08
Jul
10

The Nature of Science

First off I want to say that I am in no way trying to give an official definition here.  I am merely stating what science is to me; ask someone different and prepare for a different answer.  Secondly I want to state what science is NOT.  Science is not a collection of facts or a body of knowledge.  Facts and knowledge are the ideal outcomes of science.  They are what science strives to produce.  Science is also not a lone practice carried out by some guy with crazy hair sitting at home scribbling on paper.  Science is a dynamic and human interaction driven process.  And there is the word!  The word that it all boils down to.  Science is a process.  Science is a way of thinking about and exploring the world.

Children know this process very well.  If they have a question they don’t ask and take your word for it.  No they touch and taste and play.  Maybe break things or hurt themselves (hey science needs safety rules) but they explore and learn by testing!  When they get older, or have hurt themselves enough, they do start to ask but always followed by “why?”.  But somehow we manage to remove this natural curiosity and desire to experiment from them.  Too many instances of “No don’t touch that”, or “Just because”, I assume.

So what is the scientific process?  That is more than I can put in a single blog post or maybe more than can be contained in any number of blogs.  As I said above it is a dynamic process.  What needs to be done changes depending on the situation.  And please don’t think of “The Scientific Method” that you may have heard talked about in some class or another.  Personally I’d love to chuck that thing right out of the window!  Science is not a static thing that can be wrapped up nicely in 4 little blocks on a piece of paper (or 8 or however many depending on what version you see or who is teaching).  Worse than being inaccurate, it gives the impression of the stoic, one line of thought, rigid framework that we strive to prove that science is not!  You can’t teach the scientific process on paper.  It is learned by doing.  This is why we have labs in many science classes.

Let me attempt to boil this down though.  Science is the process of obtaining and analyzing evidence from the natural world to learn about its behavior.  That is far from complete but it is the general idea.  You must also follow certain lines of logic, explain how your findings fit into the accepted ideas, or how they show previous knowledge to be incorrect or incomplete.  Here is an important point though.  The more accepted knowledge you try t0 overturn (the more evidence you try to contradict) the better your evidence needs to be.

Evidence is only one part of the story.  Predictions are equally important.  It is one thing to make the math match what you already knew was true but to predict a future event that can’t be explained by accepted knowledge is quite another.  In fact it is very powerful.

This is brief and barely scratches the surface of what science is.  As the blog progresses I’ll try to expand, and give examples of science making predictions, correcting itself (something not mentioned here), and advancing human knowledge and experience.  In the meantime…what is science to you?

Myself, I often think of science as more of a verb than a noun.

“Welcome home!  What did you do today?”

“SCIENCE!”

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