What is science exactly?

CurioCity
24 January 2012

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Question

What is science exactly?

Answer

Let's start with some formal definitions. Science, according to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), is: "the systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment." The American Physical Society (APS) defines science similarly, as: "the systematic enterprise of gathering knowledge about the universe and organizing and condensing that knowledge into testable laws and theories." Both definitions imply that science involves the study of the natural, physical world (i.e. universe), but with important qualifications. The OED definition specifies that science must involve observation and experiment, while the APS definition suggests that science must involve testable laws and theories. Despite our fairly specific definitions of science, in the real world it can still be difficult to distinguish science from non-science. For example, does science include astrology, or creationism? What about mathematics, or engineering? Could the work of an investigative journalist be defined as science? Many philosophers have wrestled with this problem of distinguishing science from non-science, formally known as the "demarcation problem". We won't delve into this controversy-rich area of philosophy here, other than to say that there are lots of different opinions relating to what is, and is not science. For further information on the nature of science, I recommend the American Association for the Advancement of Science's (AAAS) Project 2061 website (press the "next chapter button" at the bottom to see discussions of the nature of mathematics, technology, etc.).

Answered By: Patrick Barks

CurioCity

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