Science Doesn’t Prove Anything!

The Immutable Truth

You may think of science as factual or the immutable truth. Sir Isaac Newton’s laws of motion are accepted as true, but they aren’t proven. No scientific facts ever have been proven, and they never will be.

Science is based on measurements or tools that can be informative and provide useful data. However, the data are not always precisely accurate, because the conclusions scientists draw from them are always based on the limited and specific questions they ask. To understand the meaning of the different scientists’ conclusions, you have to know which variables were measured; how the variables were measured; who measured them; and more.

Scientists frequently disagree on the results of any set of given data.

Scientific Knowledge Is Always Tentative

There’s a good reason for that. According to Psychology Today, “…all scientific knowledge is tentative and provisional, and nothing is final. There is no such thing as final proven knowledge in science.”

Disagreement among scientists can be beneficial, because it keeps them searching for better answers or solutions. However, the shades of grey in science can frustrate people who are trying to sift through seemingly conflicting reports. They want to take science as factual and unequivocal — particularly, when they’ve read something that was published by a respected source. They may feel disappointed and even angry when media outlets appear to reverse their own reporting on nutrition, exercise, medication, and other important issues.

It’s not only the media’s reporting of the science that’s biased and open to interpretation; it’s the science itself.

Interpreting Science

Sometimes, interpreting science is not just taking statistics out of context to spin the story. A scientist might just have a different angle on an observation. That is what science reporting is all about. Is the glass half full or half empty? The best answer depends on how it may support the rest of the story.

When different researchers publish conflicting information, we often have difficulty knowing what to believe. For example, the headline, “Coconut oil is ‘pure poison,’ Harvard professor says in a talk on nutrition,” contradicts the wisdom that “Coconut oil is one of the few foods that can be classified as a ‘superfood.’ ”

Another example is when we read that coffee may either prevent, or cause, some types of cancer. Which is it? Can both claims be true? Of course, the answer is in the details, not the headline. It is possible that coffee can both prevent and cause cancer. It may be the type of coffee, duration of coffee use, amount of coffee, and the genomics of the person using coffee that are among the factors that determine the effect coffee may have on an individual.

Alcohol is another substance commonly associated with health-related controversy. A recent study suggests that there is no amount of alcohol that is safe for your overall health. The senior study author, Emmanuela Gakidou, a professor at the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, admits, “We’re used to hearing that a drink or two a day is fine. But the evidence is the evidence.” Well, if that is the case, then why does the Mayo Clinic advise, “When it comes to alcohol, the key is moderation,” not abstinence?

What the two perspectives are really addressing is risk. Reid Hoffman said that everything in life has some risk. There is a risk associated with driving, but most of us drive. There is a risk involved with living, but most of us do not seek the alternative.

Science Is Ambiguous

Some people want science to be unambiguous. They would prefer that it provide definitive answers. But science only gives us direction that is interpreted by scientists whose questions determine how they see, and report, the observations.

In some cases, science can offer enormous amounts of evidence that can come close to what we may believe is proof. But that isn’t absolute, and it isn’t permanent. As scientists receive better information, they revise their biases and change the questions. For example, most of us no longer believe the Earth is flat or that it is at the center of the universe.

Scientific conclusions can change, and they often do. Unfortunately, the only conclusion one can make for eternity is that science doesn’t prove anything. It only disproves. Keep this in mind when you read a scientific report, whether it supports or opposes your biases.


  1. Judith L Fratus on September 2, 2018 at 8:38 pm

    Until reading this article I’ve never thought that the statistic examples here that these are more, opinions as opposed to science even though they are presented as science and have been quoted by organizations that we look up to in the medical community.,
    ie:Mayo Clinic, Harvard professor. etc. How sad is it that we have been living in fear for so long and hitting us on all sides about things that matter. Our health is everything. Riches or health. I’ll take health over all.
    I don’t know how to get out of the fear cycle but it’s so good to know that Dr. Webster and some others are out there to show us and others the truth.
    Thank you!

  2. James Rotchford, MD on September 10, 2018 at 4:24 am

    Clinical medicine in particular has to do with placing sound bets based on current findings. While I think of objective data as a subset of “subjective” reality I also believe to not respect objective data puts at risk the quality and even duration of our subjective experiences.
    I had published a paper several years ago entitled Letting the Horses Run. It is available on my website

Leave a Comment