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Name: Chantel
Status: student
Grade: 9-12
Location: OH
Country: USA
Date: January 2009

Question:
How can new scientific data cause any existing scientific explanation to be supported, revised, or rejected?



Replies:
All scientific model (also called "theories", but that is a term that carries a lot of baggage with it) must be, to use the common term "falsifiable". That means that the model must be able to be shown to be false, or incomplete. That is the difference between a scientific theory and a "dogma". The scientific theory is malleable, that is it is subject to change in the light of experimental data (which also may have its own limitations). On the other hand "dogma" is a "top -- down" proposition. This pronouncement, whatever it is, is "true" no matter how absurd it might appear. Then investigators are faced with the problem of making any and all experimental observations "fit" the immutable dogma. That scenario falls in the domain of philosophy or religion, not science. So no existing scientific explanation is ever total and complete. For those positions one must look into fields of religion or philosophy -- but do not call it science.

Vince Calder


The main way scientists communicate their findings is through scientific journal articles. Researchers publish experiments, data, results, and conclusions. Their goal is to come up with a way to explain their data or findings. Other researchers can read the articles and decide if their data fit the published work -- and then plan new experiments to confirm or refute previous findings.

One scientist might only run experiments in a range of conditions, and those conditions may differ from another scientist. One vital task of science is to take the combined "quilt" of different scientists' work and find an overall explanation that explains all the data, not just one specific area.

Scientists can also gather at conferences to present new findings and discuss them in person. Researchers who disagree about the data might gather and discuss their views at a conference, and come up with a comprehensive explanation together.

Once a consistent explanation is found, a scientist might come back later and summarize all the data in a 'review' article. This article explains the overall findings in a given field, and is usually written a few years after the original disagreement.

Hope this helps,

Burr Zimmerman



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