Does the scientific approach allow one to reach the truth?

Absolute, inevitable, universal: it is often considered an ideal. Does the scientific approach allow one to reach the truth? A climatologist, a mathematician, and a science education researcher are in charge.

“Our vision of the world is sometimes deceptive”

Cécile de Hosson, researcher in science education.

Regularly, the image of the world that we build for ourselves from childhood comes into conflict with what science demonstrates. This is especially evident in physics. For example: when a child pushes a ball, it rolls. The human mind immediately builds a causal relationship between the action performed and the movement of the ball. In this way, a common sense theory is created that seems consistent and reliable: there is no movement without the application of force to an object. And yet physics tells us something else… Let’s take the case of a stone falling from the top of the mast of an advancing ship. Where does the stone fall? At the back of the mast, as Aristotle thought, or at the foot of the mast, as Galileo thought? Even today if you ask physics students you will get both answers, but Galileo is right. That the stone is falling, we understand this well. This is consistent with what we see every day. But that it maintains its horizontal motion so that it maintains the same speed as the boat (ignoring air friction) and falls to the foot of the mast when no longer being carried by the ship is difficult to understand. accept. This goes against our common sense. My research in didactics aims precisely to understand these conflicts that hinder learning so much and to test pedagogical suggestions to facilitate learning. One solution is to test common sense on your own experience. To return to the previous example, we can film a bicycle rolling at a constant speed from which the cyclist drops the ball. You will see the ball fall at his feet. The difference between common sense and scientific truth is that the latter works in all cases. In any case, even an experienced scientist should be on the alert, because common sense can always play a trick on us!

“Even in mathematics, not everything is right or wrong”

Etienne Gies, mathematician.

Some teachers, especially in history, face problems or questions from students. Whereas math teachers avoid it. No one tells them, “The Pythagorean theorem is wrong. Their good fortune is that they can demonstrate the Pythagorean theorem to students by convincing them of its truth through demonstration. A demonstration is a series of irreconcilable arguments leading from an initial hypothesis to a conclusion and ensuring the reliability of knowledge in mathematics. However, the initial hypothesis is sometimes an axiom, that is, a truth admitted without proof. Take, for example, Euclid’s fifth axiom: it postulates that only one line parallel to it can pass through a point external to a line. This is considered true because it is consistent with what we observe in the real world. So obvious that it doesn’t need to be proven. However, in the 19th century, mathematicians dared to question it, arguing that in space other than Euclidean, several lines parallel to the first could pass through this point. In this type of reference frame, the Pythagorean theorem is wrong! It shocks us, but since the beginning of the 20th century, mathematicians have realized that some things are neither true nor false, that truth can depend on the frame of reference in which we place ourselves. This does not prevent demonstration or reasoning from being the forte of mathematics.

“Scientific truth is the result of collective work”

Valerie Masson-Delmotte, climatologist.

There are truths in science. However, this term confuses me because it has an absolute, almost religious side. But doubt is part of the job of a scientist. In the case of the climate sciences, which include both the chemistry and physics of the atmosphere and oceans, each research team is working on a piece of the puzzle. Whether through data collection, experimentation, or the development of theoretical models, one tries to clarify what is vague or misunderstood. Each group collects their results in the form of scientific articles, passes them on to other colleagues for proofreading, and then publishes them. Then there is the collective work that I currently coordinate for the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change): every five to seven years, each time we update the team of authors, we critically review all these articles, giving a certain degree of confidence to each of them. conclusion. The fact that our legitimacy is being attacked by climate skeptics reinforces our demand for transparency: every conclusion can be linked to the sources it comes from, and all data is available. One of the forthcoming IPCC reports, which will be published this fall, has already gone through two full proofreadings. And secondly, no less than 570 reviewers from 70 different countries, leaving 26,000 comments, all counted. A few years ago, physicists at the University of Berkeley, who had doubts about the work of climatologists, took all our data and applied their own methods. They were funded by climate-skeptical industrialists. Finally, they came to the same conclusions as we do about the evolution of the average temperature on the surface of the globe. This well illustrates what scientific truth is to me: it is a state of knowledge that is not subject to critical examination, verification, and can be reproduced by others.

Read also:

> Does science tell the truth?

> 10 incredible scientific discoveries of 2020!

> These scientists undeservedly forgotten by history

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