How to kill a hypothesis

By Dr. Malcolm Kendrick

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from Dr. Malcolm Kendrick.

“Why do people insist on defending their ideas and opinions with such ferocity, as if defending honour itself? What could be easier to change than an idea?” J.G. Farrell.

When the orbit of Neptune was found to be irregular, and not to follow classical Newtonian physics, it was suggested that, perhaps, the laws of physics may break down in deep space. Others, rather more pragmatically, suggested that there was another planet out there, interfering with the orbit of Neptune. It was just too far out, and dim, to be seen.

That planet, no longer called a planet, was Pluto. Once observed, it accounted for the distortions in the orbit of Neptune.

When the orbit of Mercury was found to be irregular, and not to follow classical Newtonian physics, it was suggested that there was another invisible planet orbiting closer to the sun. This planet was named Vulcan.

Of course there was no planet Vulcan. The reason why classical Newtonian physics did not accurately predict the orbit of Mercury is because the mass of the sun bent time and space. Classical Newtonian physics had to be replaced by Einstein’s theory of relativity.

What does this tell us?

It tells us that it is very difficult to know if an apparently contradictory observation actually refutes a scientific theory. It also tells us that you can use ad-hoc hypotheses (there is another planet out there) to support a cherished central hypothesis, and that this is a valid scientific technique.

But at what point do you have to admit defeat? How many contradictory observations can you dismiss before you must accept that the game is up, and that your hypothesis is wrong?

I think about this a lot. Mainly with regard to the cholesterol hypothesis, or the diet-heart hypothesis, or whatever term is now current. I have seen evidence that directly refutes this hypothesis again and again and again and….indeed…again.

If anyone wishes to debate this issue with me, I can produce far more evidence contradicting it, than supporting it. Yet still it stands, untouched. In fact I would suggest more people believe in this hypothesis than at any time in human history. Billions of people also take statins to lower their cholesterol levels. As you can imagine, this is more than a little frustrating.

How can you convince people that this hypothesis is wrong? I have tried in many, many, different ways. As have other members of THINCS (The International …read more

Source: Donkeyrock_BlurBlog

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