This weekend was the March for Science. What was the March for Science? A march for philosophy.
Judging by the number of people who participated in the March for Science, there are a lot of people who don’t understand what science actually is. Perhaps nothing illustrates this fact better than the commonly used phrase, “The science is settled.”
Science, or more specifically the scientific method, is a process of discovery that relies on observation and experimentation. First, a phenomenon is observed. Second, a hypothesis that explains that phenomenon is developed. Third, an experiment is performed to determine whether the hypothesis is plausible or not. Eventually, if enough experimentation indicates that the hypothesis is correct, a theory is developed. The keywords here are “hypothesis,” “experimentation,” and “theory.” Theories are not immutable truths. Every theory has the potential of being proven incorrect by future experimentation. So science can never be settled.
The existence of this misunderstand can be further illustrated by people mixing the scientific method with democracy. How many times have you heard a variation of the phrase, “[Insert an arbitrary but large number] percent of scientists agree that…” as if it meant something? Democracy is based on the idea that truth can be discovered by polling a voting body. Science is based on the idea that observation and experimentation can help us explain natural phenomenon. The two are unrelated. Even if 99.9 percent of scientists agree on one theory they can be proven wrong if the remaining 0.1 percent perform an experiment that proves the majority’s theory incorrect. A debate based on what the plurality of scientists think isn’t a scientific debate.
The purpose of the March for Science was to promote science-based policies. This purpose is entirely philosophical in nature. You see, the scientific method is a tool that can address a specific problem domain, namely the understanding of natural phenomenon. The scientific method cannot address all problem domains though. There’s no way to prove that two plus two equal four with the scientific method. To do that humans rely on deductive logic. There’s also no way to prove that the scientific method is the proper tool for understanding natural phenomenon. To do that humans rely on philosophy.
What is the best way for humans to conduct themselves in groups? The scientific method is not the proper tool for answering this question because the answer cannot be discovered through experimentation. The best way is not a natural phenomenon, it’s a subjective criteria. For example, the most important criteria for decided the best way is individual freedom. For a somebody else, the most important criteria may be equality in wealth. The question is necessarily philosophical because it’s subjective.
Whenever somebody says that the United States needs more scientists they’re using philosophy because they are using their subjective criteria, the number of scientists, to decide the best way for humans in an arbitrarily defined group (often referred to as “society”) to conduct themselves. The same is true for anybody who says that there needs to be more government funding for scientific education.
Naturally, I’m apt to blame the government indoctrination system, which is often mistakenly referred to as an education system, for Saturday’s deplorable public display of ignorance. I’m also smart enough to know that my blame is philosophical in nature, not scientific, because there is no way for me to perform an experiment that can confirm or deny my hypothesis. I will also say that I philosophically find this widespread ignorance detrimental to humanity (based on my subjective criteria of what is best for humanity).