What is science?
Welcome to the "What is science?" learning project. Participants in this project explore science and the relationship of science to other aspects of human life.
General features of science
Science is concerned with knowledge that can be objectively verified. Objective verification of knowledge is a social process by which observations and ideas are explained in sufficient detail so that others can verify them. Science depends on careful observation of the world, often aided by contrived experiments and mathematical models that artificially simplify the behavior of complex systems. The results from many special purpose experiments and models can then be combined in order to understand the full complexity of real world phenomena. Thus, science depends on information received by the senses, but subjective experience is constantly tempered by skepticism and systematic doubt.
Scientists continually look for new ways to test what we think we know and understand. Scientific ideas are always tentative and are often modified and updated as needed when new observations become possible and new ways are found to combine old observations and ideas. Arguments from authority carry no weight in science. Repeated, independent verification of scientific results by means of multiple methods is the basis upon which scientific objectivity is built.
New sciences arise when new phenomena are discovered or new methods for scientific investigation become available. Some fields of study exist as protosciences with their investigators hoping to observe certain types of phenomena. For example, astrobiologists have not observed life in other star systems, but are attempting to find evidence to support the idea that life might exist beyond Earth and outside of the Solar System. It is not unusual for scientists to make predictions and then spend many years attempting to verify those predictions. As long as scientific methods are used and unverifiable claims are not made, such protoscience can exist as an important part of how scientific knowledge is extended to new domains.
In some cases, entire existing academic disciplines attempt to adopt scientific methods and make a transition towards greater scientific objectivity for that field. In contrast, pseudoscience is characterized by attempts to champion unverified claims as scientific without bothering to follow the scientific method.
Exercises and discussion
- In addition to the "quantum revolution", what are some examples of "scientific revolutions" which resulted in major changes in scientific understanding?
- What are some currently active protosciences or alleged protosciences? (Exobiology - searching for data)
- Discuss this list of pseudosciences and alleged pseudosciences.
- Essays relating to the w:Demarcation problem.
- Science and the nonphysical
- Topic:Philosophy of Science
- Error and the Growth of Experimental Knowledge
- The Seven Warning Signs of Bogus Science
- "Science and complexity" by Warren Weaver in American Scientist (1948) Volume 36, page 536.
- "Science and broad points of view" by P. W. Bridgman in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences U.S.A. (1956) Volume 42, pages 315-325.
- "Searching for an alien haven in the heavens" by Bridget C. Coughlin in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences U.S.A. (2001) Volume 98, page 796.
- "Foundations of “new” social science: Institutional legitimacy from philosophy, complexity science, postmodernism, and agent-based modeling" by Leslie Henrickson and Bill McKelvey in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences U.S.A. (2002) Volume 99, pages 7288-7295.