What constitutes the truth? Sociologists are bombarded with data that purports to be the truth even when said data seems to diametrically oppose other available data. Data is usually interpreted and when this happens is truth the victim of researchers using the data that they want and ignoring the other information that might undermine what they believe?
Donald Rumsfeld, the former US Defence Secretary, once said:
“There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.”
A definition of science is ‘the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.’
Science is irrefutable, seen as a natural explanation, valid, reliable and trustworthy.
Thomas Kuhn (1962) argued that science was characterised by a commitment to a scientific paradigm and Kuhn argued that a paradigm is a complete theory within which all scientists base their research and experiments on, and what they actually analyse. Perhaps the greatest barrier to a paradigm shift, in some cases, is the reality of paradigm paralysis: the inability or refusal to see beyond the current models of thinking
Postmodernists believe that relativism is a concept believes that points of view have no absolute truth or validity, having only relative, subjective value according to differences in perception and consideration.
A good example of what is the truth is the ‘Higgs Boson Particle’. The Higgs Boson particle is also known as the “God Particle”. It has never been discovered or observed yet scientists use it to explain the unknown. Religious people use it as proof that God exists and science cannot explain how the world works without it. Scientists have spent over £6 billion on setting up the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. They had hoped to finally discover the particle. There have been debates whether it is justified to spend that amount of money on something that no one can prove actually exists. If no one can actually provide definitive proof that the Higgs Boson Particle exists why should anyone assume that it does? Just what exactly is the truth?
Likewise, scientists talk about the origins of the universe as if everyone knows how it came about. Yet we do not as there are two schools of thought, both of which counter the other – so which is right? One school of thought is the ‘Big Bang Theory’ which suggests that the universe was created at some point in time and is not eternal. The other school of thought is that the world has existed eternally with no beginning or end or that it was created at some point in the past and it will end at some point in time in the future.
Another area that scientists argue over is Darwin versus Creationism. Frequently referred to as the ‘Big Debate’, one belief (Creationism) relies on belief while Darwinism relies on data to support it, starting with Darwin’s observations in the Galapagos Islands.
Clearly there are disputes over global warming. Is it occurring? Scientists seem to have different views over this – some say it does and present evidence to support their views. However, some evidence already presented to support the belief that global warming exists has been severely criticised by fellow scientists for its misleading and inaccurate data. So where does the truth lie? Clearly the public at large are not clear about this. In 2006, 90% of those asked in a UK poll believed that climate warming was a “serious problem” – and presumably based their views on the data available to them. In 2009, the same question was only supported by 49% – a near enough fall of one-half in just three years. What caused such a drop? Was it that the “truth” was more available to the public? Or that scientific evidence was now, in 2009, considered less truthful?
Clashes about the ‘truth’ have led to arguments between positivists and anti-positivists. Positivists put a great deal of faith in quantitative research methods and the more data that they have available, the better able they are to argue their ideas. Anti-positivists believe the opposite – as their title would indicate. They believe that qualitative data is a far better way of finding out about society in depth.
Courtesy of Lee Bryant, Director of Sixth Form, Anglo-European School, Ingatestone, Essex