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How does one separate scientific fact from theory ?

  1. Aug 30, 2007 #1
    I like to read science books as the content interests me. Whenever I pick out a new book, I may or may not be familiar with the author, but I always hope that the book mainly contains scientific fact, and not just the personal opinion of the author. Usually, you can tell when the author may be generalizing, or drawing conclusions based on incomplete facts. Sometimes, you know for sure that you are just exploring a theory. For instance; a book dealing with string theory.

    Other times though, it does not seem so clear.

    I’ve read a couple books by Carl Sagan. I know that he was and still is a respected scientist.

    In some of his books, he talks about global warming, and how the burning of fossil fuels contributes to increases in greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere.

    However, other sources like to claim that the sun is responsible for “global warming”, and that ALL the planets are warming, not just the Earth.

    How does one decide what to believe? How do we know when something is based on absolute fact, and when something might not be?
    Last edited: Aug 30, 2007
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 30, 2007 #2


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    By amassing enough knowledge to make your own decisions. It's a process, not a product.
    Empirical data (temperature, mass, speed, etc.) are the only things that are factual. Everything else is interpretation.
  4. Aug 30, 2007 #3
    In science, facts are basically data points or an observations that has been repeatedly confirmed and a current scientific theory is, according to the National Academy of Sciences, a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate facts, laws, inferences, and tested hypotheses. So a scientific theory is a theoretical construction to explain the facts. Naturally, one can say that a scientific theory is factual in the sense that it has a high degree of certainty.

    Fact: Unsupported objects fall to the ground
    (Scientific) Theory: Gravity

    Gravity is factual (every day usage of the word) and a theoretical structure to explain the observations.

  5. Sep 1, 2007 #4

    Chi Meson

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    All of science is probability. As Feynman would say, we are not interested in proving facts, but we try to decide what is most likely to be true about Nature. Depending on how much evidence there is accumulated on a particular subject, certain things are accepted to be valid, which means they are most likely to be true.

    Even a so-called "fact" can be argued. For example, If you had private one-on-one conversation with somebody else, sometime last week, would that be a "fact"? I'd like to inform you that there is more evidence to support what we believe to be true about the core of a star 300 billion miles away, then there is to support the "fact" of that conversation you had.
  6. Sep 1, 2007 #5


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    I think there are few better examples than the "atomic theory of matter". If anyone can put forth a theory that better explains what matter is made of, the scientific world is "all ears". (Though as always, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.)
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