Why science does not "prove" anything

We often read that science has “proven” something…. However, for a scientist this is an immediate red flag, as we should never use the term "proven" in a scientific context. Here I will explain why everyone should see red flags when they read “science-proven” or “scientifically proven”.

Why we can't use "proven" in science infographic

Why we should never use the word “proven” within a scientific context

Proven means that it is absolute. There is absolutely no chance that there is an alternative explanation. There are plenty of examples where people were convinced they had proven something, only to discover later that they were wrong. Our observations often play tricks on us and even though we do everything possible to verify and make sure we are right; it is never 100% certain that your observation and the interpretation are correct.

If we take a simple example and look at Figure 1a, we are easily convinced that the two grey squares (A and B) are different shades of grey. If we designed a study and asked a group of 100 individuals, the vast majority, maybe even all of them would agree with this statement.

Figure 1a. Grey shaded boxes

However, the GIF below (Figure 1b) will show that this statement is wrong. The context of everything else around it, and the shade that is introduced makes our brain think that the colours are different. Our conclusion was influenced by everything else we were observing. Carefully removing all those factors will reveal the real truth. This is just an illustration that our eyes can play tricks on us.

Figure 1b. Grey shaded boxes GIF

Below are two more examples. In Figure 2a, focus on the dot in the centre and move your head back and forwards. This gives the illusion that the circles are moving, even though they are not. The next figure (Figure 2b) consists of perfect lines and squares even though our initial interpretation would lead us to believe otherwise. The bottom-line is that our observations are not perfect.

Figure 2. a). Dot with circular illusion and b). Perfectly straight lines and squares

For a long time people thought the Earth was flat. They were convinced it was flat. They thought it was “proven”. Until it was demonst