The Difference in Science and “Unexplainable” Results
This piece is being written in response to the proposition that “scientific theory” cannot explain certain results, in the context of the human body’s function.
More specifically, the proposition was to the effect of:
“If science tells us that the body mobilizes fat in a fashion that is genetically determined, and therefore spot reduction is impossible, then why do some bodybuilders note that when they work the midsection harder that it gets leaner?”
Well ok, the astute among you have likely noted some of the problems here, but I’d like to go into some detail just to eliminate any doubt. This is a treatment of real science vs. bro-science.
Firstly, we have to define what science is. Science, simply, is the use of reason and logic to explain observed phenomena.
Phenomena in this sense can be virtually anything: the sun’s light, why a ball falls to the ground when you drop it, literally anything you can observe in some form or another. Science is not a quest to explain all questions ever; science can only explain what can be observed.
Further, science is based around the rigors of logical reasoning. This means that observations must ideally be carried out under strict conditions, with no confounding variables to skew the results. This serves two purposes: to ensure that what is being studied is actually a causal relationship, not merely a correlation, and to allow the testing to be repeated by others, the concept of reproducibility.
This brings us to the key notion of science, the concept of the hypothesis, the theory, and falsifiability. A hypothesis is a conjecture or speculation that is tested by experimentation. An experiment is the aforementioned series of strict conditions under which scientific testing is performed. An example of a hypothesis would be “A tennis ball will fall if not supported by another object”.
A theory on the other hand is a working model that explains an observed phenomenon. A theory has the ability to make reliable predictions about the phenomenon, can be tested through experimentation (reproducibility) and is open to being falsified through further observation (falsifiability).
In strict terms, a theory in this sense of the word is no different from a fact. It has been able to create reliable predictions, it can be tested, and it is open to being falsified by further observation. The most widely known example is gravity. Strictly speaking, gravity as described by Newton is “wrong”, as it was falsified by Einstein with relativity. However, for the purposes of those of us on Earth, there is little practical difference; Newton is as “right” as he could be (for more on “the relativity of wrong”, see Categories Knowledge