What is Science?

For my first blog post, it makes sense to start with the basics. And one of the most fundamental concepts for a researcher to establish is the definition of science. As a starting point, let’s begin with the definition from the Oxford dictionary (which is very similar to definitions found elsewhere):

def. Science – the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.

I think the key phrase in this definition is that science is a “systematic study,” which establishes the epistemology of science. The critical approach for evaluating information and ideas is what separates scientific knowledge from all the other ideas that are out there. The important thing to understand is that science is very deliberate in defining what is known and what is unknown. The fact that scientific knowledge has a high standard for establishing something as ‘known’ is what makes it special. The drive to move more things from the unknown category to the known category is what makes science exhilarating.

Part of the special standard of knowledge for science is the required consideration of the possibility that an idea can be disproved. If an idea is not testable (falsifiable), then it cannot meet the standards of scientific knowledge. Similarly, science is always seeking to improve itself by never assuming that new information couldn’t provide reason for revising or even throwing out old ideas that seemed well proven in the past.

After saying all of this, I should make mention of the practical work of science. Expanding knowledge is a general goal of science, but to serve other societal needs, we often focus the use of this knowledge for prediction. In order for us as people to decide on the best actions to take, we want to know what the impacts of those decisions will be. Therefore, a lot of scientific work focuses on finding better ways to do things and identifying hazards. Of course, prediction is a risky business, but science provides us with a means for increasing our confidence in those predictions.

The philosophy of science is remarkably still heavily debated, but maybe that makes sense, because one of science’s strengths is that nothing should be left unquestioned. However, there are several central principles that modern scientists adhere to. For a more in-depth look at this topic, check out: A Guide to Understanding Science 101

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