer rightly points out, such a position in a world without certainty is, in my opinion, much better than the illusion of finding truth and certainty.

doctor. Peter Bollhuis from Leeuwarden is a political scientist.

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