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What Scientific Idea Is Ready for Retirement? | Edge

31 March 2014—Mary Catherine Bateson, Center's Visiting Scholar was mentioned on edge.org.

The Illusion of Certainty

Scientists sometimes resist new ideas and hang on to old ones longer than they should, but the real problem is the failure of the public to understand that the possibility of correction or disproof is a strength and not a weakness. We live in an era when it is increasingly important that the voting public be able to evaluate scientific claims and be able to make analogies between different kinds of phenomena, but this can be a major source of error. The process by which scientific knowledge is refined is largely invisible to the public. The truth-value of scientific knowledge is dependent upon its openness to correction, yet we all carry around ideas that science has long since revised—and are disconcerted when asked to abandon them. Surprise: You will not necessarily drown if you go swimming after lunch.

A blatant example is the role of competition in evolution, which is treated by many as a scientifically established law of nature, and often taken for granted by economists and psychologists...at the same time that others argue that evolution, being a "theory" is no more than a "guess." Biology has been steadily giving increasing recognition to the importance of symbiosis in evolution, alongside competition, as well as diversification that by-passes competition, but "the survival of the fittest," a metaphor drawn by Darwin from the description of early industrial society by Herbert Spencer, survives as a binding metaphor for human behavior... Read the full article »