What do I mean by “probabilistically” true?

What do I mean by “probabilistically” true?

I was once again drawn in to a “discussion” on Facebook about global warming with one of my science-denying friends (why do I have so many?!) and while I made some progress – I think – I used the exchange as an opportunity to reflect on the word “true.”

A claim in science has either been proven false, or it has yet to be proven false. This sets up a strange dynamic for the contrarian looking to exploit that space between what we claim to be true and what has yet to be proven false.

You see, science by definition and by the very nature of hypothesis testing is “probabilistically” true. Meaning that there is always a chance that a claim could be proven false. In other words, science always leaves a window open, even if the crack is infinitesimally small, for the potential that new evidence will change our understanding.

For the climate change denier (or evolution denier or vaccine denier etc.), to deny the evidence for human caused global warming, or evolution, or vaccine efficacy at this stage of the research, is simply contrarianism. Therefore, while statistically speaking there is an extraordinarily small probability that any of those hypotheses might be proven false, the practical reality is that there is no factual basis for denying any of them.

The lesson: Do not let contrarians exploit your intellectual honesty.

Happy critical thinking!