It has been said that we live in an age of “alternative facts”. Throughout the pandemic, we’ve learned that ‘following the science’ is not synonymous with ‘following the facts’. The question bears asking: what is the difference between scientific fact and scientific theory? Have we misunderstood what science can, and can’t, be used for? Which questions can we reasonably expect ‘scientific experts’ to be able to answer? Are there questions that are simply unanswerable? And how do scientists handle those?
Professor Jim Al-Khalili OBE FRS is a theoretical physicist, author and broadcaster. He is a University of Surrey Distinguished Chair where he has also held a personal chair in physics since 2005 alongside a university chair in the Public Engagement in Science. He is the author of The World According to Physics which unravels the fundamental principles of quantum theory, relativity and thermodynamics in clear equations-free prose.