What is future-proof science?

In Identifying Future-Proof Science (2022)
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Abstract

Is science getting at the truth? The sceptics – those who spread doubt about science – often employ a simple argument: scientists were sure in the past, and then they ended up being wrong. Such sceptics draw on dramatic quotes from eminent scientists such as Lord Kelvin, who reportedly stated at the turn of the 20th century “There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now,” shortly before physics was dramatically transformed. They ask: given the history of science, wouldn’t it be naïve to think that current scientific theories reveal ‘the truth’, and will never be discarded in favour of other theories? Through a combination of historical investigation and philosophical-sociological analysis, Identifying Future-Proof Science defends science against such potentially dangerous scepticism. It is argued that we can confidently identify many scientific claims that are future-proof: they will last forever, so long as science continues. How do we identify future-proof claims? This appears to be a new question for science scholars, and not an unimportant one. It is argued that the best way to identify future-proof science is to avoid any attempt to analyse the relevant first-order scientific evidence, instead focusing purely on second-order evidence. Specifically, a scientific claim is future-proof when the relevant scientific community is large, international, and diverse, and at least 95% of that community would describe the claim as a ‘scientific fact’. In the entire history of science, no claim meeting these criteria has ever been overturned, despite enormous opportunity.

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Peter Vickers
Durham University

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Knowledge of the Quantum Domain: An Overlap Strategy.James Duncan Fraser & Peter Vickers - forthcoming - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science.

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