Does the scientific approach allow us to get to the truth?

Absolute, inevitable, universal: it is often seen as an ideal. Does the scientific approach allow us to get to the truth? Answer a climatologist, a mathematician and a researcher in science education.

“Our worldview is sometimes misleading”

Cécile de Hosson, researcher in science education.

Periodically, the image of the world we have built up since our childhood conflicts with what science has shown. This is especially evident in physics. For example: when the child pushes the ball, it rolls. The human mind immediately builds a cause-and-effect relationship between the action exerted and the movement of the ball. This establishes a theory of common sense that seems consistent and robust: there is no movement without exerting a force on an object. And yet, physics tells us something else … Take the case of a stone falling from the top of the mast of an advancing ship. Where does the stone fall? Behind the pole, as Aristotle thought, or at the foot of the pole, as Galileo thought? Even today, if you ask physics students, you will get both answers, but it is Galileo who is right. Let the stone fall, we understand it well. It is consistent with what we see every day. But to keep it moving horizontally, so that it maintains the same speed as the boat (if we do not take into account the friction of the air) and falls at the foot of the mast when it is no longer carried by the boat, is difficult to accept. This goes against our common sense. My research in teaching aims precisely to understand these conflicts – which are so many obstacles to learning – and to test pedagogical proposals to facilitate teaching. One solution is to test common sense through experience. To return to the example above, we can film a bicycle rolling at a constant speed and from which the cyclist drops a ball. You will see the ball fall at your feet. The difference between common sense and scientific truth is that the latter works in all cases. Either way, even an experienced scientist needs to be alert, because our common sense can always play tricks on us!

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

Etienne Ghys, mathematician.

Some teachers, especially history students, face challenges or questions from students. While math teachers escape. No one tells them: “Pythagoras’ theorem is wrong. Their luck is that they can prove the Pythagorean theorem to students, convincing them that it is true by a proof. A proof is a series of relentless arguments ranging from a starting hypothesis to a conclusion, and which makes the robustness of knowledge in mathematics. However, the starting hypothesis is sometimes an axiom, that is, a truth admitted without proof. Take Euclid’s fifth axiom, for example: he postulates that only a line parallel to it can pass through a point outside a line. It is considered true because it is consistent with what we observe in the real world. So obvious that there is no need to prove it. In the nineteenth century, however, mathematicians dared to question this by stating that in a space other than Euclid’s, several lines parallel to the first could pass through this point. In this kind of frame of reference, Pythagoras’ theorem is false! This impacts us, but since the early twentieth century, mathematicians have come to understand that certain things are neither true nor false, that a truth may depend on the frame of reference in which we stand. This does not prevent proof or reasoning from continuing to be the strength of mathematics.

“Scientific truth is the result of collective work”

Valérie Masson-Delmotte, climatologist.

There are truths in science. However, this term bothers me because it has an absolute, almost religious side. But doubt is part of the scientist’s job. In the case of climate science, which involves both chemistry and the physics of the atmosphere and the oceans, each team of researchers works on a part of the puzzle. Whether through data collection, experimentation, or the development of theoretical models, everyone tries to elucidate what is uncertain or misunderstood. Each group collects their results in the form of scientific articles, sends them to other classmates for correction, and then publishes them. Then comes this collective work that I currently coordinate for the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change): every five or seven years, with an ever-renewed group of authors, we review all of these articles critically. putting a certain degree of trust in each one. conclusion. The fact that climate skeptics attack our legitimacy reinforces our demand for transparency: every conclusion can be linked to the sources from which it derives and all data is accessible. For one of the IPCC reports in preparation, which will be published this autumn, there have already been two complete corrections. And, for the second, no more and no less than 570 reviewers from 70 different countries, which produced 26,000 comments, all taken into account. A few years ago, physicists at the University of Berkeley, who doubted the work of climatologists, took over all our data and applied their own methods. They were funded by skeptical climate industrialists. Finally, they came to the same conclusions as us about the evolution of the average temperature at the surface of the balloon. This illustrates well what is a scientific truth to me: it is a state of knowledge that has withstood critical examination, verification, and has been replicated by others.

Also read:

> Does science tell the truth?

> The 10 incredible scientific discoveries of 2020!

> These scientists unjustly forgotten by history

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