What does scientifically minded mean

What is science proof?

What is science proof? What are the requirements for scientific evidence? When is a statement or a theory scientifically proven?

There is evidence in mathematics and in logic. These are closed systems that exist without the complications of reality, and therefore allow strict evidence within their systems. In a peculiar way there is also the concept of proof in law.

Proof is not possible in the natural sciences. Scientifically, the concept of the best available explanation is used instead. There is evidence but no evidence.

Natural science, i.e. science that deals with processes in nature, is unfortunately subject to the complete complexity of nature, reality, the real world, with all its superimpositions, interactions, changes, special cases and exceptions. Everything that the scientist observes is the result of all natural factors and influences at the same time. If the scientist only wants to investigate a small element of the natural world, the particular challenge is to distinguish which of the various real environmental conditions are responsible for what is observed. To do this, he must exclude as many influences as possible that he does not want to investigate. Since it is never certain that all other influences are excluded, no definite proof can be obtained.

Mathematicians and logicians have it easier.

The word “proof” can be understood as a problem of nomenclature, as a difficulty in naming certain facts in different subject areas with a limited, shared vocabulary.

The most common principles of the scientific method are induction and deduction. In the case of induction, a rule is inferred from observed phenomena. Perceptible signs, also called clues, point to the rule. The reverse method is deduction. In deduction, a rule is formulated and checked for correctness in various situations. There are other ways of formulating a rule, or “hypothesis”, or “theory”. The rules are backed up with evidence. Evidence becomes more important when it is empirically verifiable and repeatable.

If the observations contradict the rule, the rule is discarded. If there are several alternative rules, the rule that best fits the observations is chosen. This rule corresponds to the best available explanation, and then represents the "state of the art".

If new, better evidence is found tomorrow that supports a different rule, the state of science will change. As science advances on a topic, knowledge is secured more and more. Then there is less chance that a better explanation will be found. But even with the most reliable findings, one does not speak of proof.

Examples:

  • Evolution theory. The theory of evolution has not been proven; it is the best available explanation for our observations. A better explanation is unlikely to be found as the evidence is abundant and of good quality.
  • The sun has risen every day in the past. Hypothesis: The sun will rise again tomorrow (induction). But it has not been proven. A huge meteorite could tear the earth to pieces. In this case, the sun will not rise again for us. The absence of this celestial body cannot be proven. As a result, it cannot be proven that the sun will rise again tomorrow. However, the probability that the sun will rise again tomorrow is extremely high.
  • General: Any statement about the future is currently unprovable. Since the state has not yet occurred, it cannot be checked whether the statement about the future will have been correct or not. At best, predictions based on theories are possible. These can be extremely precise and have an overwhelming probability of occurring, but they are not proven or provable statements.
  • Smoking causes cancer. Cancer has many possible causes. A connection can be established empirically. It is not proof, but rather overwhelming evidence that there is a direct link between smoking and cancer. The available documents cannot be assigned a better explanation. The lobby of the tobacco industry, for example, used the fact that this is not proof to prevent state regulation.

An indication of a pronounced state of science, in which high-quality evidence was found that underpin a specific rule, is the scientific consensus. This means that scientists who conduct research within the field are increasingly agreeing which thesis represents the best explanation for what they have observed. In such cases, too, there are almost always individual scientists who take a different view. This is a natural and desirable part of scientific work. However, the state of the art remains the rule that best explains the available evidence, and in most cases this is the rule on which there is scientific consensus. Scientific proof, however, remains impossible.

Populists like to use the concept of the alleged lack of evidence to create the public feeling that a scientific thesis has been inadequately researched or proven, even when the opposite is the case, e.g. when there is a clear scientific consensus and solid evidence.

Why not just speak of scientific evidence? That would make it easier for the layperson to understand that certain connections have been very well researched. The reason is to be found in the humility of the experienced scientist. Science historians know numerous examples of proven theses that were later refuted. In her day it was the state of science. Today he is no longer. The term “proof” would be reduced to absurdity if it were used for something that - even with a perceived as low probability - could be refuted in the future. It will therefore remain difficult for a layperson to get a feeling for the security of the state of the art in science.

Thanks to Herbert Huber for the competent classification of the term evidence.