What *IS* Science?
What IS Science?

I emphasize "is" because it has been my observation that the vast majority of people have only a peripheral understanding of what Science itself actually is, much to the detriment of their understanding of matters of scientific importance. I even go so far as to say that there are many in scientific fields and science journalism that don't fully understand Science and what it means.

I base these assertions on the repeated misuse and misapplication of much of the terminology used in science. A common saying thrown around is "it's only a theory", as if to say the theory is baseless or just a guess. Although misunderstanding what 'theory' means is probably the largest error in common usage, more subtle errors in terminology use exist that while seeming easily dismissed with a "well, you know what I mean" can in fact lead to a misunderstanding of what is really meant, and results in a corruption of understanding and a misrepresentation of Science. Even scientists are guilty of such abuses on occasion.

I had reason to look up the meanings of several terms during a discussion with persons who obviously have a gross misunderstanding of Science evidenced by their misuse of some of Science's key terminology. These individuals also obviously have a very anti-science attitude, and whether that attitude is a result of the misunderstanding, or the misunderstanding is a result of the attitude is a valid question. It is most likely a mixture of both, much like a self reinforcing delusion. Because the individual misunderstands they therefore develop a certain attitude, and because of that attitude they develop further misunderstandings, which exacerbate the attitude, which inhibits further understanding... the oft cliched 'downward spiral.'

To confound matters even more, the meanings of several key terms used in Science appear to have conflicting if not contradictory definitions between reference sources, sometimes within a single source itself. Since I was trying to correct others in their misuse of words I wanted to make sure I was using them correctly myself. I was frustrated to discover these inconsistencies. I feel I was right in my attempts to define the terms, but now I don't know that I am right.

Therefore, if one is to attempt to educate others about Science, we need a basis in definition of what Science is, and what the meanings and usage of the key terms of Science are. But also, refining and reinforcing the proper usage of these terms by all, including scientists, I think is necessary to help alleviate much of the misunderstanding the lay public has about Science and what and who scientists are. In other words, to affect the poor attitude many people have towards Science, we need to do what we can to reduce or eliminate their misunderstandings of Science.

So to get things started, I would like to quote my own attempt to define what I feel are several key terms used in Science that I feel the general public misunderstands. My involvement in the conversation had been started by someone's equating "theory" with "fact", and my attempt to define these terms and also to differentiate "fact" from "truth", two words that I feel are inappropriately considered synonymous.

Quote:Theories are like truths*, in that they are interpretations of facts. When new facts come to bear, the theories may or may not be required to change to fit the new facts. This is nothing new. It is precisely how science works.

In science, there are facts, conjectures, theories, and laws.

Facts are observations; empirical evidence, measurements, data. Facts are immutable.

Conjectures are ideas or explanations that have no supporting facts. This doesn't mean they are right or wrong, just unsupported. Many a good theory has started out as mere conjecture.

Theories are explanations or propositions that are supported by facts. But theories are not immutable. Theories are right so long as the facts support the theory. Theories may be tested by seeking new observations through experiment to test extrapolations (predictions) of the theory. If the new facts do not support the theory, the theory is disproved. However, there is nothing that says the theory can not then be adjusted and tweaked to fit the new facts. And again, this is precisely how science works and serves to improve the theories.

Laws are simply descriptions of how nature works. Laws cannot be disproved. They simply are. They are discovered through observation.

*There is a difference between scientific theories and truths in that truths often involve the feelings and beliefs of the interpreter. Science on the other hand prefers to eliminate this subjective aspect of interpretation so as not to bias the interpretation.

At this point I should note that I should have used the more correct term hypothesis in place of conjecture. However, I feel the definition itself is essentially correct, and that a hypothesis can be defined as a conjecture.


Signing of Skywise Sed quis custodiet ipsos Custodes?

Messages In This Thread
What *IS* Science? - by Skywise - 05-27-2014, 09:55 PM
RE: What *IS* Science? - by Island Chris - 05-28-2014, 11:35 AM
RE: What *IS* Science? - by Skywise - 05-29-2014, 06:54 AM

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