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“But scientists have been wrong in the past…”

Originally posted on The Logic of Science:
I’m sure that we have all seen it happen at one point or another. Two people are debating about some scientific topic and the person who is opposed to the mainstream scientific view gets backed into a corner by an opponent who is wielding numerous peer-reviewed studies, so…

“But scientists have been wrong in the past…” – despite being one of the most common anti-science arguments, this claim has a logical fallacy as its core, it is based on a faulty understanding of science, and it unravels everything into a chaotic mess in which science can never tell us anything. All of which clearly shows that this argument is entirely invalid and should never be used.

The Logic of Science

I’m sure that we have all seen it happen at one point or another. Two people are debating about some scientific topic and the person who is opposed to the mainstream scientific view gets backed into a corner by an opponent who is wielding numerous peer-reviewed studies, so how does he get out of it? Simple, he merely utters the words, “well scientists have been wrong in the past, so they might wrong now,” and having spoken those irrefutable words, the debate ends, and the anti-scientist leaves, thinking himself victorious. In reality, all he did was use a logically invalid cop-out that does nothing other than demonstrate how truly weak and indefensible his position is.

The first problem with this argument is simply that it is a guilt by association fallacy (or ad hominem depending on exactly how it is used). Just because scientists have been wrong in that past…

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About Darin Sullivan (1967 Articles)
President of the Fire Brigade Employees’ Union and a professional firefighter with more than 25 years’ experience. Father of two daughters, he lives and works on the NSW South Coast, Australia. He is a strong advocate for firefighters and emergency service workers with an interest in mental health issues and caring for those around him. He is a Director on the NSW Fire Brigades Death and Disability Super Fund and works with charities including ‘The Movember Foundation’. As a leader and activist he has long been active in the campaign for action on climate change. Now a Station Commander in the fire and rescue service in NSW and has decades of experience fighting fires, both rural and urban. He is passionate about highlighting the impact climate change is having on fire preparedness and fire behaviour in Australia, and the risks associated with inaction on climate change. Darin is also a spokesperson for the Australian Climate Media Centre.
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