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Matthieu Miossec

Doctoral Student - Genetic Medecine (Congenital Heart Disease),


This conversation is closed.

Is a superceeded scientific theory really wrong?

If a scientific theory has been superseeded by another theory that makes more accurate predictions, does that make the previous theory wrong or merely incomplete? In which ways is it wrong if it is?

Is the statement that an old theory is wrong misleading when talking about science and the way it is carried out? Does that not give the false impression that every new scientific theory starts from a blank slate?

I'd like to keep this conversation focused on actual science, that which was devised using the modern scientific methodology rather than just guesswork of much older ages.


Closing Statement from Matthieu Miossec

"I think the superseded theory is perhaps not so wrong as it is obsolete and thus less useful" - Walter Radtke
In a nutshell.

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    Oct 3 2011: I think the superseded theory is perhaps not so wrong as it is obsolete and thus less useful, although, in the history of medicine, I'm not sure that "bleeding" was ever usefull, and could be said to have been just plain wrong. I don't think that calling something wrong or stupid should be discouraged. There is a need for decisiveness in the world.
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    Oct 5 2011: Every good theory is a good theory.
    Any theory is the best guess for an answer from the data that's available or from experience.
    No theory is ever wrong nor is it ever right on an open quest.
    Only if the question is confined within given limitations the answer can be right, no theory is needed.

    The misleading part is to think you know something by having a (good) theory.
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    Oct 3 2011: I see what you mean. People love a little too much the idea that science can be completely wrong sometimes. Science is not about being right, though, and it shouldn't be taught this way.

    When a theory is superseded by another, it's only on the account that the new one brings more understanding and knowledge of what you're trying to figure out. So it's not about being wrong, since the new one has no right to claim that it won't itself be superseded (thus wrong) itself.
    At any moment, it's about finding the best possible explanation with what you got to work with.

    There have been bad theories, though. Theories that failed at explaining anything. Like the savanah explanation of our bipedism...