Settled science

So you're a fan of science, but where and how are you exposed to it? Should you follow science-news or should you read elementary textbooks?

Elementary textbooks (about long-settled science) give you

  • a reasonable guarantee that this is true
  • the treasure map of how this knowledge is derived – so you don't need authority – complete with math where applicable (math is welcome because then mathematical logic settles it for good). Nullius in verba.
  • carefully phrased explanations for incoming students – see also Read easier textbooks
  • experiments cited as illustration
  • practice exercises on which to test your new mastery

New discoveries are often

  • controversial
  • supported by only one experiment (unreplicated as yet)
  • more complicated than us laymen can understand (likewise journalists writing the summary, which will be misleading): require background knowledge
  • later shown wrong anyway (see Ioannidis 2005 on why)

So many people never get to see the solid stuff, let alone the subset of the solid stuff that's understandable, because it isn't breaking news. Yet, it's the solid stuff that's most exciting – it's concentrated wisdom compiled by the human race.

Most understandable tends to be the stuff that came first historically, that don't require knowing about fifty other discoveries to understand. Archimedes (285–212 BCE) discovered why boats float (displacement): this, you can test in your own bathtub.

Rainbows, you can also make on sunny days with a spray of water, and you can play with prisms to understand pretty well what's going on, although there's a much longer story behind their full explanation (and to fully satisfy the student, you must get down to the level of questions such as "why can light be considered as waves and what does that even mean?" and "how come photons collide with those electron shells (Bohr model) when electrons are so tiny the photon ought to just zip through the entire H2O molecule?"). The Archimedes one on boats seems to need much fewer questions to build a fully satisfactory "aha".

What links here

  • *The Beauty of Settled Science
Created (17 months ago)