Theories and Facts

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Every good scientist puts theory on a much higher level than fact. For example, do you regard the Copernican hypothesis as theory or fact? When Copernicus was investigating the planets, the data that he worked with were a whole lot of positions of planets in the sky at different times. The hypothesis and then theory was that the earth goes around the sun. In Copernicus' case, it was one of several theories that explained some facts, and today it is still a theory in the same way. However, Copernicus' theory has become so dominant that it can be considered to be a fact which rocket scientists ignore at their peril.

Now Copernicus wasn't completely right, as Kepler showed, by showing that the planets move in ellipses rather than circles. And Newton, Lagrange, etc., showed that they don't quite move in ellipses either. Einstein came along and showed that Mercury doesn't obey Newtonian physics either... and yet Copernicus, Kepler, Newton and Einstein's theories are all also facts.

Newton managed to reduce all of the early astronomers' observations of the positions of the planets to a few simple rules. All scientists accumulate facts as they work. For most scientists, the forumulation of an important theory is the pinnacle of a career. Scientists aren't often remembered for the facts that they discover (sometimes they are) but the theories they propose.