Without science we would not have reached the current level of development. Thanks to the scientific method humanity has been creating great medical and technological advances , and even the field of psychology, a side of reality that seemed too confused and ambiguous to be analyzed, has developed to the point of allowing us to know well what is behind our acts and thoughts.
What is the importance of the scientific method?
However, what is the real reason why science is so prestigious? Where exactly does its value lie? And why is it necessary to use the scientific method for science to progress?
I will try to shed some light on the matter in question starting with the root of the matter: the birth of science .
The origins of science and its epistemology
During the 6th century, in Ionia (a part of ancient Greece located in present-day Turkey), a world full of mysteries presented itself to the Greeks. The starting point was a situation of almost total uncertainty, but little by little, from the observation of nature, the ideas of an ordered and rational Universe, susceptible of being analysed, were emerging .
At first, a good part of the Greeks believed that reality was made up of matter composed of an essence that was barely known, governed by the action of equal and opposing forces that were kept in dramatic struggle, always remaining in eternal equilibrium. At this historical moment and from these concepts, a primitive science (or proto-science arises, since it was more of a theorizing than an experiment), which is properly Greek.
The Renaissance brings a paradigm shift
It was not until the 16th century, with the arrival of the Renaissance in Europe, when a qualitative leap in scientific-technical knowledge began, which would culminate in the 18th century AD with the Enlightenment .
In this scientific revolution, many medieval prejudices that were already dragging on (some) from antiquity were abandoned, and a concrete and effective method for finding out the truth was consolidated: the scientific method, which would allow all aspects of nature to be examined in the best possible way .
And why “scientific”?
Science and its method were not arrived at by chance, but by survival . The primitive human civilization always found itself challenged by hecatombes of great magnitude (wars, floods, epidemics, etc.) that required a protocol that could give us reliability in the production of new knowledge in order to face those adversities satisfactorily.
Thanks to the scientific method, we could abandon the eternal paralysis produced by not understanding what is happening or what could happen in the future, since we began to have good reasons to think that something is false or true… although, ironically speaking, doubting is part of the scientific method and the sceptical spirit that accompanies it. In the words of American physicist Robert Oppenheimer:
“A scientist must take the freedom to raise any question, to doubt any statement, to correct any error.”
The role of the brain
But it is not only catastrophes that are the cause of the scientific method. One of the reasons for its birth is none other than our capacity for reasoning, a miracle of evolution that enables us to avoid and resolve errors of logic, cognitive biases and errors in perception. In short, we can see the logic of things because our brain is structured in such a way that it allows us to examine premises and arguments looking for constancy and coherence in them.
However, as relatively instinctive and emotional animals, the level of cognitive abilities needed to be absolutely skeptical and rational (someone who can recognize and order ideas and theories perfectly to detect defects in them) is impossible for even the most educated and intelligent people. That is why science is, in part, a shared project based on the consensus of many experts and specialists who offer their different points of view.
The scientific procedure
It follows from the above that science is not done by four individual geniuses or enlightened persons (the opposite would be to make scientific knowledge entirely based on a fallacy of authority). On the contrary, is the result of a collective cooperation: the so-called scientific community .
Scientific knowledge is built on previous knowledge, investing decades of research during which numerous experiments are carried out (the double-blind test , for example) and hypotheses and theories are proposed. In fact, the scientific process is so collective that many times scientists ask their professional colleagues (the scientific community) to review possible errors in their studies (even if this implies that their alleged discoveries are denied). This has the advantage that the more scientists investigating, the more likely it is that errors will be found in previous investigations and conclusions .
Pursuing scientific objectivity
It is clear that absolute objectivity does not exist even in the hard sciences , but that does not mean that it cannot be taken as a reference or an ideal. That is why another of the pragmatic characteristics of the scientific procedure is to delegate responsibilities in the research and elaboration of hypotheses to auxiliary scientists who are not emotionally involved in the project.
This ensures greater objectivity; an essential characteristic of all science. These auxiliary scientists repeat the experiments and compare and analyze the information obtained , because any statement or sentence that claims to have the infallible stamp of scientific quality must be able to be refuted or demonstrated by someone outside the project.
Would anyone believe a doctor who claims to have found the gift of immortality without giving the option to others to check if he is right? In a way, it’s a matter of common sense.
The role of the media
The media have a great importance in the scientific process . When television, for example, tells us that some researchers from some university have discovered something that they really want to express (perhaps in a less than pedagogical way) it is that this research is far from being finished, because its conclusions have to be subject to repeated checks before having a good level of acceptance.
It is at this point that other professional colleagues must check the certainty of such claims. After an exhaustive selection and correct arbitration, if the study is still valid, the empirical evidence in favour of the hypothesis that has been raised will be considered to be robust and serve to explain a phenomenon well.
In this way humanity will have advanced one step further. A step that may have to be revised in the future in order to continue advancing, since the scientific method always leaves the door open to a reformulation of theories; the opposite would be to fall into dogma.
Pseudosciences, sciences that are not really sciences
Unfortunately, sometimes we fall into the error of elaborating pseudoscientific hypotheses , that as they are posed cannot be worked through the scientific method.
And what is a pseudoscience? Pseudoscience is a belief or practice that is presented as science but does not follow a reliable scientific method , ergo it cannot be verified. It is often characterized by ambiguous, contradictory and unspecific statements where the use of fallacies and exaggerations is the order of the day.
In the pseudosciences there is a dependence on confirmation but never on proof of refutation, not to mention a lack of willingness to collaborate with the scientific community so that it can evaluate the situation. It is in this comparison where the whole value of science lies: in its usefulness .