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What Is Science? Geneticist Sheds Light on Science’s True Nature With Occam’s Razor

A new paper highlights the significance of Occam’s Razor, arguing that its principle of simplicity is what sets science apart from pseudoscience and superstition. The study argues that a better understanding and emphasis on Occam’s Razor could improve public perception and education in science.

Occam’s Razor, a principle suggesting that the simplest explanation that aligns with the facts should be chosen when confronted with multiple hypotheses, is more than just a scientific tool. According to a distinguished molecular geneticist at the University of Surrey, Occam’s Razor is science.

In a paper published by Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, Professor Johnjoe McFadden argues Occam’s razor – attributed to the Surrey-born, Franciscan friar, William of Occam (1285 – 1347) – is the only feature that differentiates science from superstition, pseudoscience or fake news.

Professor McFadden said: “What is science? The rise of issues such as vaccine hesitancy, climate skepticism, alternative medicine, and mysticism reveals significant levels of distrust or misunderstanding of science amongst the general public. The ongoing Covid inquiry also highlights how scientific ignorance extends into the heart of government. Part of the problem is that most people, even most scientists, have no clear idea of what science is actually about.”

Factors often cited as being the essence of science, such as experimentation or mathematics, are widely used in disciplines as diverse as gardening, accounting, cooking or astrology. Alchemists performed thousands of experiments attempting to transform base metal into gold but got nowhere, whereas astrologers used mathematics to calculate horoscopes. Neither is considered science. But why?

Historical Significance and Modern Application

William of Occam insisted that science is the search for the simplest solutions. Occam’s razor was adopted by Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, and Newton to, for example, argue that Earth orbits the sun, not the other way around, because it is simpler. They used the razor to clear a path through mysticism, superstition, and religion to found modern science. The razor continues to be invaluable, helping to predict, for example, the Higgs boson.

Professor McFadden continued: “Whereas practitioners of mysticism, alternative medicine, pseudoscience or fake news can invent spirits, demons conspiracies or Elvis on the moon, to make sense of their world, scientists will always adopt the simplest solution to even the most complex problems. That is the beauty of Occam’s razor.”

“While mysticism, alternative medicine, and fake news often resort to elaborate explanations like spirits or moon-landing conspiracies, scientists seek the simplest solutions to complex problems. Today’s world, riddled with pseudoscience and misinformation, partly stems from a poor grasp of science. Often taught as a jumble of obscure theories and complex equations, science can overwhelm students, driving them away. However, portraying science as a method to find simple explanations for our world’s complexities, using experimentation, mathematics, and logic, could make it accessible to all, including politicians.”

Reference: “Razor sharp: The role of Occam’s razor in science” by Johnjoe McFadden, 29 November 2023, Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences.
DOI: 10.1111/nyas.15086

Source: SciTechDaily