On June 26, 1996, my team, América de Cali, was runner-up in the Copa Libertadores for the fourth time. Four times and nothing that “we turned around” as they say in Argentina when the team is champion. Despite the fact that Pipa de Ávila was the top scorer in the tournament, I was seized by an existential bitterness, a tingling in my soul, something radical had to be done.
After much thought, I decided to become a fan of the first Colombian team that rose to the first division: Atlético Huila, commanded at that time by Guillermo the “teacher” Berrío.
You have to support the small teams, I thought. Enough of being with the powerful. I left full of hope with a new purpose in life, to look for the yellow-green coat of the opitas in the center of Cali. But without much luck. At that time in Cali they were from América or Deportivo Cali. There wasn’t much room for free expression of personality. It is not like today that you can choose between them, them, “elles” and any other combination.
Got a yellow shirt that worked. I put it on with pride and decided to come out of the football closet with my patch of friends. I announced to them, one day after a soccer snack, that from now on I was a fan of the glorious Atlético Huila; that it was part of the opita bar; of the bambuqueros. In the middle of my announcement, a lifelong friend got up, looked me in the eye and said: “you are a somersault”.
Horror! There is no worse insult than saying to one “flip-flop.” Could it be that you can’t? I thought. Changing your mind is not possible? That prompted me to study what the philosophers said about us “somersaults” and, by chance in life, I came across one of the greatest: Karl Popper.
Popper was an Austrian philosopher who taught at the London School of Economics, and one of his main intellectual goals was to demonstrate the difference between science and “pseudoscience.” The question he wanted to answer was, in his own words, “When should a theory be classified as scientific? I do not think there is a more relevant philosophical question at a time when we all want to pose as a Nobel Prize in our networks and so much garbage circulates under the title of science.
When you think of science, the first thing that comes to mind is a unique, infallible knowledge that does not change. We see the scientist as the owner of the truth. But it turns out that Popper’s conclusion is the opposite. Knowledge is scientific if ways can be developed to refute it, to falsify it. Any knowledge that there is no way to refute it with experiments is not scientific.
It is the difference between science and religion, between astronomy and astrology and others. Science, to be science, has to be able to refute itself, it is not an untouchable totem that no one can approach. It is because of its ability to be refuted with new experiments that science is considered science. Irrefutability is not a quality of science, it is a quality of pseudoscience.
The ability to be able to refute with experiments also gives him the property to change, to be updated with the new reality. So when scientists change their minds about new evidence, they are not liars. They are doing science precisely.
When we read a scientific comment we have to ask ourselves, it is not if it is true or not, but if there is any possibility of showing that it is false and if experiments can be developed to show that it does not apply to reality. Scientific knowledge is built like this, refuting existing theories to build a better one. Science is “flip-flops,” Popper would say. And that’s why it’s science. Tremendous! Could it be that my short passage through the Atlético Huila fans was a scientific movement? Could it be that if Popper had patched that day in Cali with my friends when I announced my adherence to the opitas, would he have supported me?
I’ll never know, but reading Popper about being “flip-flop” doesn’t sound so bad. It looks good, it is even “cool”. It provokes me to combine my yellow shirt with the scientist’s gown.
* After a successful career as a player and coach, the “teacher” Berrio passed away last April at the age of 53. Peace in his grave.