There are often theories published by scientists in both the hard sciences and social sciences based on new understanding of fundamental science and better data collecting mechanisms that runs in opposite to the prevailing theories of the day (or it is not politically correct).

I am reminded of the case of Darwin and Galileo and many modern cases that presents alternative theory to a side of an argument that has long been thought of as quack science of unsubstantiated conspiracy theories.

Science is all about objectivity, if we were to find that "gun ownership decrease gun deaths" or "sexual orientation can be changed later in life" or "our universe is 11 dimensions and made up of little vibrating strings" or "vaccination causes serious and incurable side effects" then scientifically speaking we should accept these results despite that they run counter to our intuition and are not exactly the most politically correct thing to say in our time. In fact, even mentioning this decreases my credibility in some circles.

Unfortunately, in some of these cases, when research is done it so happens that in the next few decades it captures little attention (again Galileo) or due to lack of interest or funding, so that there are literally only one or two person on one side of an argument.

When presenting these theories to friends or colleagues, I sometimes face scrutiny that this explanation has support from only one or two theorists (especially if those theorists are prominent i.e. Freud, Judith Butler, Zizek, Pew Research, Gallup) so it is not credible. People keep on telling me I should find more and more people to support my argument because "anyone can find quack scientists" or "anyone can find hollow earth supporters". When I find another study that supports a theory, people then tell me I should find even more people because only then "a hypothesis can become an evidence".

So how many scientists does it really take to establish a theory? What does it mean to establish a theory? i.e. the theory of gravitation, the theory of evolution.

Note: I am asking here because people are significantly more well read and objective than some other forums.

closed as too broad by Johanna, Davidmh, David Richerby, scaaahu, Enthusiastic Engineer Jun 13 '15 at 6:19

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    I assume you realize the obvious fact that there is no specific number. Also, this is arguably a question about the philosophy of science, not academia. – Zev Chonoles Jun 12 '15 at 22:09
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    A new theory has to explain experimental results better than previous theories to become the new standard. For example, anti-vax conspiracy theories fail to explain any of the studies showing no increase in chronic diseases after vaccination. That is why they are not accepted. The current paradigm, that vaccines only very rarely cause serious issues, fits the data better. It's the same with all the other theories you mention. They are worse at explaining the outcome of actual experiments, so only quack scientists support them. – Johanna Jun 12 '15 at 22:42
  • How many people do we need to establish that the Earth is roundish? Aparently, we are not there yet. – Davidmh Jun 12 '15 at 23:58
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    Unfortunately, the fact "people are significantly more well read and objective than other forums" does not make the question more appropriate for this forum. – Bitwise Jun 12 '15 at 23:58
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is a question about a subject studied within academia, not a question about academia. – David Richerby Jun 13 '15 at 0:08

Although superficially the question need not concern "academia" per se, in fact, perhaps, a saner reformulation (and tentative answer) can be given if the question is put into a "more academic" context, rather than "coffee shop" or "sports bar" context.

That is, deconstructing (?) the situation is helpful.

Unsurprisingly, the premise of the question is misguided, in the sense that one would suspect that your "critics" are not proposing rational critiques of whatever you're talking about, but are merely "stonewalling", that is, finding ways to object no matter what you say. The good news is that probably those peoples' worldviews ought not deeply concern you... oops, except that maybe they're your friends.

But, as in other comments, the question is not "how many people endorse it", although it may appear to be so. Indeed, disturbingly, some ridiculous things (essentially provably nonsensical) are believed by huge numbers of people, due to the appeal those beliefs have ... for other reasons. Not because of "evidence".

The underlying difficulty, to my perception, is something like this: we must assimilate some basic functions (walking across a room without falling or crashing into things, getting through the doorway...) to a very subliminal degree, or our minds would be too busy worrying about such stuff ("breath in, breath out") that we couldn't do anything else. However, this tendency seeps over into everything, so that "we" (human animals) try to make everything as automated/subliminal as possible. Ergo, desiring the simplest, most uniform notion of ... every idea. Pity that this is not quite feasible?

Especially young-ish people who've been a bit sheltered (good for them, in many regards! Experiencing hardship may be educational, but it's not a moral virtue!) "wish" that things would not be so messy as they (evidently, especially if one reads books, etc.) are.

There does seem to be a special anti-intellectual trend in the U.S., which is a bit complicated to account for. But, yes, in the U.S. ignorance is less an embarrassment than elsewhere, and this gets many idiotic discussions started...

If you could get your antagonists to be a bit honest, and consider the criterion of "explanation", as in @Johanna's comment, and disavow "number of 'likes' as evidence of correctness", you could have a discussion. The reality is that if those people are inclined to make the sort of objections they did, it's not on grounds that you had exercised shoddy intellectual methods, but that they simply didn't like the conclusions, for irrational reasons, and would find ways to make pseudo-legitimate, pseudo-intellectual objections ... no matter what you said.

The rhetorical devices, especially evasions, that people sometimes consciously use (cf. politics), and sometimes instinctively use, are endless...

The real answer is that people who want to believe something-or-other will not be persuaded otherwise by anything at all. So if you can speculate that that's the case, there's no point in having any discussion, either. Too bad.


A theory is "established" when it makes reliable predictions, has withstood all tests thrown at it, and for those reasons has been accepted as a practical working model of the system in question.

Note that a statement which can not be tested in a statistically valid manner is not science; at best it's philosophy.

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