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James Randi Educational Foundation

An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural

Introduction | "R" Reading | Curse of the Pharaoh | End-of-the-World Prophecies

Index | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | Y | Z

science From the Latin scientia, meaning “knowledge.” Science is a search for knowledge of the universe.
      Scientists observe, draw conclusions from their observations, design experiments to examine those conclusions, and end up stating a theory which should express a new fact or idea. But if new or better evidence comes along, they must either discard that theory or amend it to accommodate the new evidence.
      In effect, science is a process of arriving, but it never quite arrives. A theory can perhaps be disproved, but it can never really be “proved.” Only the probability of a theory being correct can ever be properly stated. Fortunately, most of science consists of theories that are correct to a very high degree of probability; scientists can only establish a fact to the point that it would be obstinate and foolish to deny it. Since new data are constantly being presented, a theory or observation may have to be refined, repudiated, modified, or added to in order to agree with the new data.
      True science recognizes its own defects. That willingness to admit limitations, errors, and the tentative quality of any conclusion arrived at is one of the strengths of science. It is a procedure not available to those who profess to do science but do not: the abundant and prolific pseudoscientists and crackpots.
      And there is an important difference between pseudoscience and crackpot science: The former has some of the trappings, generally the appearance and much of the language used by real science, while the latter has no pretensions at all of appearing to be science. The present German fascination with imaginary E-rays and the speculations on how dowsing is supposed to work are pseudoscience; most perpetual motion ideas and things like reflexology, palmistry, and psychometry are crackpot science.
      Scientists aren't always right. And they don't always follow the rules exactly. The monk Gregor Mendel, performing his experiments in the mid-1880s which established the fundamental laws of heredity, apparently altered his figures slightly so that the results were somewhat more convincing——but in the long run, despite this “honest” fiddling with his data, he was right. The fact that other researchers can, even today, replicate his experiments and thus validate his conclusions has provided us with firmly established basic scientific laws about heredity.
      Newton, Kepler, Einstein, Curie, Galileo, and hundreds of other men and women of science——though they made some errors along the way——have provided mankind with knowledge that has made life richer, fuller, and more productive.
      Science and magic are exact opposites.
      See also testing psychic claims.

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Copyright (C) 1995-2007 James Randi.

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