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Science is a type of knowledge-gathering and interpersonal collaboration based on a standard called the scientific method. The goal is to formulate theories that successfully predict various phenomena, from the speed of a ball rolling downhill to the way a star collapses as it exhausts its fuel.
The scientific method is a basic cycle of hypothesis formation and testing. First, the scientist forms a hypothesis about the way something works. For instance, that all objects fall the same speed on Earth in a vacuum. The hypothesis is followed by testing. The scientist must use a vacuum chamber as an experimental apparatus, drop various objects within the chamber, and measure their duration of fall as accurately as possible. Then the scientist compares the results with the original hypothesis, seeing whether they support or contradict it. But that’s not all – the scientist must publish his or her results, so that other scientists can try the same experiments and make sure that the results are reproducible.
Reproducibility is a major factor of good science, because sometimes people will design experiments in ways that artificially inflate the probability that their hypothesis will be confirmed, or even fabricate data. Another desirable quality of a scientific hypothesis is falsifiability. If a hypothesis cannot be proven false, it is not scientific.
Science is divided into three major categories: natural science, which studies natural phenomena such biology, physics, chemistry, geology, etc.; social sciences, which study humans and our societies such as psychology, sociology, anthropology, etc.; and formal science, which includes mathematics, statistics, and logic — and there is some controversy as to whether formal science should be considered science at all. All three divisions are extremely important and have contributed immeasurably to humanity’s knowledge and well-being over the last few centuries.
When science is used to solve specific tasks or challenges, for instance using scientific knowledge about electric fields to design a circuit, it is called applied science. Natural and social sciences are called empirical sciences because they are based on experimentation, while formal sciences such as mathematics are non-empirical. Although some philosophers of science consider theorem-proving to constitute an experiment, most consider mathematics non-empirical because it does not involve any real-world testing.
Important in science is the elimination of bias. Bias is introduced when a theorist would prefer a certain experimental outcome and consciously or subconsciously alters the experiment to ensure it, or when emotional reasoning takes precedence over logical reasoning. Science contains many safeguards in an effort to fight against bias, such as reproducibility and standardization. But bias is still rife in science: major corporations give billions of dollars each year to scientists and expect them to produce findings that reflect positively on the donor business or industry. Some politicians would prefer to ignore scientific findings if they are inconvenient to their pre-established plans. None of this means that science is less useful than guessing, superstition, or faith: just that there are better and worse standards for science and that it takes effort to conduct good science.
@siliconsnail: I agree. I, for one, appreciate the scientific method and what it has done for our Mother Earth.
Although the scientific method is simple enough to be taught in a middle school science class, we owe so much to it. In ancient times, many completely irrational beliefs were accepted as common knowledge. People believed in outright magic and other mystical practices. It was a dark time for rational thinking.
Somewhere along the way, a few societies began to establish a rigid criteria by which beliefs could be evaluated for their credibility. This is how the scientific method began. In our current times, not only do we have the satisfaction of knowing our knowledge is well grounded in rational thinking, we also reap the benefits of modern technology brought to us by science.
Also, I like the
part in the article about elimination of bias. When you have properly understood the scientific method, you begin to realize that its entire purpose is the systematic elimination of human bias. Careful pains are taken to isolate variables and ensure that the proper controls are present. This ensures that the end result is a trustworthy conclusion.