It was explained to us that Newton had been supplanted by Einstein, Lamarck by Darwin, Freud by Skinner… So we were told that theories were constantly being supplanted, but that the observations on which they were based were reliable.
This is the reverse of the truth.
No teacher pointed out that many, perhaps most, of the basic assumptions of our intellectual world were scientific theories that had survived criticism… from the place of Earth and Sol in the Milky Way galaxy to the fertilization theory of human conception to subatomic physics producing atom bombs… to Ohm’s Law and the electrical energy grid, to medical tricks like the germ theory of disease, all the way to X-rays and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), not to mention chemical theories that reliably gave us nylon, polythene and detergents. These theories go unnoticed because they have become defaults, so completely accepted as ‘true’ that we fail to paint them with emotional tags, and simply build them into our intellectual toolkit. Even though no teacher pointed out that they were scientific successes, they constitute much of the (regrettably but unavoidably) uninspiring parts of school science.
– on theories that survive |
Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart, and Jack Cohen, The Science of Discworld III: Darwin’s Watch