On Science and Nonscience

Guest essay by Neil Lock

Today, I’m going to write about science. This won’t be a technical paper. It won’t be full of numbers or equations. Instead, I’m going to look at science from the generalist point of view. I’m going to ask questions like: What is science? How useful is it to the making of decisions, including political ones? And, how can we tell good science from bad?

What is science?

According to Webster’s, science is: “knowledge or a system of knowledge covering general truths or the operation of general laws.”

The way I see it, science is a method of discovering truths. For the idea to make any sense at all, though, we need first to agree that scientific truth is objective. Now, a particular truth or fact may of course be unknown, or poorly understood, or wrongly apprehended, at a particular time. But in science, one man’s truth must be the same as another’s.

Those of certain philosophical tendencies, such as postmodernism or cultural relativism, like to pooh-pooh science. They dispute its objectivity and neutrality. They point out that scientists have their own agendas, and that the scientific establishment is politicized. But I think they bark up the wrong tree. As criticisms of how science is actually conducted by some who call themselves scientists, their points may have merit. But they do not tarnish one whit the idea of science itself.

The scientific method

Properly done, science is conducted according to a procedure known as the scientific method. The details may vary a little from one discipline to another; but the basic scheme is the same. Here’s a brief outline of the steps within the scientific method:

  1. Pose a question, to which you want to find an answer.
  2. Do background research on that question.
  3. Construct a hypothesis. This is a statement, giving a possible answer to your question. In some circumstances, you may want to take someone else’s hypothesis for re-testing.
  4. Develop testable predictions of your hypothesis. For example: “If my hypothesis is true, then when X happens, Y will happen more often than it does when X doesn’t happen.”
  5. For each prediction, formulate an appropriate null hypothesis, against which you will test your prediction. For example: “X doesn’t influence whether or not Y happens.”
  6. Test the predictions against their null hypotheses by experiment or observation. If you need to use someone else’s data as part of this, you must first check the validity of their data.
  7. Collect your results, and check they make sense. If not, troubleshoot.
  8. Analyze your results and draw conclusions. This may require the use of statistical techniques.
  9. Repeat for each of the predictions of your hypothesis.
  10. If the results wholly or partially negate your hypothesis, modify your hypothesis and repeat. In extreme cases, you may need to modify the original question, too.
  11. If the results back up your hypothesis, that strengthens your hypothesis.
  12. If negative results falsify your hypothesis, that weakens or destroys the hypothesis.

I see the construction of the null hypothesis, which is to be upheld when a prediction fails, as one of the most important steps in this procedure. I think of the null hypothesis in science as somewhat akin to the presumption of innocence in criminal law!

Rules for the good conduct of science

It’s very easy to get science wrong. In fact, it’s even easier than getting mathematics wrong. And, having been trained as a mathematician, I know well how easy that is! In science, there’s always a possibility of error in your measurements, or in your statistics, or in your deductions. Or of insufficiently rigorous testing or sampling. Or of bias, whether conscious or unconscious.

To minimize the chances of getting science wrong, and to enable others to build on its results, there are a number of rules of conduct which scientists are expected to follow. Here is a list of some of them:

  1. Any hypothesis that is put forward must be falsifiable. If there’s no way to disprove a hypothesis, it isn’t science.
  2. Data must not be doctored. Any necessary adjustments to raw data, and the reasoning behind them, must be fully and clearly documented.
  3. Data must not be cherry picked to achieve a result. Data that is valid, but goes against a desired result, must not be dropped.
  4. Graphs or similar devices must not be used to obfuscate or to mislead.
  5. Enough information must be supplied to enable others to replicate the work if they wish.
  6. Scientists must be willing to share their data. And code, too, when code is involved.
  7. Supplementary information, such as raw data, must be fully and promptly archived.
  8. To identify and quantify the error bars on results is important. (For example, by stating the range within which there’s a 95% chance that a value being measured lies.)
  9. Uncertainties are important, too. They must be clearly identified and, if possible, estimated.
  10. Above all, the conduct of science must be honest and unbiased. In a nutshell: If it isn’t honest, it isn’t science. It’s nonscience (rhymes with conscience).
  11. (added by Anthony) Negative or contradictory results must also be reported. Reporting only results that agree with your hypothesis isn’t science.

A failure to obey one or more of these rules of conduct doesn’t necessarily mean that the science is bad. However, it does raise a red flag; particularly in cases where there may be a suspicion of bias or dishonesty. And if a sufficiently skilled person, with sufficient time to spare, doesn’t have enough information to check the validity of a scientific paper, or to attempt to replicate the work it describes, then there’s a very good chance the science in it is bad.

Peer review and spear review

In the world of scientific journals, there is a quality control mechanism known as peer review. The idea is that a number of independent experts scrutinize a proposed paper, check its correctness and its utility, and suggest changes where necessary. But peer review doesn’t always catch issues with papers before they are published. This is a particular problem when the reviewers work or have worked closely with the authors, and share their conceptual framework. Indeed, where a group of experts on a subject have formed a clique, it’s easy for groupthink to develop. In such a situation, only those ideas with which clique members are comfortable are likely to pass muster and get published.

In recent times, there has been a great increase in informal papers on scientific blogs. The usual procedure in these circumstances is one I call “spear review,” in which commenters provide comments in response to a blog article. It does have some drawbacks. One is that not all the commenters actually have much, if any, expertise in the subject they are commenting on. Another is that some commenters are biased or trolling. A third is that the process can often resemble a pack of dogs chasing a cat. But when it’s done by people who are trying to be objective and helpful, it’s very useful. Particularly in determining whether a scientific idea is good enough to be worth trying to publish through more formal channels.

Paradigms and consensus

At any time and in any area of science, there is almost always a particular paradigm. This is a framework of concepts, thoughts and procedures, within which work in that area is generally confined. Past examples are Ptolemy’s earth-centred model of the universe, the phlogiston theory of combustion, and the “luminiferous aether” which was said to carry light waves.

Within such a paradigm, there is usually some kind of consensus. Hypotheses, which have been repeatedly confirmed, can aggregate into theories; and such theories can be agreed on by all or most practitioners in the area. However, in an area of science which is advancing, there will always be parts that are disputed. There will be different hypotheses, and different interpretations of the results of experiments or observations. Moreover, there will be parts on the “cutting edge,” which are still under investigation. And in any area of science, there is always a possibility of a previously unknown factor being discovered.

Thus, however mature the science in an area may be, it can never truly be said to be “settled.” There is always a possibility of altering or overturning the consensus in an area of science, or even of overturning the paradigm and creating a new one. For example, Galileo’s telescope observations overturned Ptolemy’s geocentric model. Michelson and Morley’s measurements on the speed of light overturned the idea of the aether. And Einstein’s theories of relativity provided a more accurate replacement for Newton’s laws on the dynamics of bodies in motion.

The example of Einstein, who was a patent clerk when he published his ideas on special relativity and the equivalence of matter and energy, shows up another important feature of science. In science, it doesn’t matter who you are. You don’t need to be a credentialled “scientist” to contribute to science. All that matters is whether or not your science is right.

And the converse applies, too. In science, even the acknowledged experts aren’t always right. As Steven Weinberg put it: “An expert is a person who avoids the small errors while sweeping on to the grand fallacy.” In fact, it’s worse than that. Experts in a paradigm often tend to form a clique to defend that paradigm, and may ignore or even try to suppress ideas contrary to it. And most of all, when their livelihoods depend on the paradigm being maintained.

Science and decision making

Science is useful in making many decisions. Engineers, for example, use it all the time. They depend on the science, which they use to make their design decisions, being right. If it isn’t, their machines won’t work; with potentially disastrous consequences.

A relatively recent phenomenon is to attempt to apply science to political decisions. If difficult decisions must be made, there is a lot to be said for using science in making and justifying them where appropriate. As climate scientist Hans von Storch has put it: “Science is supposed to provide coldly, impassionately, knowledge about the options of policymaking.” But he added the caveat: “There should be a separation between scientific analysis and political decision making.” In other words, to be useful in any political context, science must be completely non-politicized.

Since in science one man’s truth is the same as another’s, it’s hard to argue against a decision that has been honestly made on the basis of accurate, unbiased science. If, of course, the science really is accurate and unbiased; and the decision has been made honestly. Those are big, big Ifs.

Science, properly and honestly done, can supply data to the “business case” for a decision. In particular, it can help to estimate the likely costs and benefits of a range of actions being considered. But this can only work when the science is completely honest, accurate and unbiased, and the error bars and other uncertainties are fully accounted for. For when it comes to adjudicating costs versus benefits, as every mathematician knows, subtracting one uncertain number from another often leads to orders of magnitude more uncertainty in their difference. Even the sign of the result may be unclear. In which case, that piece of science is useless as any guide to a decision in that case.

Politics and science

There are several cases from the past, in which those in political power have rejected good science; or they have been negatively influenced by, or even driven by, bad science. Galileo’s persecution at the hands of the Catholic church is one case in point.

Another example is provided by Lysenkoism in Soviet Russia. The paradigm that the methods of Comrade Lysenko radically improved plant yields became so politically strong, that those who dared to question it were fired from their jobs, imprisoned or even executed.

And even in the West, the shameful misuse of science is not unknown; as shown by the Eugenics movement. This movement began in the early 20th century, when genetics as a science was in its infancy. Eugenics became a respected academic discipline at many universities, particularly in the USA. Even though the whole idea was (wrongly) based on genetic determinism; if not also on racism.

The eugenics agenda re-defined moral worth in terms of genetic fitness. And it allowed doctors to decide who they thought was fit to reproduce or not. Moreover, this agenda was actively supported by the mainstream scientific establishment. And it numbered among its supporters, in the UK alone, prime ministers Neville Chamberlain and Winston Churchill, economist John Maynard Keynes, and architect of the welfare state William Beveridge. The results? Tens of thousands of people forcibly sterilized in the USA, and thousands in Canada too. Not to mention the hundreds of thousands who suffered when the nazis got their hands on the idea.

To sum up

Science is a method of discovering truths, using a procedure called the scientific method.

There are a number of rules for the good conduct of science. These aim to enable others to check the validity of, and to build on, the work of scientists. Failure to adhere to these rules may well be a sign of bad science. And the conduct of science must always be honest and unbiased. If it isn’t honest, it isn’t science; it’s nonscience.

Peer review aims to improve the quality of science. But it doesn’t always work, particularly when a clique has formed.

Most of the time, each area of science operates within its own current framework or paradigm, and there is a level of consensus among scientists in the area. But paradigms can be overturned. And importantly, in science, it doesn’t matter who you are. All that matters is whether or not you’re right.

Science can be helpful in making decisions, even political ones. But any science to be used in such a context must be completely honest, accurate, unbiased and non-politicized. And the record of the politically powerful in matters of science is, historically, not a good one.

Further reading:


103 thoughts on “On Science and Nonscience

  1. Dear Mr Lock,
    Thank you for your thoughtful article. Honestly-this is one of my biggest concerns for the future.
    Not only are modern scientists becoming nothing more that shifty used car salesmen (and women) but at the same time they are INTENTIONALLY corrupting and mischaracterizing the ‘data’ being collected. Future generations are going to be forced to second-guess all the bulls#!t these frauds have archived as ‘facts’.
    It’s criminal what we are doing to the future. In 50-100 years there will be absolutely ZERO reliable and trustworthy climate data for them to rely upon. Modern scientific methods have been flushed down the commode-not for truth, not for passion, not for misguided beliefs, not for anything good or honorable. It’s greed-simple as that. Al Gore et al are getting RICH of of this hype and the future WILL suffer for it.

    • Exceptionally concise and beautifully well expressed. Any literate adult human of an I.Q. above say 90?…Knows full well that the climate change lobby produces the stench of fraud.

    • A very good article, thank you Mr. Lock.

      Using my Wayback Machine, dialed to { * Minus 1 ], i posted this a few days ago. Great topic.

      The Feynman video is only 10 minutes and full of great truths.

      Note also the excerpt from the letter written in 1950 about Artsies – and it is even more true today..



      at 0:39/9:58: ”If it disagrees with experiment, it’s wrong.”

      At 4:01/9:58: “You can always prove any definite theory wrong.”

      At 6:09/9:58: “By having a vague theory, it’s possible to get either result.”

      THAT IS THE ALARMISTS’ KEY STRATEGY – “By having a vague theory, it’s possible to get either result.”

      It is clear that these “Climate Change” alarmists are not scientists – they are probably students of the humanities.

      “The theoretical broadening which comes from having many humanities subjects on the campus is offset by the general dopiness of the people who study these things.”
      Letter to Robert Bacher (6 April 1950), from Richard Feynman

    • I believe the article suffered from
      too much definition
      of what real science is supposed to be
      and no examples of how “climate change”
      is not real science.

      The two most painful reminders of fake science,
      Lysenkoism and eugenics, were mentioned,
      one led to millions starving in Russia,
      and the other was a cause of WWII.

      But what do they have to do with
      the politics / fake science
      that passes for “climate science”
      these days?

  2. “Since in science one man’s truth is the same as another’s, it’s hard to argue against a decision that has been honestly made on the basis of accurate, unbiased science. If, of course, the science really is accurate and unbiased; and the decision has been made honestly. …”
    True, and I think the following also adds usefulness:
    In order to argue with or ‘disprove’ a so called scientific fact or ‘truth’, all one has to do is devise an experiment showing the fact to be false. It is that simple. As Einstein is supposed to have said:”It doesn’t matter if 100 colleagues agree with me, if one experiment shows the hypothesis to be wrong, it is wrong”. Too many so called scientists seem to believe that science is some sort of a democratic (small d) consensus or vote and the more agreement reached (the 97%!) the stronger the “fact”.
    Bad mistake.

    • When Einstein made that comment, he was being either cynically disingenuous or incredibly naive. People whose jobs and prestige depend on the maintenance of a paradigm have very little trouble ignoring inconvenient facts.

      Upton Sinclair was much closer to the truth when he said (roughly): “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on him not understanding it.”
      (I may have made this comment before.)

      There is a very important distinction to be made between the scientific ideal and the actual practice of science.

      Bertrand Russell nailed human conduct generally when he wrote (again, roughly): “We have in fact two kinds of morality side by side: one that we preach, but seldom practise, and one that we practise, but seldom preach.”

      • I have seen that attributed to Einstein before, but couldn’t find it when I looked it up. However he wasn’t being either disingenuous or naive.

        When Einstein said it, I believe he was commenting of the fact that a letter to the editor had been published claiming his theory had to be wrong because, look how many people think he should be wrong.

      • Neither disingenuous nor naive. Einstein simply dismissed the “consensus science” laid out in Hundert Autoren gegen Einstein (One Hundred Authors Against Einstein) with the simple truth that one experiment could prove him wrong. In 1931, the established German scientists could not accept “Jewish Science” for political reasons.

  3. in science one man’s truth is the same as another’s

    Which is why the SocialJustice™ crowd is trying to inject their nonsense into the hard sciences in colleges. Math and engineering are tool of the white heteropatriarchy!

  4. Einstein made a living as a patent clerk but he was still a scientist. But yes, you don’t have to have a PhD is some science to make contributions to science.

    Linus Pauling, winner of 2 Nobel prizes wrote, “Science is the search for the truth.”

    “But science can only be created by those who are thoroughly imbued with the aspiration toward truth and understanding.” Albert Einstein

    • JoeG January 11, 2018 at 5:40 pm
      Einstein made a living as a patent clerk but he was still a scientist. But yes, you don’t have to have a PhD is some science to make contributions to science.

      Well he was a patent clerk with a PhD.

  5. Neil Lock points out that we must distinguish science from the behaviour of its practitioners. Scientists can be just as venal, craven, and crass as any other group of humans. (Climate science provides many examples of that.) However, that does not mean that objective truth does not exist. My favorite comment on that is:

    In the second paragraph I declare without the slightest evidence or argument, that “physical ‘reality’ (note the scare quotes) […] is at bottom a social and linguistic construct.” Not our theories of physical reality, mind you, but the reality itself. Fair enough. Anyone who believes that the laws of physics are mere social conventions is invited to try transgressing those conventions from the windows of my apartment. I live on the twenty-first floor. link

  6. This is an extremely simplified approach towards what is science that has almost no basis in reality at
    least not in the physical sciences. Take for example the claim that the “null hypothesis” is the most
    important part of the scientific method. Yet most physical scientists would never bother with it. For example
    the phrase “null hypothesis” does not occur once in any journal published by the Optical Society of America. Does this mean that anyone studying optics is not doing science?

    Similarly historical sciences like geology, evolutionary biology and astronomy have completely different
    methods since they rely on chance discovery and have to deal with the fact that there is only one earth/universe.

    • The Null hypothesis isn’t needed in those areas where a simple experiment can confirm or refute a hypothesis.
      This isn’t the case with climate “science”.

      • I met up with the “null hypothesis in the 1980s,
        in the 1980s when participating in
        double-blind experiments
        involving audio equipment.

        At that time I noticed
        the phrase “null hypothesis”
        confused most people
        — and many involved were engineers.

        I decided that the phrase ruined communication,
        frequently leading to arguments over what it meant,
        rather than productive discussions
        or debate about more important things.

        I decided at the time
        that I would never use the phrase
        verbally or in writing
        to avoid confusion.

        Over 30 years later,
        I managed to communicate
        about scientific or technical subjects
        without ever using that phras …
        until today !

        I highly recommend that everyone here
        who wants to communicate well,
        avoid using “null hypothesis”
        no matter how smart
        you think your audience is,
        and no matter how smart
        you think using that phrase
        makes you seem to your audience!

        An expert on a subject
        should be able to communicate
        about his subject
        using short, simple sentences
        with no difficult to understand
        words, phrases or math.


    • The null hypothesis in most cases of clear-cut work is simply “did it work, or not?”, where “not” is the null.

    • Most of the time the Null Hypothesis is obvious and implied, so it is not explicitly called out, but it is there. For example, if a hypothesis predicts that performing action X will result in reaction Y, then the Null Hypothesis is that action X will NOT result in action Y. You would normally only report this as the Null if you had performed the experiment and observed that action Y did not occur.

  7. @Neil Lock

    …Galileo’s persecution at the hands of the Catholic church is one case in point.

    Not quite as cut and dried as folks like to make it. Because Galileo insisted that his new paradigm had circular orbits, he wound up with almost as much error as the epicycle system had. His contempt for the proposal that the orbits might be ellipses was, well, not very scientific. Besides being wrong. And he insisted that his world view was THE TRUTH. Problem was, he didn’t have anything other than an easier time of making calculations to back that up. Not until Foucault and his pendulum came along (1851) was there physical evidence that the earth rotated on its axis.

    • The sun coming up everyday in nearly the same place on the horizon close as to the previous day, and that place depended on one’s latitude was pretty good evidence for Earth rotation. Similarly for sunsets. An axial tilt then was all that needed for seasons during an orbitial revolution.

      • No. The epicycle system had an explanation for the apparent motion of the sun, moon and planets. Stepping back from the discussion, the best you can say is that the heliocentric system is more elegant. Once you have the pendulum, now you have motion that cannot be explained by epicycles, but can be explained by a rotating earth. I don’t know if Galileo and the Church were aware of the apparent motion of the sun at the Arctic Circle, but it might have bolstered Galileo’s case so I would guess they were not.

  8. All,

    I think that those reading this article would benefit from reading the following link:

    In particular, reading the original 1890 paper by T. C. Chamberlain, Method of Multiple Working Hypotheses, would be instructive for all.

    This article by Neil Lock states, “In other words, to be useful in any political context, science must be completely non-politicized.” This is a very difficult goal to achieve. Because, as T. C. Chamberlain points out, one can get their own ego involved in a hypothesis, which is a form of politicization. That is why he advocated a habit of thinking where all reasonable hypotheses should be entertained and examined objectively. This is certainly a behavior that is missing in modern climatology.

  9. Science is a method. Yes!

    It is not a thing. It does not need defending despite what the AAAS carnival barkers seeking donations to “defend science” would have their members believe.

    An aside: I keep getting mailings and email pleas from AAAS seeking donations to “defend science”. What rubbish. AAAS has become a bunch of TDS-suffering hucksters seeking money from other TDS-sufferers.

    • Yes, science would be better off without AAAS. Anyway, having served as a scientific expert witness, I learned in the legal realm that if your client doesn’t like what you say, then they don’t use your services and they just go on to find someone more agreeable and this speaks to the problem with politicization.

    • Some people seem to think it is a “thing,” a kind of machine that you put data in a hopper, turn the crank, and the correct answer chugs out of the other end.Nothing could be further from the truth.

  10. Publisher asked me revise my book “Agroclimatic/Agrometeorological Techniques: —” published in 1993. While doing so, I added 9 sections. Surprisingly one section heading is “Science versus Non-science: A Practical Case”.

    Dr. S. Jeevananda Reddy

  11. I don’t get this:
    “Any hypothesis that is put forward must be falsifiable. If there’s no way to disprove a hypothesis, it isn’t science.”
    How do you falsify a hypothesis that is assumed to be correct ?
    Do you come at it from every imaginal angle, and then imagine you are missing some.
    Until we determine what the quarks, and neutrinos are doing, what do we know ??
    How can you falsify things not understood ?, sounds like a tough question.

    • That’s the challenge and what experimentation is all about. There are obviously things that cannot be replicated for instance aging ice cores more than a few years or so. One can still be creative and ask and answer “what ifs” about the hypothesis.

      Anyway, unfortunately, laboratories are expensive and computers are becoming cheaper all the time. I used to have technicians that joked about the “graphite” analyzer (no eraser necessary). Today we model it.

    • u.k. “Do you come at it from every imaginal angle, and then imagine you are missing some.
      Until we determine what the quarks, and neutrinos are doing, what do we know ??”
      Well yes. Physicists use the hypothesis to develop predictions and then devise experiments to test the predictions. You may have heard of CERN and the Large Hydron Collider. There are many other very big and very expensive such experiments. Just a couple years ago they thought the had evidence of the existence of the “gravitron”, but after two independent teams reviewed the data it was found to be a statistical fluke. The standards for of proof in theoretical physics are very high.

      • Here is an example of a hypothesis that is not science because it is not falsifiable:

        Everything happens the way it does because God wills it to be so.

        This may or may not be true, but for sure it is unfalsifiable. There is no possible experimental result that cannot be explained as happening that way at that time exactly because that is the way God wanted it to happen.

        There are lots of unfalsifiable hypothesis that have nothing to do with the idea of God — for example, saying that every political decision people make is affected by unconscious racism. If someone protests that racism did not enter into it, the reply will be that that’s because the racism was unconscious or the decision was not really political.

        Thinkers of all types can easily end up promoting this sort of hypothesis when trying to defend their original idea against disturbingly effective criticism. For example, many CAGW partisans have happily put forth the idea that global warming leads to many more outbreaks of unusually cold weather, taking a major step towards making their hypothesis unfalsifiable…

      • @D. Cohen:
        This is precisely why I try to never get involved in any “Does God exist?” discussions. On both sides disputants don’t seem to recognize that their opponents are operating on fundamentally different world-views. They haven’t agreed to the terms of the debate and don’t realize it.

    • If you are starting off with the assumption that a hypothesis is correct, you are already doomed. But if you admit that you don’t know, and devise a way to test it, then you have a theory. Now you can move forward.

      • That is the nature of an hypothesis – we can not yet know if it represents nature within a claimed level of precision within the applicable context. A proper test of an hypothesis is to put up a test where predictions of the hypothesis is compared with observations of nature within the applicable context. If the predictions of the hypothesis does not correspond with observations, there must be something wrong with the hypothesis (or the test of it). It is not necessary to assume that the hypothesis is right or wrong. Assumptions does not enter into it. It is only required to put up tests to see if the predictions of the hypothesis correspond with observations of nature within all of the applicable context.

  12. As Jacob Bronowski said “Not here to worship what is known, but to question it”
    All we have are scientific approximations to nature’s truths, not as so many believe science facts.

  13. IMO no one said it better than Feynman. Watching a snippet of one of his talks at Cornell in 64 should be required for all interested in science. Youtube link is: (if it passes through the filter)

    Some of his key points: (which have become oft quoted)

    “If it [the theory] disagrees with experiment, it’s wrong. It doesn’t make a difference how beautiful your guess [hypothesis] is, it doesn’t make a difference how smart you are who made the guess, or what his name is, if it disagrees with experiment its wrong.”

    “We can always prove any definite theory wrong. Notice however, we can never prove it right….it is simply proved not wrong because in the future there could be a wider range of experiments, we can compute a wider range of consequences and you may discover that the thing is wrong… so we never are right we can only be sure we are wrong.”

    “You cannot prove a vague theory wrong.” He gives several examples of this to illustrate why a theory needs to provide definite non arbitrary predictions of experimental outcomes, without post hoc adjustments of the theory so that it “predicts” outcomes.

    • With all respect to Feynman, the idea that: “We can never prove it right” is wrong.
      I think that idea has infected much of human thought and opened the gate for a lot of dubious ideas.

      If I drop a rock that is held above the ground, with no obstructions, It will fall to the ground. That is true, it can not be contradicted by a sound argument.

      • Agreed, things will fall. “How do they fall” is the science question. Is it by a field, with particle exchange, spacial curvature, or very tiny faeries? You can prove it’s not faeries, you demonstrate huge confidence in curved space, but you can’t prove the curved space, and some guy always has a new field theory…

      • I think gravity is a good example, the effects it well described by Newtons concept. Better described for a wider context by Einsteins concept. But there are still various hypothesis about gravity, the reason for it and its effects .

        That we don´t know everything about gravity does not mean that we can not make a true model based on Newtons concept. If we by a a true model mean a well-defined model that has a well-defined level of precision within a well-defined context, and that it can not be contradicted by a sound argument that the model has that level of precision within the applicable context.

        I think it depends on our definition of true, in my opinion it is not usefull to state that we can not know if anything is true because we can never get to a perfect correspondence between our concepts and observations and predictions of nature that can never be superseeded by a better concept.

      • You are confusing theory and observation. An observation, once made, is a fact, a piece of data. But the theory that describes how objects will react in the presence of other objects, i.e. gravity, can’t ever be proven to be correct. Think about the laws of motion before Einstein. They apparently perfectly described the world around us, and had all but been accepted as true, but they were wrong. We just never noticed because the velocities we were able to attain and measure up to that point were just too small to notice the error. Einstein showed that they were incomplete, and experiment so far has confirmed this. Who knows, maybe they are still incomplete.

      • @Paul Penrose. I agree (see reply to Michael Cox). A concept will allways be an abstract representation of nature, by words, symbols, definitions, axioms and theorem. I think it boils down to how we define a true concept. I think it is not usefull to define a true concept in such a manner that no concept can ever be referred to as true.

  14. Pretty good essay. I think it covers a lot of the essentials.

    A minor question about form rather than content. I have noticed that American writers like to begin with a dictionary definition of a term. Why is that? If the writer is using the term in the conventional sense, either the reader already knows what it means or can look in his own dictionary to find out. If the writer is using the term in an unconventional sense, then it is the writer’s duty to give his own definition. The dictionary definition is irrelevant.

    Do they teach this in American schools?

  15. Dear Mr Lock,
    Thank you for your thoughtful article. Unfortunately it doesn’t coincide with the interests of the climate change groupthink. Really, $100B of government money can’t be wrong.

    Accordingly, we won’t be publishing it at this time. In fact, never.


    the people in charge.

      • It is impossible to say based on that information alone. I’m sure that one could find reliable people in both groups, as well as corrupt people. This is why the work must be examined, and if found wanting, then one may probe for biases. You basically have it reversed.

      • Exactly – objective science is not about the person that bring forward an argument or propound a concept – science is about bringing forward independently verifiable concepts – concepts that are independent of the person putting it forward for consideration.

  16. Science is a method of discovering truths, using a procedure called the scientific method.

    No, Absolutely NO!

    Science has no establishable truth content WHATSOEVER,.

    Science is a method of discovering models that seem to fit observable criteria, using a procedure called the scientific method.

    We have no way to tell, ex of a red pill – whether we are plugged into a giant reality matrix or are actually experiencing what is there.

    (Indeed some people would say that they amount to the same thing).

    It’s models all the way down. Scientific models however are accurate only in the sense that they can predict.

    And its possible to have models that are entirely wrong that give the right answer.

    For example most people believe that it is the rotation of the earth that causes day to follow night. I know better. All Gods creatures fall asleep and dream up tomorrow!
    Refute THAT!


    • “Science has no establishable truth content WHATSOEVER,.”
      As quoted by commieBob:
      “Anyone who believes that the laws of physics are mere social conventions is invited to try transgressing those conventions from the windows of my apartment. I live on the twenty-first floor. ”
      – Alan Sokal
      Pure poetry in my mind :)

    • Quite right about science not establishing truth, Leo. That was my only real gripe with this post. Science does not tell you the “truth” or “why” things happen, but it may tell you “how” they happen. “Why” and “truth” are the domain of philosophers and clergymen, not scientists.

    • Science grew out of the human desire to understand, to know the truths. While there have been times in history where it was believed a “truth” had been discovered, later study indicated that the “truth” was wrong, not complete, or needed redefining in someway. Science is man’s pursuit of knowledge by systematic means. By means which others can duplicate to obtain the same knowledge. Throughout time the “means” may change, they may improve, which may lead to our finding out the knowledge we first considered as truthful was different than we initially believed. Our problem today is we have a group of “scientists” that prefer to be right regardless of the data and have decided everyone that doesn’t believe in their version of reality, no matter how poorly constructed, are not just wrong but evil.

    • Ridiculous. If your rock is pumice, and the ground is underneath water, it will never hit the ground. Or are you going to claim that the water is an obstruction? What if I hollow out a rock and fill it with helium? Are you going to agree that I have conducted an experiment that proves that gravity can have a negative value?

      Your “theory” is far too vague.

  17. The way I see it, science is a method of discovering truths.

    That is not how I see it. I see science as a process of eliminating lies.

    “This is the truth, trust me, believe it and be saved” is the basis of all religions including of course politics.

  18. The way I see it, science is a method of discovering truths.

    That is not how I see it. I see science as a process of eliminating lies.

    I think that “Truth” and “Lie” pertain to the philosophical domain not the scientific one.
    Science is a Logical-Mathematical process trying to connect empirical “Facts”. All theories are an interference by philosofy, so their could be Right or Wrong in a philosophical matter.
    Stone falling at 9,8…m/s/s is Science, Gravity as Force or Space Morphology is Philosophy.

    • Stone falling at 9,8…m/s/s is Science.

      No, that is simply a data measurement made on the surface of the Earth and one that is not valid elsewhere. This mathematical statement is science:-

      The attractive force (F) between two point-like bodies is directly proportional to the product of their masses (m1 and m2), and inversely proportional to the square of the distance, r, (inverse-square law) between them.

      It is the “Trust me, I have been told by a higher authority” bit that I cannot stand.

      • Philip you are right, my example is really bad. But what I want to say is that Galilean Science can predict what happen because it’s field pertain to the predictable part of reality.
        Modern Science is trying to predict what is unpredictable through Statistical Model.
        IMHO Climate Science is trying to predict the characteristic of a gas studying each single particle.
        I can’t find nothing about how “Global Climate” works in a way that I can “measure” Heart, Mars or Jupiter Climate.
        Sorry for my bad English, it require more fantasy by you to infer what is my real though. I bag your pardon for that.

      • Mariano,
        Thank you for your reply.
        No hay necesidad de disculparse, tengo que usar el traductor de Google para entender español.

  19. Climate Change is a Political Battle, Not a Scientific One

    Real climate scientists have been arguing against the climate alarmists for years, and they have done a great and helpful job. With basically zero resources, they have been able to at least fight the extremely well-funded climate alarmists to a standstill. With the recent election of President Trump, the balance has definitely tilted towards

    • co2islife “Real climate scientists have been arguing against the climate alarmists for years”
      And that was their fatal mistake: science should never “argue against” anything, but simply assert when something has not been proved against the established position.
      By arguing against AGW, scientists fell into their trap by not keeping their own traps shut against non-proven hypotheses, and thus talked themselves into a corner of “proving a negative.”
      This is why I blame not the radicals– who will always exist– but the non-radicals who enabled them… and who should know better; as Mark Twain said, “never argue with stupid people: they’ll drag you down to their level and beat you with experience, while onlookers won’t know the difference.”
      And that’s exactly what happened: i.e. radicals have beaten scientists by tricking them into foregoing the scientific method and proving a negative (i.e. that they’re not “deniers), and onlookers don’t know who’s right.
      If the scientists had just followed the scientific method and rejected the AGW-hypothesis for simple lack of statistical evidence against the burden of the Null Hypothesis, then they wouldn’t have given the radicals a chance.

      • Ian, my comment was about arguing against the alarmists, the real scientists have been arguing the science all along. The problem is when you simply identify the real science and you get attacked for simply accurately explaining the data. Criticizing the “adjustments” of the data isn’t arguing against the science, it is arguing against the unscientific and unethical practice. When Steve McIntyre set off this firestorm, all he did was identify statistical problems with the Hockeystick, and Michael Mann went after him. Real scientists don’t get funded, and are excluded from journals. Arguing against that practice isn’t arguing against the science, it is arguing against the gross unfairness of the tactics of the climate alarmists. Real Scientists use experimentation and the scientific method, climate alarmists don’t. Criticizing that practice isn’t arguing against the science, it is arguing for proper practices. I think we are saying the same thing, just interpreting the comment differently. Hope that helped.

      • Hmmm…. If this was a matter of ethical scientist testing competing hypothesis via an experiment that would disprove one or maybe even both, you’d have a point.
        But it’s not. This is politics and PR and greed and ego. Their “hypothesis” is that Man’s CO2 causes … whatever is happening that can be hyped to be “bad”. Therefore, Man must be controlled.
        Pointing out that what they had before claimed would happen didn’t happen, when they claim that what is happened is worse than it would have been is bogus, that what they claim will happen if we don’t submit now is a computer generated fantasy; is not falling into their “trap”. It is holding the jaws of their trap open.

        Again, “If this was a matter of ethical scientist testing competing hypothesis via an experiment that would disprove one or maybe even both, you’d have a point.
        But it’s not. This is politics and PR and greed and ego. “

      • «.. the key to science. It does not make any difference how beautiful your guess is. It does not make any difference how smart you are, who made the guess, or what his name is – if it disagrees with experiment it is wrong. That is all there is to it.” – Richard Feynman

        IPCC relied heavily on climate models: «Observational and model studies of temperature change, climate feedbacks and changes in the Earth’s energy budget together provide confidence in the magnitude of global warming in response to past and future forcing.»
        Ref.: SPM Summary for Policymakers; Page 16

        However, a study that compares tropospheric temperature observations with climate models indicates that the climate models that United Nations IPCC relied on, are systematically wrong:
        «observations suggest the tropospheric transient climate response (TTCR) is 1.10 ± 0.26 K. This central estimate is likely less than half that of the average of the 102 simulations of the CMIP-5 RCP4.5 model runs also examined here (2.31 ± 0.20)»
        Satellite Bulk Tropospheric Temperatures as a Metric for Climate Sensitivity; John R. Christy and Richard T. McNider

        At least – that is a pretty good reason to start asking some questions.

      • A scientific argument will never win a political/public relations debate.

        The scientist who makes statistical arguments in favor of the null hypothesis will put the audience to sleep. A demagogue who accuses his opponent of being a “denier” will awaken strong emotions in the herd as the herd seeks consensus to tap down the emotions engendered by conflict.

    • co2islife
      Your January 12 4:54 comment is on the mark with very few words.

      The leftists goal is to grow government power by claiming humans are destroying the planet and only a more powerful government can stop the “catastrophe”.

      Many boogeymen were tried, and didn’t catch on: DDT, global cooling, acid rain, hole in ozone layer, etc … until global warming seemed to work.

      There is almost no science involved, or else the activists would be calling for more CO2 in the air to green the earth.

      Wild guess predictions of the future average temperature are not science, and the 30 years of grossly inaccurate predictions are yet more evidence that CO2 does not control the temperature, and never has.

      This”climate change” is a political play with scientists, PhDs, supercomputers and complex models used as props — they don’t predict anything — they are just used make wild guess predictions more believable — the goal is to scare people (about the latest boogeyman — CO2) and have them demand their government do something = bigger more powerful central governments = socialism and marxism.

      This article about real science is laughable — “climate change” is politics supported by junk non-science (nonsense really) not real science. So far from real science you don’t have to be a scientist to see it.

  20. “Weather is not climate.”

    “Cold weather is caused by warming.”

    …Both currently in play in the media. Here are two things these SOBs need to learn the definitions of: “cognitive dissonance” and “confirmation bias.” Then they need to sit quietly for a while and entertain the possibility that a lot of us are much smarter than they imagine.

    Then they need to go find real jobs, i.e. ones not funded by green socialist zombies who want humanity to return to the Neolithic. Nuff said.

  21. Excellent. By remarkable coincidence, Climate “Science” – the so-called “concensus”, fails every single definition and test of what science is.

    • Bruce Cobb: actually the refutation of AGW fails every single definition and test of what science is; because it’s proving a negative, and should never have been forwarded…. rather than simply rejecting the AGW-hypothesis for failure to meet the scientific burden of proof, and simply leave it at that.
      A lesson could be taken from Monty Python here, in which someone wants an argument, saying “human CO2-emission is dangerously warming the planet;” i.e. the proper response is simply to say “no it isn’t,” and then show that the required error-margin is at least 90%, and they haven’t even proved 1%.

      • Ian: I don’t really understand your comment. What do you mean by “forwarded?”

        When I sent this article to Anthony, I didn’t know that you had just beaten me to it with your article about the null hypothesis. Thanks for taking the flak from Nick Stokes and a few others…

        As to the burden of proof, and proving the negative, I have an article in preparation on that very subject.

      • OH, COME ON!!!
        “AGW” was never science from the start. It’s PR and politics. Pointing out that what it is is a “failure” of science!
        It’s the PR and the politics that must be countered.
        Hansen got a pass. Mann got a pass. Gore got a pass. The Lew got a pass. Gleich got a pass. etc. etc. from the politicians and the MSM. And you’re giving them a pass by complaining about those who publicly refuse to pass their BS on to the masses.

  22. Look, it’s quite simple: “science” is that which is defined by the scientific method; while non-science is anything else. Easy peasy!
    However the issue regarding AGW (aka “Anti-science Gone Wild”) , is that mainstream “scientists” have indulged non-science, allowing radicals to claim scientific validity by baiting them into refuting a random (i.e. unproven) hypothesis, and therefore placing themselves in the position of having to prove a negative by refuting it.

  23. I find strong similarities between testing a “scientific” hypothesis and testing computer software. Both are dependent on data input. I hasten to add I’m no scientist but have for three decades designed and written computer software for a variety of applications. From my experience the testing of a computer program is more demanding than the actual writing of the code – and probably should be if you wish to minimise errors. Again in my experience “bugs” can develop even after many error-free runs of the program, either from coding errors or invalid data (or both).
    This has led me to believe that almost and piece of computer software is not immune to process errors given the possibility of inputted data not being what the code was expecting (in extreme cases consider the erroneous ouput of some of the IPCC Climate Models !!). Ergo computer software and the data it processes are fundamentally linked for the desired outcome to be useful.

    A scientific hypothesis therefore, even if found to be initially “proven” and generally accepted, must be open to possible errors in the data involved and/or new observations and discoveries in the future which challenges it.

    • Patrick JC “A scientific hypothesis therefore, even if found to be initially “proven” and generally accepted”
      That’s the problem: it hasn’t been proven, according to established scientific criteria. Scientists just abandoned the scientific method, and allowed themselves to be baited radicals into refuting unproved hypotheses, and thus cornered themselves in the no-win scenario or proving negatives…. i.e. the radicals presented a positive, the scientists countered with a negative, and thus hanged themselves on their own petard.

      • Correction to above: when I wrote “allowed themselves to be baited radicals,” I meant to say “baited by radicals”.

      • Yes. We have been driven astray repeatedly by “corroborationists” whose foggy notions twist and stretch to fit their pre-conceptions. No matter how the experiments or observations come out, they interpret them as supporting their pet hypotheses.

        In the scientific method, nothing is proved to be true; hypotheses have been not yet been shown to be false. Perhaps they will be refuted later in the day, or next week. But, for now, some of them seem to be useful. Or maybe they will be refined, and those new variants will be tested.

  24. 1. The best recent example of politics trumping science was the launch of the Challenger. All the engineers warned that the booster rockets had failed in the past and were too sensitive to temperature. But Reagan was giving a speech, and Christa McAuliffe was to be featured in the speech, so it had to go. Political appointees ran the show.
    2. It was not Galileo’s work with the telescope which overturned the geocentric model. It was Kepler and his elliptical orbits. See the superiority of the Rudolphine Tables (Kepler) compared to the Alfonsine tables (Ptolemaic). Mars was just in the wrong place! Brahe had shown us that much. Galileo’s problem was mocking the Pope, writing in Italian, and portraying him as Simplicio.
    3. The Foucault pendulum demonstrates a rotating Earth. It was an earlier discovery, the discovery of the aberration of light, which demonstrated a moving earth. Hint: all modern telescope pointing systems correct for this aberration. But the aberration cannot be viewed with the naked eye. It is too small.
    4. An earlier example of politics trumping science: the Chernobyl disaster. The test had to go on for political reasons, despite the energy buildup in the carbon matrix. So they pulled the rods: presto, disaster! The engineers had no say in the decision.
    The major point should be that science is all about theories, which must be falsifiable. There is nothing wrong with the theory of a stationary Earth; it just takes too many terms in the equations.

  25. Neil:

    Thank you for an excellent piece.

    As a physicist, I believe that the best definition of Science is: “Science is a Process.” That is not far from what you have stated, but may be easier for the layperson to grasp.

    Once that is understood, your opening question (“how can we tell good science from bad”) becomes non-sensical. Since Sincere is a Process, there is no such thing as “bad Science.” If it does not adhere to the Process, then it is not Science.

    Etc. I’d be glad to discuss some other matters at your leisure. Please email me.

  26. This CAN’T be science.

    There wasn’t anything in there about equality, sexism, transphobia, fatphobia, phobiaphobia or acknowledging your privilege of having a third digit to your IQ.

  27. Another Webster’s shows part of the problem is the hand-wavy lack of rigor.

    Merriam Webster’s 7th New Collegiate Dictionary:
    Middle English from Middle French from Latin “scientia” from “scient-“, “sciens” having knowledge
    from prp of scire to know
    akin to Latin “scindere” to cut
    see more at “shed”
    1a. noun: possession of knowledge as distinguished from ignorance or misunderstanding
    1b. knowledge attained through study or practice
    2a. a department of systematic knowledge as an object of study (e.g. the science of theology)
    2b. something (as a sport or technique) that may be studied or learned like systematized knowledge
    2c. one of the natural sciences
    3. knowledge covering general truths or the operation of general laws, especially as obtained and tested through scientific method
    4. a system or method based or purporting to be based on scientific principles

    scientific method: noun: principles and procedures for the systematic pursuit of knowledge involving the recognition and formulation of a problem, the collection of data through observation and experiment, and the formulation and testing of hypotheses

    Recently, I read _A Skeptical Biochemist_ by Joseph Stewart Fruton. He occasionally railed against the scientific method, because he thought most breakthroughs were achieved in a less systematic way, more by stumbling on things by happenstance, that hypotheses were not arrived at by closely looking at “the literature” and striving to systematically fill in the gaps or refining rexperimental methods, but through development of newer, better tools/instruments to apply to existing, uh, curiosities. He was also a bit of a “corroborationist” rather than a tester/challenger of hypotheses.

    • websters is descriptive, but that doesn’t really matter as long as you define your terms when you use them.
      for example: science is the systematic discovery of truth.
      true means it can not be contradicted by any logical proposition in the defined context

      what single thing not yet mentioned – and probably not yet arrived at by the author:
      any scientific proposition must resolve to true or false – and the corollary: if it does not resolve to true or false it is not a reasonable proposition= it is unscientific.

      reason is H. sapiens’ main tool of survival. natural processes tend to extinguish the unfit and untrue. we evolved thanks to natural rejection and so does out ‘collective body of knowledge’ by falsification

      however, it is equally important to understand that anything true can be proven; if it can not be proven, then it can not be true.

      this is known as the 3rd law of logic: the excluded middle.
      this is the disney violation of all mystics and other confidence swindlers use it as bait to catch the gulliible on whom they prey.

      to reprise the simple stuff that somehow ppl managed to get out of the house without knowing:

      a thing is itself: A = A. this the law of identity
      a thing can not be true and false at the same time. this is your precious – falsification.
      and this is what you still need to figure out or be ripe for the predators:
      there is noting but true or false. there is no subjuncitve netherworld of platonic essences or supernatural phenomena; no inscrutable troof and no divine likiweaks.

      • Gnomish: “a thing can not be true and false at the same time.”

        But it can be true, and yet not proved true– at which point it must be rejected by science, just like a court must free a defendant who is not proved guilty.
        This is the problem with Scientists or anyone else who says that global warming is not true, since they fall into the Trap set by the panic-mongering agitators to “drag scientists down to their level and beat them with experience,” as Mark Twain put it on why nobody should argue with stupid people.
        And as Mark Twain also said, the scientists are arguing with idiots and thus nobody watching can tell the difference.

        This is where those who do not support global warming have left the path of Science, by refuting AGW claims outright rather than simply dismissing them, while having a picture of a guy in a lab coat with the words “your hypothesis must have THIS much error-margin to go on this ride.”

  28. This definition of “science” is very different from the definition I was taught when I was an undergrad at a state university and from secular textbooks from that era (I didn’t have the pennies to go on to grad school).

    In discussions I have repeatedly asked, “Has the definition for ‘science’ changed?” to which question the answer has repeatedly been given “No”. I then bring up the follow-up that, according to the definition of “science” I was taught, certain widely held beliefs that are called “science” cannot be science.

    The definition for “science” I was taught is as follows:

    • Deals with observable phenomena. If the subject can’t be observed, then the study cannot be a scientific study. Even in that video from Richard Feynman, he admits that the “guesses” are educated guesses based on prior observation.

    • The observation must be repeatable. This is to rule out a fluke, mistake, misunderstanding, or any other factor that may cause an observation not to be repeatable.

    • At this point we may be able to identify a pattern of observations. We may not understand them, but we have a pattern of observations that we can follow up for further studies. An example being the two housewives who identified a pattern of symptoms, they didn’t know what they had found, no MD had seen that pattern before, but that discovery led to the identification of Lyme disease. The recognition of patterns is the making of hypotheses.

    • Put the hypotheses to tests based on making more observations. Those further tests, experiments, may lead to modifying the hypotheses or even rejection of the same.

    • Hypotheses that pass rigorous testing may be called theories.

    • Repeat step 4, testing, for new discoveries may force modification or rejection of theories.

    This was the unanimous definition of science that I was taught when I was at the university, by both professors and every science textbook that I found in the university library that gave a definition for science. Apparently, in spite of denials, the definition for “science” has changed. Much of what is called “science” today isn’t science according to that definition.

    Apparently, there are philosophic problems if it is admitted that the definition for science, what constitutes a scientific theory, is fluid and changing.

    Interestingly, some of the same textbook authors and professors didn’t follow that definition for science that they taught.

    • that fails to meet the definition of definition for the definition of a word is that it has a definition…lol
      a definition is the set of distinguishing characteristics- not a metaphor; not a list of examples- an abstraction of the principles that separate the category from all others.

      there is cognitive impairment when the symbols of thought are capable of nothing more than expressing moods. sloppy language is a disorder. there is only prevention; there is no known cure. dumb is doom.

      • Gnomish, you are going to change the name of this website from “Watts Up with that?” to “Watts on second?”

  29. You lift up one thing: the verification research requires double-blind study design. These are absolutely essential to remove bias from the equation. Otherwise you could be looking at a placebo or intimidation effect, like fear-mongers live by.
    Also, it’s not a question of the hypothesis being falsifiable, so much as simply requiring set error margins to be accepted beyond the null hypothesis. Science does not falsify, it’s simply accepts, or does not accept, a hypothesis, against established theories.
    The problem with AGW, is that it was refuted by established Theory, rather than simply observing that it did not pass acceptance, and this was where they left the path of science.

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