Is scientific knowledge true knowledge?

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The things that run through my mind when I have been awake for 30 hours...and counting...



Knowledge is a very broad term and is not static, as the world advances technological advancements are made and what we know changes as well. It is often assumed that certainty distinguishes knowledge from mere belief but this is not always the case.  Instead people react to a lack of certainty by adopting the relativism theory. According to relativism an absolute truth does not exist, instead, it is relative and may be different for different individuals. It is essential for us to know the difference between what is and what is not knowledge. Knowledge would be "information for which we have either direct experience and or data to confirm that it represents a, more or less, accurate interpretation of the world around us.  Therefore knowledge is always going to have severe limits and most of the knowledge we possess will actually be a product of second-hand information we gain from other sources"1 and a belief would be "a system of thought that is compromised of the information we have accumulated and stored in our brains.  What is important to understand is that such a belief does not have any intrinsic validity beyond the fact that it is the way in which data has been organized within our brains."1 To guarantee that a statement is not just a mere belief when it comes to the problem of knowledge, we assure that the knowledge we carry is in fact true by making sure it is coherent and has positive evidence.


To find the truth in the natural sciences, scientists use inductivism which consists of; observation, hypothesis, experiment, law and theory. The natural sciences depend on observation which tends to be relative. For example during a physics lab we did a few months back my peers and I were given the task of having to conduct an experiment to find the temperature of absolute zero. What I realized from this task is that during an experiment people are prone to selective observation and confirmation bias which can affect the validity of your work. In the beginning of the experiment I had a general idea of what I was going to be looking for and it was not until the end of the experiment that I realized that there were a few things that I didn't observe that  I should have. Since I wanted my hypothesis to be correct I only saw data that was relevant to the hypothesis.  What I derived from this experiment could not be viewed as knowledge but only a mere belief because the information obtained from this experiment was relative and biased, before reflecting on this experiment I was certain that my work was accurate. Is it possible that researchers are prone to confirmation bias and selective observation?  

On the contrary, it is possible to acquire true knowledge from the natural sciences. There are theories and laws that we use today prove that the natural sciences can produce true knowledge that is coherent and has positive evidence to back it up, for example, Johannes Kepler's law of planetary motion. This law can be seen as knowledge because meticulous observations made over a long period of time were and several discoveries of anomalies were observed by various scientists and with the discoveries of these anomalies, auxiliary hypotheses were formed and refinements were made. When the scientific method is followed meticulously and scientists make sure that their experiments are repeatable, controllable and measurable and that biases are avoided it is possible that the information we gain can be seen as knowledge. We should keep in mind that as we advance we might find that what was thought of as knowledge before could be proven to be false in the future. We should also be careful in sharing our knowledge seeing as the difference between sharing knowledge and sharing a belief could result in the difference between telling someone that crystal rocks have healing powers and that antibiotics are used to treat syphilis.


other sources 

Van de Lagemaat, Richard. "Theory of Knowledge for the IB Diploma." United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 2006. Print

1 Comment

How you define knowledge is subjective to each person. To someone like Andrew, scientific knowledge probably is synonymous with true knowledge. His beliefs, his findings, his research... all make up what he perceives is as "true knowledge". It is a category undefinable, perhaps one we have to discover on our own.

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