Can you prove anything in science?

Can you prove anything in science?

Below is the text of a comment I left on this YouTube video. My comment focuses on how Bananiac (and others) use the words “proven” or “caused by” when referring to scientific hypotheses.

Technically speaking, scientists never “prove” anything with their research. They provide “evidence” to support a “hypothesis.”

While they may provide overwhelming evidence supporting a hypothesis, technically speaking, they can never “prove” a scientific hypothesis.

They can, however, “prove” that a hypothesis is wrong by finding a single result that refutes their hypothesis.

Photo by Art G. / flickr / Black necked swan
Art G. / flickr / Black Necked Swan

It’s the famous black swan story (which may or may not be true, but illustrates the point).

For centuries, Europeans thought (or hypothesized) that all swans were white. Since they could not find a single non-white swan, some might say that result “proves” the hypothesis that all swans are white. But then, some European ventured to Australia (?) and lo and behold, he found a swan that was black. At that moment, the hypothesis that all swans are white was proven wrong.

That’s how the scientific method is designed. A hypothesis can never be proven, but it can be disproven with a single result.

Seems strange on the face of it. But as you study the scientific method, you learn how profound and important this approach to knowledge has been to our understanding of any realm open to scientific study.

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