All science is not created equal. Unlike many human endeavors, the "truth" of a scientific discovery is not subject to majority rule, nor must it conform to the moral or political whims of society. In the end, all scientific knowledge must conform to nature.

Scientific progress is neither linear or predictable. One day, a small, stubborn fact may kindle a fresh insight that grows into a fundamentally new way of looking at the world. Or, that same meddlesome observation may ignite a flurry of public interest and speculation, even though no scientist gives it a moment's thought.

While science is not subject to majority vote, and often single individuals are the first to challenge convention, over time, valid insights are confirmed and consensus emerges (see FAQ for more details). But, it's always important to remember that strong evidence creates scientific consensus. Majority-held views cannot legislate fiction into a fact.

We probably want to teach our children (at least when they are young), mostly Confirmed Facts and provide them with the tools to think rationally about the world. We probably shouldn't make personal, life changing decisions based on Dubious or Fictional information. And, we need an open debate which clearly separates scientific knowledge from political concerns, when our knowledge is in flux and only Possibly or Likely to be true.

In that spirit, these rankings bring order and coherence to our knowledge of the world. The foundation that is modern science is extraordinarily sound. Society depends, at every moment, on the predictability that foundation brings. But, in every moment there is always something new to learn, and fresh questions to answer. Were it not for the progress demonstrated by science over the last few hundred years, such flux would be concerning. But instead, it is the fuel that drives the engine of progress.


moreorlesstrue ranking


A Fact is a scientific conclusion so well confirmed that no serious scientist doubts its validity. Facts are consistent with all other known scientific laws, and more importantly, help unify and deepen our understanding of the universe. Facts are so trusted that they are used as a filter to test and validate other, less well understood phenomena.


A Confirmed scientific concept is consistent with most, but perhaps not all Facts. While a few groups may be unable to reproduce key evidence supporting the Confirmed concept, most groups do so easily with a variety of independent methods.
An example of a Confirmed concept is global warming. Data from satellites, earth based thermometers, migratory bird patterns, glacial melting etc. all point to a very real effect. However, the world is a complex, interacting system that is too hard to model with the same level of confidence as, say, an integrated circuit. We KNOW its getting hotter- THINK we understand most of the mechanisms, and SPECULATE on its implications. But warming itself is Confirmed.


Likely scientific concepts are supported by observations and calculations performed by many groups in many organizations. But, a small number of competent groups hold a different view, with their own strong corpus of evidence. Typically, one group has made a mistake in thinking, or more often, are systematically measuring a different phenomena. But until the facts are separated from fiction, they are ranked only as Likely.
An example of a Likely concept is the insight that most cancers can be traced back to a few aberrant stem cells, and that by destroying those cells, the cancer can be cured. So far, this appears to be true in a few cases, but it is not yet known to be a universal explanation. Also, effective targeting of defective stem cells may be prevented by compensating body feedback mechanisms.


Possible scientific findings can be confirmed repeatedly under some set of circumstances, but under different conditions cannot be repeated. They can be modeled using known facts, but one is not sure if all the relevant facts were used in the model. Scientists may spend a few years investigating the possibilities, and typically the evidence varies from study to study.
An example of a Possible concept is the suggestion that brain tumors are caused by cellphone transmissions. The effect, if it exists, is small or nascent. Most studies show no correlation, but a few show a mild linkage. Verging on Dubious, but still Possible.


A Dubious concept is interesting enough to spend some time in the lab investigating, but generally nothing positive results. The greatest value of a Dubious observation, is in its ability to reinforce our confidence of what we do know.
An example of a Dubious concept is Cold Fusion. While Cold Fusion began as a Possible observation, the lack of confirming evidence after very serious study transformed it to Dubious at best.


A Fictional concept is inconsistent with observations and well established, fundamental facts. Confirming observations occur randomly, but are rarely repeated. If the Fictional concept WERE true, vast settled scientific knowledge would have to be overthrown, rather than simply modified.
An example of a Fictional concept is Astrology. While Astrology conforms to some standards of science (e.g. makes testable predictions), study after study proves its predictions are no better than chance.


This category is reserved for topics masquerading as a scientific theory, but meeting none of the usual criteria (testable, consistent with other known facts, refutable, etc.). Such (un)scientific subjects include Creationism and its brother "Intelligent Design", magic, and any theory purporting to explain the universe before the big bang. Up until recently, any theory of how the mind worked was equally speculative- but over the last hundred years new drugs, observational tools and careful large population studies, have opened a window on the mind that meets most scientific criteria.




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