What is it about theories in the human sciences and natural sciences that make them convincing

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TOK Essay 2/2011

Question: What is it about the theories in the human sciences and natural sciences that makes them convincing?

Name: Valerie Ng Suying

TOK group: P1b (Mr Eric Lau)

Index Number: 20

It is widely assumed that natural and human sciences provide a reliable form of knowledge about the world, whether about natural phenomena or the behavior of individuals or a society. Statistics have shown that people have a high level of confidence in the scientific community. Scientists and their scientific theories are usually placed above leaders of other institutions such as business leaders, religious leaders, or elected officials (americanprogress.org). However, scientific theories are not completely certain and may not always provide an accurate view of the world. They are fallible and are subjected to change. So what is it in the theories of the human and natural sciences that makes them so convincing? Why do people have such high regard for them to the extent that some have begun to take them for granted as being true? This essay will attempt to discuss theories in the natural sciences followed by theories in the human sciences.

To begin, it is important to define the key terms, namely ‘scientific theories’ and ‘convincing’. Scientific theories are a set of logical explanatory statements with well-supported evidence that explain observations and can be used to predict future events. More importantly, a scientific theory must be falsifiable in nature. This means a claim can only be proven experimentally wrong but not correct (Alchin 18). The other word that this essay is concerned with is ‘convincing’. Something can be convincing but not necessarily reliable. A convincing theory is therefore one that is capable of effectively persuading others to believe and accept. For this to happen, there must be sufficient evidence to persuade.

One key reason that makes theories in the natural sciences convincing is the repeatability of the scientific method used by the researcher and its reproducibility by his fellow researchers in the scientific community. Repeatability and reproducibility are essential in forming the basis in the development of scientific theories. Repeatability of the scientific method allows for a broad range of observations and variables to be tested to support a proposed scientific theory. When a researcher obtains similar results for each repeated trial of his experiment, the experiment is seen as consistent. The proposed theory derived is also considered strong and widely applicable if the same experiment is performed in different locations, under similar conditions (unce.unr.edu). This enables scientists to formulate detailed explanations of occurrences in our natural environment with different lines of evidence to support a single theory. Hence, the theory becomes convincing. Furthermore, if fellow researchers are able to successfully reproduce the same results when replicating an experiment, theories become further confirmed, as the original hypotheses will be reexamined if different results are obtained. This may lead to new hypotheses and further experimentation. For example, Ernest Rutherford originally deduced that the atom has its mass and positive charge in a smaller central nucleus with negative charges held in electrons orbiting around the dense nucleus. However, after evaluation by the scientific community, his model was discovered by Niels Bohr to be unstable, “as orbiting electrons will emit energy and spiral into the nucleus of the atom, making the atom collapse” (pbs.org). Bohr, including many other scientists have since revised and “modified Rutherford's model by proposing that electrons had set energy levels” (undsci.berkeley.edu). In this process, undesirable outcomes can be built upon and biases and unfounded claims of individual researches can also be eliminated. The researcher and the scientific community can obtain ample and coherent evidence by repeating procedures and reproducing results. This makes theories convincing.

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Theories in the natural sciences are considered convincing because the formulation of these theories is derived from mathematical equations. “Mathematics is the language of science [and] science probably derives its reliability from mathematical equations.” Sensory perception is required in experiments to formulate a scientific theory but ultimately, everything boils down to mathematical equations. (Lau) Mathematical equations are used in all science disciplines. In a biology experiment to investigate the rate of enzymatic reaction, calculations are required to calculate the rate from raw data collected. In chemistry, mathematics is needed to calculate the concentrations of solutions in moles. Even in ...

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