Talk:Science was wrong before

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I'm not sure about the thrust of this article.

Shouldn't it be "Of course science makes mistakes"? Because it does - and then it fixes them - hopefully getting better all the time. It's made mistakes in the past and it will certainly make them in the future.

Instead is seems to sort of try to defend scientific mistakes along the lines of "discarded theories aren't really wrong, they just fail to explain new evidence. But take, for example, phrenology - it was wrong even when it was thought to be right.

The article sort of makes the point that scientific mistakes get fixed but it seems to be constantly trying to justify them. There is some good stuff too, but much of it seems a bit defensive.--BobSpring is sprung! 20:46, 11 October 2011 (UTC)

It's all about the relativity of wrong. It is ultimately NOT good to say "yes, classical mechanics is wrong because quantum theory and relativity". This isn't about defending things like phrenology but actually getting across the subtleties that make the whole "science was wrong before..." argument complete bunk. ADK...I'll cruise your vector field! 20:48, 11 October 2011 (UTC)
So I'm curious, then. How is this article different from the article on "relativity of wrong", which i think is called something like "Not even wrong".Pink mowse.pngGodotThe Peyote God awaits 20:51, 11 October 2011 (UTC)
Indeed. But my point is that pointing out that science has been wrong in the past is the same as saying that all scientific knowledge is relative. It's the best that we have at the moment and so of course some of it will be wrong. However the system is designed to be self-correcting so it should keep getting better.
This is in contrast to the multiple contradictory faith-based systems which are incapable of (much) self-correction. That is to say when they are wrong they are shown to be unable to easily self-correct without schisms or worse.
It seems to me that this should be the central point of the article. Accepting that science makes and learns for its errors while other belief systems find this hard or impossible to do.
Once this has been understood it becomes clear that "science has been wrong before" in not a criticism but simply a description of science.--BobSpring is sprung! 06:19, 12 October 2011 (UTC)
I thought that was fairly clear from the "feature, not a bug," line. However, to get postmodern for a moment, we have to ask: "What is 'science'? What is 'wrong'?" Generally, when people say "science" they mean a consensus theory or law. When it comes to wrong, there is the misconception that there is a binary "right/wrong," which is, of course, wronger than wrong. Your example of phrenology is actually a great example of falling into this trap. Phrenologists were, in fact, kicked out of scientific organizations in many areas and so set up their own societies. While phrenology became wildly popular (boosted in part by the fact that it was also useful in the "scientific racism" craze of the time), many arguments were made against it within the scientific community. In addition, phrenology was one of the earliest theories of mind to propose a localization of brain functions. Of course, the "it's way, way more complicated than that" disclaimer applies today, but it wasn't totally and utterly wrong. Nebuchadnezzar (talk) 07:32, 12 October 2011 (UTC)
And just for fun, the opinion of one contemporary anti-phrenology tract: "Phrenology is a mass of untruth ! its physics are false and presumptuous, its metaphysics nonsensical, its ethics a gross ideotic blunder!" [1] Nebuchadnezzar (talk) 07:45, 12 October 2011 (UTC)
I'm not saying that every line in the article is wrong, I'm just objecting to the "Ah, well science was wrong in that case but ..." tone.
Take medicine. It's obvious that medical science has make mistakes and learns from them. Thalidomide would be one of the most outrageous examples there. Take geology. When I was a young lad scientists still believed in land bridges which enabled animals to cross between continents. Subsequently continental drift and subduction explained things a lot better. It did away with he land bridges idea which was "wrong". But we say:
  • To describe outdated or discredited theories as "wrong" misses a major subtly in science; discarded theories aren't really wrong, they just fail to explain new evidence, and more often than not the new theory to come along is exactly the same as the old one but with some extensions, caveats or alternatives.
But continental drift was an entire paradigm shift in understanding of geology not a bit of tinkering. I'm not saying this to disparage science - on the contrary I'm pointing out that we need to accept and celebrate the fact that science is uniquely capable of making and learning from its mistakes.
The article does refer to some of this but I'm suggesting it should be centre stage.--BobSpring is sprung! 08:10, 12 October 2011 (UTC)
Thalidimide actually highlights the lack of right/wrong binary. It did do the job it was meant to do, it's just that a stereoisomer of it did something else. Or do you mean wrong as in "mistakes were made in trials"? That would be something else entirely. The big paradigm shifts you speak of are unbelievably rare in science - and even when they do they're not entirely new. Evolution by natural selection was known early by mutability of species (going back to Erasums Darwin and earlier) and selective breeding was known long before that. Land bridges still exist in the toolkit to understand migration patterns in the (relatively) recent past. These old ideas are not entirely thrown out overnight and often have their use long after they're supposedly "discredited". The major misconception is things like "relativity completely supersedes Newtonian mechanics and Newton was wrong", and I don't think this wronger-than-wrong aspect can be highlighted too much. ADK...I'll revolt your peat moss! 10:56, 12 October 2011 (UTC)

Realism - anti-realism[edit]

Isn't this a variant of the relativity of wrong? E.g., flat Earth > spherical Earth > oblate-spheroid Earth. Or is it more aimed at discussing instrumentalism? I'm sure that debate is nuanced, but I'm not quite sure how it fits in with the science was wrong before trope. Scarlet A.pnggnostic 23:12, 29 March 2012 (UTC)

Sort of. Kuhnian paradigm shifts are often used to argue in favor of anti-realism, which is something like saying "science was wrong before" without being a total idiot about it. Nebuchadnezzar (talk) 23:39, 29 March 2012 (UTC)
There's something about the way you say "are often used to argue in favor of" that implies "definitely can't be used to argue in favour of". Scarlet A.pngnarchist 11:46, 30 March 2012 (UTC)

Appropriate uses?[edit]

If someone says "the scientific evidence proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that x is true" wouldn't "science was wrong before" be an appropriate way to say there's still a possibility that x is false? "Science was wrong before" doesn't prove that x is false. It just shows, inductively, that there's a possibility that x is false. Landmartian (talk) 04:26, 18 December 2014 (UTC)

Ye. The real problem is using science to prove smth absolutely in the 1st place, b/c science is never absolute. Fuzzy "Cat" Potato, Jr. (talk/stalk) 04:53, 18 December 2014 (UTC)

Science was wrong before, yes...[edit]

... but when it's wrong sooner or later corrects itself even if sometimes is quite painful to leave behind a given theory and/or to accept the actual way Nature works (welcome to the weird world of Quantum Mechanics). Religion does not change at all the same way, or at the very least their holy texts (BS as the Book of MoronMormon do not count at all). --Panzerfaust (talk) 13:23, 24 July 2017 (UTC)


Perhaps one definition of science is that it #was# wrong before and, paraphrasing Keynes slightly, when the information available changes 'the science' is also changed. (But, also, sometimes what was considered 'bad science', outlier science etc, is proved to be useful/valid/correct). Anna Livia (talk) 12:04, 16 November 2021 (UTC)