, whenever introduced or suggested, should immediately be questioned.
According to Popperian theory (a philosopher of science and the scientific method), proof can never be attained through scientific endeavour. This is because science proceeds by refutation of a given hypothesis, and can never be affirmative.
Thus, good scientific research is conducted in the following manner:
- Determine the system of interest and its boundaries
- Collect all the relevant information (from the literature, other scientists, etc.) in order to be able to proceed to step three intelligently
- Propose an hypothesis for study. This hypothesis must (or should) be simple, exhaustive and refutable. Ideally, it should be a question to which the answer is yes, no or a number, and after the experiment is completed (provided it is perfomed well), either the hypothesis is refuted or it is left intact.
- If the hypothesis is refuted, return to step 2 and reconsider. Then proceed to step 3.
- If the hypothesis is not refuted, then return to step 1 and consider modifying the system of interest.
It is important to note, here, that through the classical scientific method, hypotheses can never be supported. Their support comes from not being refuted. This is the reason scientific proof
is a misnomer
. What we have are hypotheses that have not been refuted to date, despite a very large number of challenges.
In order to have proof, we must have access to the Truth, which cannot be attained outside of the fields of philosophy and pure mathematics. Instead, what we look for is a preponderance of support for our current belief.
It's a tricky point, and one that has come under fire in recent work in the field of philosophy of science, but it should always be kept in mind when politicians, resource managers or companies claim that they have scientific proof to support their decision.