How Science Works

This is not a post on astronomy, but on science generally, and its importance to society.

As suggested in the text at the bottom, though we knew that the Milky Way is a spiral-shaped galaxy, we didn’t know until recently that this spiral disk doesn’t sit flat on the galactic plane.

Perhaps the real import of this discovery is a reminder: that we now know more than we did last month doesn’t invalidate any aspect of astronomy as it existed up to that point; this is simply the way science works.  

Our understanding of scientific matters is always changing.  In fact, it is always improving; it doesn’t go backwards due to the high bar we set in terms of evidence and peer-reviewed studies.

I bring this up for readers who may be having trouble coming to terms with science’s difficulties in dealing with COVID-19.  How many people will need to contract the disease before we can hope to achieve “herd immunity?”  What will be the precise results of 100% compliance with the wearing of masks and observing social distancing? How many people who get the disease do not get antibodies necessary to prevent a recurrence?

Well, scientists disagree. But that doesn’t mean we’d do better to turn this problem over to the dairy farmers or the real estate agents.  Scientists always disagree at the onset of studies into new phenomena; there is no reason to expect anything different in this case.