Science

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Science (from the Latin scientia, 'knowledge') is a system of acquiring knowledge based on the scientific method, as well as the organized body of knowledge gained through such research. (See "science" defined by various dictionaries at "reference.com" Science as defined here is sometimes termed 'pure science' to differentiate it from applied science, which is the application of scientific research to specific human needs.

Fields of science are commonly classified along two major lines:

These groupings are empirical sciences, which means the knowledge must be based on observable phenomena and capable of being tested for its validity by other researchers working under the same conditions.

For lessons on the topic of Science, follow this link.

Mathematics, which is sometimes classified within a third group of science called formal science, has both similarities and differences with the natural and social sciences. It is similar to empirical sciences in that it involves an objective, careful and systematic study of an area of knowledge; it is different because of its method of verifying its knowledge, using a priori rather than empirical methods. Formal science, which also includes statistics and logic, is vital to the empirical sciences. Major advances in formal science have often led to major advances in the physical and biological sciences. The formal sciences are essential in the formation of hypotheses, theories, and laws,both in discovering and describing how things work (natural sciences) and how people think and act (social sciences).

Etymology

The word science comes through the Old French, and is derived from the Latin word scientia for knowledge, which in turn comes from scio. 'I know'. The Indo-European root means to discern or to separate, akin to Sanskrit chyati, he cuts off, Greek schizein, to split, Latin scindere, to split. Etymology of "science" at Etymology Online From the Middle Ages to the Enlightenment, science or scientia meant any systematic recorded knowledge, The Natures of Science, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, ISBN 0838633218 Science therefore had the same sort of very broad meaning that philosophy had at that time. In other languages, including French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian, the word corresponding to science also carries this meaning.

From classical times until the advent of the modern era, "philosophy" was roughly divided into natural philosophy and moral philosophy. In the 1800s, the term natural philosophy gradually gave way to the term natural science. Natural science was gradually specialized to its current domain, which typically includes the physical sciences and biological sciences. The social sciences, inheriting portions of the realm of moral philosophy, are currently also included under the auspices of science to the extent that these disciplines use empirical methods. As currently understood, moral philosophy still retains the study of ethics, regarded as a branch of philosophy.

Today, the primary meaning of "science" is generally limited to empirical study involving use of the scientific method. See, e.g. [1]. The first usage, which is fairly representative of standard dictionaries today, describes science as: "a. The observation, identification, description, experimental investigation, and theoretical explanation of phenomena. b. Such activities restricted to a class of natural phenomena. c. Such activities applied to an object of inquiry or study." From the American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company.

Scientific method

The Bohr model of the atom, like many ideas in the history of science, was at first prompted by and later partially disproved by experiment.

The scientific method seeks to explain the complexities of nature in a replicable way, and to use these explanations to make useful predictions. It provides an objective process to find solutions to problems in a number of scientific and technological fields. Often scientists have a preference for one outcome over another, and scientists are conscientious that it is important that this preference does not bias their interpretation. A strict following of the scientific method attempts to minimize the influence of a scientist's bias on the outcome of an experiment. This can be achieved by correct experimental design, and a thorough peer review of the experimental results as well as conclusions of a study.

Scientists use models to refer to a description or depiction of something, specifically one which can be used to make predictions that can be tested by experiment or observation. A hypothesis is a contention that has been neither well supported nor yet ruled out by experiment. A theory, in the context of science, is a logically self-consistent model or framework for describing the behavior of certain natural phenomena. A theory typically describes the behavior of much broader sets of phenomena than a hypothesis—commonly, a large number of hypotheses may be logically bound together by a single theory. A physical law or law of nature is a scientific generalization based on a sufficiently large number of empirical observations that it is taken as fully verified.

Scientists never claim absolute knowledge of nature or the behavior of the subject of the field of study. Unlike a mathematical proof, a scientific theory is empirical, and is always open to falsification, if new evidence is presented. Even the most basic and fundamental theories may turn out to be imperfect if new observations are inconsistent with them. Critical to this process is making every relevant aspect of research publicly available, which permits peer review of published results, and also allows ongoing review and repeating of experiments and observations by multiple researchers operating independently of one another. Only by fulfilling these expectations can it be determined how reliable the experimental results are for potential use by others.

Isaac Newton's Newtonian law of gravitation is a famous example of an established law that was later found not to be universal—it does not hold in experiments involving motion at speeds close to the speed of light or in close proximity of strong gravitational fields. Outside these conditions, Newton's Laws remain an excellent model of motion and gravity. Since general relativity accounts for all the same phenomena that Newton's Laws do and more, general relativity is now regarded as a more comprehensive theory.

Philosophy of science

The philosophy of science seeks to understand the nature and justification of scientific knowledge and its ethical implications. It has proven difficult to provide a definitive account of the scientific method that can decisively serve to distinguish science from non-science. Thus there are legitimate arguments about exactly where the borders are. There is nonetheless a set of core precepts that have broad consensus among published philosophers of science and within the scientific community at large. (see: Problem of demarcation)

Science is reasoned-based analysis of sensation upon our awareness. As such, the scientific method cannot deduce anything about the realm of reality that is beyond what is observable by existing or theoretical means. When a manifestation of our reality previously considered supernatural is understood in the terms of causes and consequences, it acquires a scientific explanation.

Resting on reason and logic, along with other guidelines such as parsimony, scientific theories are formulated and repeatedly tested by analyzing how the collected evidence compares to the theory. Some of the findings of science can be very counter-intuitive. Atomic theory, for example, implies that a granite boulder which appears a heavy, hard, solid, grey object is actually a combination of subatomic particles with none of these properties, moving very rapidly in space where the mass is concentrated in a very small fraction of the total volume. Many of humanity's preconceived notions about the workings of the universe have been challenged by new scientific discoveries. Quantum mechanics, particularly, examines phenomena that seem to defy our most basic postulates about causality and fundamental understanding of the world around us. Science is the branch of knowledge dealing with people and the understanding we have of our environment and how it works.

There are different schools of thought in the philosophy of scientific method. Methodological naturalism maintains that scientific investigation must adhere to empirical study and independent verification as a process for properly developing and evaluating natural explanations for observable phenomena. Methodological naturalism, therefore, rejects supernatural explanations, arguments from authority and biased observational studies. Critical rationalism instead holds that unbiased observation is not possible and a demarcation between natural and supernatural explanations is arbitrary; it instead proposes falsifiability as the landmark of empirical theories and falsification as the universal empirical method. Critical rationalism argues for the primacy of science, but at the same time against its authority, by emphasizing its inherent fallibility. It proposes that science should be content with the rational elimination of errors in its theories, not in seeking for their verification (such as claiming certain or probable proof or disproof; both the proposal and falsification of a theory are only of methodological, conjectural, and tentative character in critical rationalism). Instrumentalism rejects the concept of truth and emphasizes merely the utility of theories as instruments for explaining and predicting phenomena.

Mathematics and the scientific method

Velocity-distribution data of a gas of rubidium atoms, confirming the discovery of a new phase of matter, the Bose–Einstein condensate.

Mathematics is essential to many sciences. One important function of mathematics in science is the role it plays in the expression of scientific models. Observing and collecting measurements, as well as hypothesizing and predicting, often require mathematical models and extensive use of mathematics. Mathematical branches most often used in science include calculus and statistics, although virtually every branch of mathematics has applications, even "pure" areas such as number theory and topology. Mathematics is fundamental to the understanding of the natural sciences and the social sciences, all of which rely heavily on statistics. Statistical methods, comprised of accepted mathematical formulas for summarizing data, allow scientists to assess the level of reliability and the range of variation in experimental results.

Whether mathematics itself is properly classified as science has been a matter of some debate. Some thinkers see mathematicians as scientists, regarding physical experiments as inessential or mathematical proofs as equivalent to experiments. Others do not see mathematics as a science, since it does not require experimental test of its theories and hypotheses. In practice, mathematical theorems and formulas are obtained by logical derivations which presume axiomatic systems, rather than a combination of empirical observation and method of reasoning that has come to be known as scientific method. In general, mathematics is classified as formal science, while natural and social sciences are classified as empirical sciences.

Goal(s) of science

The underlying goal or purpose of science to society and individuals is to produce useful models of reality. To achieve this, one can form hypotheses based on observations that they make in the world. By analyzing a number of related hypotheses, scientists can form general theories. These theories benefit society or human individuals who make use of them.

In short, science produces models with useful predictions. Science attempts to describe what is, but avoids trying to determine what is (which is for practical reasons impossible). Science is a useful tool. . . it is a growing body of understanding by which one can contend more effectively with surroundings and to better adapt and evolve as a social whole as well as independently.

For a large part of recorded history, science had little bearing on people's everyday lives. Scientific knowledge was gathered for its own sake, and it had few practical applications. However, with the dawn of the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century, this rapidly changed. Today, science has a profound effect on the way humans interact with and act upon nature, largely through its applications in new technology.

Some forms of technology have become so well established that it is easy to forget the great scientific achievements that they represent. The refrigerator, for example, owes its existence to a discovery that liquids take in energy when they evaporate, a phenomenon known as latent heat. The principle of latent heat was first exploited in a practical way in 1876, and the refrigerator has played a major role in maintaining public health ever since (see Refrigeration). The first automobile, dating from the 1880s, made use of many advances in physics and engineering, including reliable ways of generating high-voltage sparks, while the first computers emerged in the 1940s from simultaneous advances in electronics and mathematics.

Other fields of science also play an important role in the things the developed world use or consume every day. Research in food technology has created new ways of preserving and flavoring of edible products (see Food processing). Research in industrial chemistry has created a vast range of plastics and other synthetic materials, which have thousands of uses in the home and in industry. Synthetic materials are easily formed into complex shapes and can be used to make machine, electrical, and automotive parts, scientific and industrial instruments, decorative objects, containers, and many other items.

Alongside these achievements, science has also brought about technology that helps save human and non-human life. The kidney dialysis machine enables many people to survive kidney diseases that would once have proved fatal, and artificial valves allow sufferers of coronary heart disease to return to active living. Biochemical research is responsible for the antibiotics and vaccinations that protect living things from infectious diseases, and for a wide range of other drugs used to combat specific health problems. As a result, the majority of people in the developed world live longer and healthier lives than ever before.

However, scientific discoveries can also have a negative impact in human affairs. Over the last hundred years, some of the technological advances that make life easier or more enjoyable have proved to have unwanted and often unexpected long-term effects. Industrial and agricultural chemicals pollute the global environment, even in places as remote as Antarctica, and the air in many cities is contaminated by toxic gases from vehicle exhausts (see Pollution). The increasing pace of innovation means that products become rapidly obsolete, adding to a rising tide of waste (see Solid Waste Disposal). Most significantly of all, the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas releases into the atmosphere carbon dioxide and other substances known as greenhouse gases. These gases have altered the composition of the entire atmosphere, producing global warming and the prospect of major climate change in years to come.

Science has also been used to develop technology that raises complex ethical questions. This is particularly true in the fields of biology and medicine (see Medical Ethics). Research involving genetic engineering, cloning, and in vitro fertilization gives scientists the unprecedented power to bring about new life, or to devise new forms of living things. At the other extreme, science can also generate technology that is designed to deliberately hurt or to kill. The fruits of this research include chemical and biological warfare, and also nuclear weapons, by far the most destructive weapons that the world has ever known.

What the goal is not

Despite popular impressions of science, it is not the goal of science to answer all questions. The goal of the sciences is to answer only those that pertain to perceived reality. Also, science cannot possibly address nonsensical, or untestable questions, so the choice of which questions to answer becomes important. Science does not and can not produce absolute and unquestionable truth. Rather, science tests some aspect of the world and attempts to provide a precise, unequivocal framework to explain it. This is a goal of science, but it is not an absolutely necessary one. Usually the framework for a scientific theory is a mechanical or physical model, but it may only merely be a mathematical model. In the latter case, the role of science is lessened from that of explaining phenomena to that of merely predicting future phenomena or observations, given certain input conditions or observations.

The separate roles of explanation and prediction must be differentiated, because science must always provide a clear prediction of future phenomena (by definition) but is not always able to provide or differentiate between possible explanations for the causes of phenomena. As an often cited example, there exist a number of models of quantum mechanics which differ in explanation of quantum phenomena and in physical models for them, but are all mathematically equivalent in prediction. For this reason, the possible explanations and physical models cannot be differentiated. In such cases, natural science does not and cannot provide a preferred explanation or mechanical model for reality, but because it continues to provide a clear predictive mathematical model for reality, it retains its classification as science.

Science is not a source of equivocal value judgments, though it can certainly speak to matters of ethics and public policy by pointing to the likely consequences of actions. What one projects from the currently most unequivocal scientific hypothesis onto other realms of interest is not a scientific issue, and the scientific method offers no assistance for those who wish to do so. Scientific justification (or refutation) for many things is, nevertheless, often claimed. Certain value judgments are intrinsic to science itself. For example, scientists value relative truth and knowledge, and the actual progress of science requires cooperation between scientists, and is highly intolerant of dishonesty. Cooperation and honesty are thus values which are intrinsic to the actual social practice of the scientific method itself.

Scientific literature

An enormous range of scientific literature is published in today's world. Scientific journals communicate and document the results of research carried out in universities and various other research institutions. Most scientific journals cover a scientific field and publish the research within that field; the research is normally expressed in the form of a scientific paper. Science has become so pervasive in modern societies that it is generally considered necessary to communicate the achievements, news, and dreams of scientists to a wider populace. Science magazines (e.g. New Scientist, Scientific American) cater to the needs of a wider readership and provide a non-technical summary of popular areas of research, including notable discoveries and advances in certain fields of research. Additionally, science books and magazines on science fiction ignite the interest of many more people. A significant fraction of literature in science is also available on the World Wide Web; most reputable journals and news magazines maintain their own websites. A growing number of people are being attracted towards the vocation of science popularization and science journalism.Template:Fact

Fields of science

Science is broadly subdivided into the categories of natural sciences and the social sciences. There are also related disciplines that are grouped into interdisciplinary and applied sciences, such as engineering and health science. Within these categories are specialized scientific fields that can include elements of other scientific disciplines but often possess their own terminology and body of expertise.

The status of social sciences as an empirical science has been a matter of debate in the 20th century, see Positivism dispute.<ref>Critical examination of various positions on this issue can be found in Karl R. Popper's The Poverty of Historicism.</ref> Discussion and debate abound in this topic with some fields like the social and behavioural sciences accused by critics of being unscientific. In fact, many groups of people from academicians like Nobel Prize physicist Percy W. Bridgman What is Science? (Editorial), Journal of Theoretics [2] or Dick Richardson, Ph.D.—Professor of Integrative Biology at the University of Texas at Austin,[3], Economics is NOT Natural Science! (It is technology of Social Science.), The University of Texas to politicians like U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison and other co-sponsors, [4], Behavioral and Social Science Are Under Attack in the Senate, American Sociological Association oppose giving their support or agreeing with the use of the label "science" in some fields of study and knowledge they consider non-scientific or scientifically irrelevant compared with other fields.

Scientific institutions

Learned societies for the communication and promotion of scientific thought and experimentation have existed since the Renaissance period. The oldest surviving institution is the Template:Lang in Italy. National Academy of Sciences are distinguished institutions that exist in a number of countries, beginning with the British Royal Society in 1660 and the French Template:Lang in 1666.

International scientific organizations, such as the International Council for Science, have since been formed to promote cooperation between the scientific communities of different nations. More recently, influential government agencies have been created to support scientific research, including the National Science Foundation in the U.S.

Other prominent organizations include:

See also

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References

  • Feyerabend, Paul K. 2005. Science, history of the philosophy of. Oxford Companion to Philosophy. Oxford.
  • Papineau, David. 2005. Science, problems of the philosophy of. Oxford Companion to Philosophy. Oxford. The Logic of Scientific Discovery, Routledge Classics, ISBN 0-415-27844-9, oclc 59377149


Further reading

External links

Textbooks:

News:

Resources:

  • The Vega Science Trust Hours of science video including scientific lectures (Feynman, Kroto, Davis, etc.), discussions (nanotechnology, GM, stem cells, etc.), career programmes, interviews with Nobel Laureates, and school resources.
  • United States Science Initiative. Selected science information provided by U.S. Government agencies, including research and development results.

Fun science: