The “Basis” of Science

The other day a commenter made a statement that falsification is the basis of science. Like a great deal of what appears on the internet, the statement is true, but incomplete, and was presented out of context. As I’ve said elsewhere, a correct statement presented in the wrong context is effectively a lie, or at the least, a misrepresentation.

True science is based on physically proving what works… and what doesn’t, and in what context something works, or doesn’t. Einstein’s work theorized that there were instances in which Newton’s three laws didn’t seem to apply, or not fully. That was a theory. Later experiments proved much of what his theory proposed… but questions remain about certain physical aspects. What gets overlooked is that in most of everyday life and current industry and technology, Newton’s Laws are accurate and applicable.

The second point about theories is that while they can be disproven, they can never be absolutely proven. The best science can say is: at this point, all the evidence indicates that the theory cannot be factually disproven. So… the test of a theory is whether it can be disproven – or falsified. In some esoteric aspects of quantum mechanics or relativity, we have not been able to physically test various aspects of the theory. That means the theory seems to explain the situation, but that we can’t test it to say that either the evidence supports the theory or that it doesn’t.

Science is not static. As science progresses, we learn more. Sometimes, we learn through experimentation or discovery and analysis that an idea once held is not correct, or not totally correct. A cynical expression of this fact is that science progresses as those who hold to older and incorrect theories and refuse to accept newer evidence die off.

Accurate and effective science is a process that has two basic roots – to understand and prove what works and why and to investigate and disprove that which doesn’t. What is known changes daily and so does what was thought to be true and now needs to be discarded or modified.

Some basics don’t change, and they don’t change because evidence continues to support them. Certain viruses and bacteria cause disease. Good sanitation practices and immunization reduce the spread of diseases. Period. Proclaiming personal freedom from proven sanitation practices or immunization won’t reduce the spread of disease and the injuries and death. That’s the science. Anything else is political self-rationalization.

12 thoughts on “The “Basis” of Science”

  1. Joe says:

    Not exactly sure why @LEM is libeling what I said as a lie. It is correct.

    EDITOR’S NOTE: What I said was the presentation of an accurate fact in a misleading context was at best a misrepresentation and at worst effectively a lie. The context was misleading. Readers can judge for themselves.

    Of course immunization stops disease, as does sanitation. What was being discussed was whether these particular vaccines (based on training our immune systems to recognize only the spike protein of the virus isolated in 2019 by researchers in Wuhan) provide a sufficient level of immunization to put an end to this pandemic. My, and others’, belief is that it will not. In 5 years time, we will know who got it right. See you then, perhaps.

    1. Grey says:

      What an interesting set of goalposts you have constructed. If people do not take the vaccine, then this question is actually not answered, but you set yourself up to win.

      Life sure is easy when you keep it simple, eh?

    2. Postagoras says:

      Joe, you keep responding at length and you aren’t changing any one’s mind.

      Many different folks (including Mr. Modesitt) have tried to respond to your points, fruitlessly.

      But, sigh, here’s one more try.

      In one of your comments, you said: “We’re not fixing anything. Instead we’re flailing around. If you want to convince people to take a vaccine, show them the evidence it works so they want it.”

      I said that was wrong. I said, “The vaccines exist, which is a huge benefit, and the result of decades of scientific research.”

      Then I sarcastically called you “Mr. Science”, as in, Mr. Know-It-All, because you claimed that people just needed to be shown the evidence to be convinced.

      Somehow, that got you to respond about science and falsification.

      You falsely claim that “What was being discussed was whether these particular vaccines provide a sufficient level of immunization to put an end to this pandemic.”

      That discussion did not occur in this blog.

      1. Joe says:

        Sigh indeed.

        The statement vaccines exist and are the result of decades of research is meaningless. The first vaccines date at least to 1757. If you insist on conflating mRNA/DNA vaccines with classical vaccines, you can claim centuries of research.

        The thesis underlying Mr Modesitt’s argument is that vaccination with these vaccines will achieve herd immunity. That belief underlies the statement “Until a greater percentage of unvaccinated individuals get vaccinated, or catch COVID, those numbers will continue, and they will include unvaccinated children” and “Our life – and that of millions of others – is restricted because of the baseless fears of the ignorant and their unwillingness to follow time-tested and working procedures for dealing with an epidemic”. There is only one way for those who are not vaccinated, to not get infected: herd immunity.

        This may appear to be commonsense, given that Dr Fauci has said that herd immunity will be achieved by vaccination this week.

        However, scientists do not follow authorities. In nullius verba. Instead they falsify statements. Let me demonstrate.

        * Herd immunity means that even if I am unvaccinated, so many people around me are immune to the disease that they do not transmit it to me. For this to happen, every person must transmit the disease to fewer that one person on average: R0 0.4 * 7, i.e. R0 > 2.8. Since R0 is not smaller than one, then we have not attained herd immunity.

        If you want herd immunity without 100% of people vaccinated, then you need the reduction in transmission to be > 6/7 which is over 85%.


        FWIW, doctors in the UK have now given up on herd immunity. They expect everyone to get it.

        In response to Grey, some countries have vaccinated most of their citizens. Therefore I won’t “win”, not that I’m trying to. Look up Gamma’s mortality rate among the vaccinated (Lancet paper published against boosters with authors including the 2 top FDA vaccine scientists who just quit ), and ask yourself why the boosters are still using the original Wuhan variant spike.

        However, I will take your hint that I am not changing anyone’s mind. Clearly people prefer to follow “the Science” as presented in the media, than actual Science.

        1. Daze says:

          Trying to distinguish between “the Science” and “actual Science” really does show that you’re well down the rabbit hole of what New Scientist‘s Feedback column labels as “quantum fruitloopery”.

          1. R. Hamilton says:

            The media and the people that feed them are not giving you the actual science, they’re giving you sound bites, or even trying to manipulate you into behaving in ways they believe will produce desired outcomes, even if that means distorting the presentation of the science. In the case of the media, they have an interest in getting as much attention as possible; they do sell ads, after all.

            There is indeed a difference between what the media (news channels, newspapers, etc; I’m not referring to professional publications here) tells you and the full and unvarnished best current understanding of anything.

          2. Joe says:

            I’m not sure whether you get my reference. If you do, please forgive the explanation.

            In the US, the politicians and media constantly berate us to follow “THE Science”. However it’s become clear that “THE Science” is not actually following scientific advice, but is a narrative. For instance, booster shots are being pushed by the White House, even though the FDA disagreed and the 2 top vaccine people there quit over it. Said people published the article I referenced in the Lancet explaining that boosters were not necessary. The JCVI said the same thing, and was told to go find “non-health benefits” to support that view.

            Along those lines, Mr Fauci has said he IS Science. Many found that ridiculous. But I think he’s right in that money controls what science gets done. The NIH controls most of the money that researchers need to perform experiments. And Mr Fauci runs the NIH. If you ever wonder why so few scientists disagree with him publicly, it’s good to remember who pays the grants their research and labs depend upon. Since the Universities skim ~50% off research grants for their own funds, effectively the NIH is also paying for many/most life-scientists’ salaries. Much of the rest of the money comes from Bill Gates’ charity or vaccine-producing companies which also push vaccination. To quote Charlie Munger: show me the incentive, I’ll show you the outcome.

            As to Feedback, thanks for the memory. Until a year or two ago I subscribed to New Scientist since the 1970s. I cancelled my subscription after perusing my oldest copies. The difference of rigor in comparison to the newest ones was upsetting to me. I should check again and see whether they have righted the ship. However the fact that they’re now part of the Daily Mail’s media group doesn’t inspire confidence in me.

        2. Postagoras says:

          Joe, are you deliberately mis-understanding what’s written?

          You said: “The statement vaccines exist and are the result of decades of research is meaningless. The first vaccines date at least to 1757. If you insist on conflating mRNA/DNA vaccines with classical vaccines, you can claim centuries of research.”

          I agree, it would be meaningless if I was speaking about every vaccine known to humankind. Instead of jumping to the conclusion that I was saying something meaningless, you could’ve given some thought to what I meant, which was: “The COVID-19 vaccines exist, which is a huge benefit, and the result of decades of scientific research.”

          Pardon me for not being more clear.

          1. Joe says:

            I believe that the oft bandied statement “decades of research” is actually arbitrary and meaningless. It’s an advertising narrative to give false comfort about safety.

            Because RNA/DNA encode the rules that make any lifeform, they’re analogous to software. Simply because the buggy software running on your computer is backed by “decades of research” (which it arguably is), it doesn’t mean the software is any less buggy.

            The COVID vaccines have existed less than 2 years, since COVID was discovered less than 2 years ago. This is the first trial of mRNA/DNA technology in any significant human population.

            Boosters were not approved yesterday by the FDA, among other reasons because the FDA felt the amount of testing done by Pfizer to estimate the risks and benefits was insufficient. I haven’t looked into it, but the following person came to the same conclusion:


          2. Enough!!!!

            Once again, you’re missing the entire story.

            Boosters were not approved for the general public. They were approved for those over 65, who, according to all the previous research, have immune responses that aren’t nearly as strong. That’s in accord with the existing research.

            I’m closing comments on this post and will remove/block any attempts to revisit. Debate on this post is closed

  2. Kevin says:

    I look at the role of science and choice somewhat differently than the norm. This may be simplistic but is slightly longer than Mr. Modesitt’s original post!

    1) There is only one reality – something happened or it did not. We can objectively measure aspects of the reality we did experience, but only estimate the reality that we did not experience or that which will come.

    2) Science measures reality and puts rules (theories) around why this was so. These rules (theories) are proven when we are satisfied that these rules completely explain what they are trying to describe. Proof is a very stringent standard. Many things are true; very few things can be proven.

    3) Believe in something proven is 100% based on evidence. Every other belief is based on some combination of evidence and faith. The more the belief is based on evidence, the more likely it is to be true (an accurate representation of reality).

    4) Science does not make decisions. People make decisions. Science can provide evidence to make an informed decision. A well-informed decision maker is more likely to make a decision that will lead to the desired outcome.

    5) Life is all about the fact that there are no certainties. I can have a good theory (unproven) to predict the winner of the fifth race at Belmont. Life occurs when I come in last and my Great Aunt Fannie wins the trifecta. The best we can do is try to be right most often based on the evidence.

    6) Using a theory is like using a roadmap. If you accurately know where you are and the roadmap (theory) is perfect then you can always make choices that will get you where you want to go.

    However, if you aren’t certain where you are or the roadmap isn’t perfect, you may make the best available informed choices and still end up lost. That’s life.

    7) With respect to the pandemic, governments have made decisions based upon uncertain evidence with unproven theories. I applaud them for that as they have nothing better at their disposal. My personal belief is they have been overly fixated on minimizing the number of counted deaths directly due to covid and have not paid enough attention to the number of deaths and diminished life value caused by the measures we put in place. That’s winning the battle but losing the war.

    That’s just my idle speculation, not worth worrying over, because I have no choices to make with respect to that. My belief is not evidence. Anyone else may agree or disagree with my belief. All I hope for is they use evidence in making their choice.

    8) If I understand Joe’s points (apologies if I misunderstood), he believes that the governments have made incorrect choices based upon using inaccurate theories and incorrect (or inadequate) evidence. I have no opinion on this as it isn’t relevant to me. I have no choice to make with respect to government policies – I am not one they consult. What I can choose is to mask or not. Social distance or not. Vaccinate or not. Other choices as well. This may sound Yoda’esque but those are still my choices.

    Have a Vaxxed? Yes, as soon as I could. Based upon my assessment of the credible evidence I have access to (admittedly imperfect) I believe I have the greatest likelihood of a positive outcome (quality & quantity of life) by being vaccinated than not. Am I certain this is the best choice? No, but to quote N. Peart in the lyrics to “Freewill”, “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice”.

  3. R. Hamilton says:

    “Proclaiming personal freedom from proven sanitation practices or immunization won’t reduce the spread of disease and the injuries and death.”

    Only stupid people would expect it to. Nevertheless, liberty is worth all the death it causes, not only the stupid ones (good riddance!) but some few of those they come in contact with as well – presumably not that many of the latter since vaccination is highly effective at least against serious illness.

    Saving every life possible or meeting every need possible is incompatible with liberty, which has nothing at all to do with outcomes, but merely with the opportunity to pursue one’s own outcomes, and possibly fail miserably, without which possibility, the possibility of success would also be meaningless.

    Since people didn’t learn from COVID that their thoughts and actions should depend neither on what they’re told to do nor on doing the opposite, but on their own efforts to understand and act on what’s possible and available, maybe we need some disaster even more deadly, to improve the species so that the survivors will have to be more sensible.

    Lead, but do not command.

    And never ever again pay people more not to work than they got paid when they were working. Can’t get books printed on time, can’t get cars repaired on time, you name it, don’t incentivize non-productive behavior, esp. not at taxpayer expense; not to mention a diminished economy produces less tax revenue, if that matters.

    As for some items mentioned in other comments, from what I’ve read at least some of the vaccine makers are looking at the minimal changes needed to adjust to new variants, and hoping that (as with the yearly flu vaccine) much quicker and smaller testing will suffice when minimal changes are in effect. With the mRNA vaccines, the design work would be in days or weeks, not months; and small batches sufficient for testing could probably be produced in a few additional weeks.* Perhaps as with the flu vaccine, they might even produce a blend targeting multiple variants, selected in the hopes of reducing spread and/or severe outcomes as much as possible.

    Already there has been the mention of a possible combined COVID/flu vaccine, presumably suggesting that some think that COVID might never be eliminated entirely (too many animal populations have been exposed by humans now and may serve as a reservoir) but might be manageable similarly to the flu, and need yearly shots adjusted as needed. Eventually (pending testing and approval at a normal rather than emergency pace), the flu vaccine component may be mRNA based as well; early testing is under way.

    The mRNA sequence for the Pfizer has been published (and matches a reverse-engineered sequence). The Moderna mRNA sequence has not been published officially, but has also been reverse-engineered. Both are available on GitHub.

    which says among other things “This gave laboratory scientists the ability to compare what they were seeing in patient samples to the vaccine. Now, researchers will be able to check for markers of the Moderna vaccine as well. ”

    and an interesting article explaining the mRNA of the Pfizer (when it was reverse-engineered, earlier):

    There are a lot of analogies to programming in that article, which I enjoyed, being a former programmer; most of it made sense to me, although I’m far from being ready to design my own custom DNA or mRNA; just because I can mostly follow along doesn’t mean I could replicate the work, esp. not knowing the various tricks of the trade!

    * reportedly 42 days from the release of the sequence of the virus’s genetic code to the shipment of the initial test batch of the Moderna vaccine

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