Science is delimited from other domains of human activity by criteria such as relevance, coherence and publicity. In this way, truth is not mentioned among the criteria, because truth is a property of statements, while science as an activity is not a treasure of truth, but a method of asking questions. Science can help us to understand ourselves and our world, to recognize how it works and where we fit into it. There will always be questions to answer. What makes us dream? What is consciousness? It is this search for answers, humanity’s innate curiosity and urge to know “why”, that drives scientific discovery. It is possible that science will one day find the answers, but if not, it will not be for lack of trying.
Relevance and Consistency
Relevance is a property not only of statements, but also of problems and methods, and as such is even more crucial than as a property of statements. It can also be a property of definitions, notations, concepts, classifications and, more globally, of problem complexes, theories, domains of knowledge. As a criterion of what science is, consistency is more like truth, although it seems to emphasize its logical component. But this is only the objective aspect of consistency.
For logicians, the height of coherence is the logically closed system. The general theory in physics is not a basis from which deduction takes place, but a reservoir of organizing devices. Physics is like a store of supervised, though not derived, mini-theories from general theory. Relevance, coherence and publicity are criteria by which science contrasts with its margin: pseudoscience and non-science. Pseudoscience often sounds like a protest against public science insofar as publicity means public recognition and is suspected of meaning public coercion.
The margin of science is a social danger worth studying. It can also mean a danger to serious science. Pseudoscientific infections can cause cancer-like growth in serious science. Language taken from serious science can be abused in other sciences; terms like function, information, model, and structure, which originated in mathematics, became a meaningless fad in many other sciences.
Science as public property
Despite the so-called secret sciences, advertising is one of the characteristics of true science. No one can be forced to undergo rites of initiation before being able to study and practice science. In this way, science must be distinguished from technique and its scientific instrumentation, technology.
Science is practiced by scientists and techniques by “engineers,” a term that in our terminology includes doctors, lawyers, and teachers. If for the scientist knowledge and cognition are paramount, it is action and construction that characterize the work of the engineer, although in reality his activity may be based on science. In history, technique often preceded science.
For centuries, medicine was a technique with a certain background philosophy before becoming science; and even today there are intellectual activities that call themselves science, although in reality they are little more than technique with a little technology and a great deal of background philosophy. Of course, technique can be something good and technology a valuable instrument; but both must be carefully distinguished from science; and its background philosophy has no right to behave as if it were scientifically justified.
The steps of the scientific method are something like this:
Make an observation or observations.
Ask questions about the observations and collect information.
Formulate a hypothesis, a tentative description of what has been observed, and make predictions based on that hypothesis.
Test the hypothesis and predictions in an experiment that can be reproduced. Repeat the experiment until there are no discrepancies between the observations and the theory.
The hypothesis must be testable and falsifiable, according to North Carolina State University. Falsifiable means that there must be a possible negative response to the hypothesis.
The research must include deductive reasoning and inductive reasoning. Deductive reasoning is the process of using true premises to reach a true logical conclusion, while inductive reasoning takes the opposite approach.
An experiment must include a dependent variable (which does not change) and an independent variable (which does change). An experiment must include an experimental group and a control group.
Scientific theories and laws
The scientific method and science in general can be frustrating. An example would be the law of thermodynamics. Dr. Linda Boland, a neurobiologist and chairman of the biology department at the University of Richmond, Virginia, told WordsSideKick.com that this is her favorite scientific law. “This is one that guides much of my research on cellular electrical activity and states that energy cannot be created or destroyed, only changed in form.
This law continually reminds me of the many forms of energy,” he said. A law simply describes an observed phenomenon, but does not explain why the phenomenon exists or what causes it. In general, laws are considered to be without exception, although some laws have been modified over time after additional testing found discrepancies.
For a hypothesis to become a theory, rigorous testing must be done, usually in multiple disciplines by separate groups of scientists. To say that something is “just a theory” is a term for a layman that has no relation to science. Science can be thought of as a body of knowledge (the things we have already discovered) and as the process of acquiring new knowledge (through observation and experimentation, testing and hypothesis). Both knowledge and process are interdependent, since the knowledge acquired depends on the questions asked and the methods used to find the answers.
The Field of Science
The field of science is often grouped into:
Natural: biological or life sciences (the study of living organisms) and physical sciences (the study of the material universe, including physics, chemistry, space science, etc.).
Social: the study of society and people (such as anthropology, psychology).
Formal: the study of logic and applied mathematics: disciplines that are based on science and use existing scientific knowledge to develop new applications, such as engineering, robotics, agriculture, and medicine.
Both natural and social sciences are known as empirical sciences. This means that any theory must be based on observable phenomena, reproducibility of results and peer review.
Each discovery leads to more questions, new mysteries, something else that needs explanation. It is a case of “the more we know, the more we know that we know nothing at all”. For example, the discovery of the double helix structure of DNA revolutionized our understanding of biology, raising completely new areas to study, such as genetic modification and synthetic biology. Even within the “body of knowledge” that science has accumulated, nothing is “proven”.
While we may have a lot of data to support the theory that yes, gravity exists or that humans evolved over millions of years, we are constantly refining and reevaluating the data. Because of Einstein, gravity today is not what it was for Newton or Laplace. Any new evidence may support this theory, but it does not prove it. While we accept certain theories as “true,” we do so on an interim basis. The “truth” today does not guarantee that we will not find evidence to the contrary tomorrow. Science is constantly gathering additional evidence on known theories … just in case.