Settled Science, with links

This is the version of the Guest Editorial in the Virginian Pilot today with hypertext links included.


It doesn’t matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn’t matter how smart you are, it doesn’t matter who said it. If it doesn’t agree with experiment, it’s wrong.”- Richard P. Feynman

It was settled science.

The consensus was nearly total, and those who questioned the consensus were shunned in academic institutions and even arrested and compelled to recant. To state that the Earth was not the center of the universe was heresy.

The consensus was wrong, and the evidence of its error had been known for over one thousand years when Galileo was brought before the Inquisition to answer for his support of the Copernican model of the solar system, in which the Earth and planets revolved around the Sun. But science had been captured by what was then the largest bureaucracy on Earth, the Catholic Church. So, if you wanted to advance as an academic, you taught that the Sun, Moon and planets revolved around the Earth.

Skeptics pointed out that while the Sun and Moon appeared to smoothly circle the Earth against the background of the stars, the five visible planets instead seemed to move forward, stop, back up, and then move forward again. That retrograde motion was not consistent with a geocentric solar system. Supporters of the geocentric consensus claimed the retrograde movement was an illusion of parallax, and proposed complex mathematical models that claimed the planets orbited in loops called epicycles and constructed machines called planetariums (later, Orreries) which were mechanical versions of computers on which to run their mathematical models.

It was all hogwash, Copernicus and Galileo were right, but both were long dead before the Catholic bureaucracy admitted the Earth was not the center of the universe.

Of course, nothing like that could happen today, now that science is no longer in the grip of religion, right?

Turn over a can of chili and you will find a government mandated “Nutrition Facts” label warning you of the cholesterol content. It is there because the consensus in medical science for the last fifty years has been that high levels of cholesterol in the blood were a risk factor for heart disease and that severe restrictions of cholesterol in the diet would thus prevent heart disease. For decades, scientists outside medicine argued that cholesterol levels were mostly determined by heredity and that dietary limits were largely useless. They were right, but they were ignored by the medical consensus or dismissed as being in the pay of the meat, dairy and poultry industries. New guidelines have finally emerged abandoning limits on dietary cholesterol and we have learned that the old restrictions on meat, eggs, and dairy wee useless and their replacement with carbohydrates has in no small measure contributed to the obesity epidemic. But for the last fifty years, any physician who told you to go ahead and enjoy your bacon and eggs would have been dismissed as a quack by the medical consensus. But he would nonetheless have been right.

We now face drastic political and economic choices based on a consensus in Climate Science, whose adherents, like the 17th century clergy, have constructed elaborate mathematical models to support their failing theories. When those models do not conform to observation, they insist their models are right and the observations must be wrong and adjust the data to conform to theory.

That is not science. Science advances only when the consensus is continuously questioned and tested against reality. The researcher who finds error in what is believed to be true advances science every bit as much the one who finds new truths, if not more, as we cannot build new truth on old error.

Albert Einstein echoed Feynman when he warned that “No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong.”

Feynman and Einstein have, in their simple statements, given us the central truth of science. Theory must forever yield to observation, because theory is only a guess at the nature of that underlying reality. Science is never settled.

Settled science is dead science.



11 Responses to Settled Science, with links

  1. Yours is a voice of reason in the wilderness. Thank you for your realistic view.

  2. Ray Gregory says:

    The writer says “we have learned that the old restrictions on meat, eggs, and dairy were useless… Any physician who told you to go ahead and enjoy your bacon and eggs… would nonetheless have been right.”

    If any reader takes away from this that science now says it is perfectly okay to consume all the red meat, eggs, and dairy products desired, the writer will have done that reader a serious disservice. Saturated fat and trans fat, not dietary cholesterol, are the reasons to cut back on the consumption of these things, and nutrition experts have long known this.

    Here’s an old adage that should have sunk in long before even the times of Galileo and Copernicus: A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

    • Don Tabor says:

      I understand your concerns Keep in mind the Pilot limits these Guest Editorials to about 680 words, so you can’t go into detail when using an example. Cholesterol was only an example of settled science being wrong. The essay was about the nature of science, not the examples or dietary advice.

      Certainly one can overdo but the old advice recommending only 2 eggs a week because of cholesterol content were wrong. If I had unlimited space in these editorials I could be more complete about other fat content and the simple fact that these are calorie dense foods.

      But I don’t have unlimited space to go into detail on examples, which is why, in the online version, hyperlinks are included to an article which does address your concerns.

      • Ray Gregory says:

        I believe you are mistaken in labeling the so-called cholesterol scare “settled science.” As I tried to point out, scientists involved with nutrition have long known what’s really wrong with eating too much red meat, etc. You can always find ignorant doctors giving wrong advice about one thing or another.

        I am certainly not climate scientist, so I have to rely on the climate scientist consensus regarding global warming. I doubt that you are a climate scientist, either. Therefore, how is it that you feel comfortable comparing the vast majority of modern-day climate scientists to the Catholic Church of Galileo’s time? Is it possible that when you say, these scientist “have constructed elaborate mathematical models to support their failing theories. When those models do not conform to observation, they insist their models are right and the observations must be wrong and adjust the data to conform to theory,” you are in reality describing what global warming deniers are doing?

        • jhprince2014 says:

          Oh, I clearly remember it was settles science then, oh yes… It was jammed home again and again until we were told not to touch eggs anymore and red meat. I particularly remember this conclusion. I have close medical friends and they admit that the old conclusions on the science were terribly wrong and that they don’t use those recommendations anymore. It was clearly a “settled science” issue.

  3. jhprince2014 says:

    No Ray, not at all. I doubt everyone is taking in that it is ok to eat red meat and butter, etc with abandon. Give the public some credit. For every 1 person at 80 years that followed a strict and healthy diet based on reducing fats, etc, there are most likely 100 at 80 years who did not follow this diet and are still clipping along. Dr Tabor, nice article today in Pilot. How did you finegle them to get you published after you were banned for so many years?

    • jhprince2014 says:

      No answer, Doc?

      • Don Tabor says:

        You’re doing fine without my help.

        Aside from which, I don’t want to get sidetracked with the nutrition issue. The example was that medical science was near unanimous that restricting cholesterol would lower cholesterol in the blood, but it was never true.

        I want to stick with the point that science should never be seen as settled and that consensus is never proof.

  4. Ray Gregory says:

    For every one person who eats healthy, “there are most likely 100” who don’t, yet are perfectly healthy. That’s a pretty facile and unsubstantiated statement. Maybe you should tell it too all the people with heart disease. In case you haven’t noticed, heart/circulatory disease is rampant in America. Why do you think more people in developing countries are getting more heart disease these days? Because they are eating more and more — particularly more red meat — like Americans.

    • jhprince2014 says:

      I just don’t agree with you entirely on this part of the subject. I believe the missing component of health is the missing exercise of Americans. I don’t think eating red meat and eggs, butter is terrible for one particularly. I think not exercising is the main culprit of ill-health, mainly walking much more. (And as a side I don’t agree with you at all about your other battle, the coal in West Ghent. I grew there with no AC and none of us 6 kids has experienced allergies, asthma, etc from any dust. No complaints from many I know growing up there about the subject either. No one complained then about it then and no one I’ve heard of has any serious complaints.)

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