Scientists mostly don't know what a "theory" is, but should they?

In a thought-provoking rant, the Effect Measure science blog challenges the idea that science students should (or can!) know what a "fact," a "theory" and a "model" are. These are not simple, settled concepts, but rather areas of hotly contested debate.

Most scientists also can't properly say what distinguishes science from pseudoscience, say what a fact is, give a satisfying rendition of what a theory is, etc. The problem is that Mr. Williams can't do it either, because there is no agreement on these knotty matters. He seems to think these are simple and settled questions. But finding adequate criteria that separate science from pseudoscience, the so-called Demarcation Problem, remains an unsettled question in the philosophy of science. It is so difficult, and possibly so fruitless, that many philosophers have ceased to be concerned with it. Similarly, what is a "fact"?...

A wag once commented (and I have quoted here often) that to expect a scientist to understand the philosophy of science is like expecting a fish to understand hydrodynamics. I guess the same thing goes for science educators, although it is less excusable. Mr. Williams seems to be under the impression that these extremely difficult foundational issues are settled and should be common knowledge for all scientists.

A rant about science educators

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