From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Science is a process for evaluating empirical knowledge (the scientific method), a global community of scholars, and the organized body of knowledge gained by this
process and carried by this community (and others). Natural sciences
study nature; social sciences
study human beings and society.
"Scientific" theories are objective - empirically verifiable - or "predictive" - they predict empirical results that can be
checked, as well as falsifiable.
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 an area consisting mostly of empty space.
Many of humanity's preconceived notions about the workings of the universe have been challenged by new scientific discoveries.
Scientific models, theories and laws
Main article: scientific method
The terms "model", "hypothesis",
"theory" and "law" have different
meanings in science than in colloquial speech. Scientists use the term model to mean a description of something,
specifically one which can be used to make predictions which can be tested by experiment or observation. A hypothesis is a
contention that has not (yet) been either well supported nor ruled out by experiment. A physical law or a law of
nature is a scientific generalization based on empirical observations.
Most non-scientists are unaware that what scientists call "theories" are what most people call "facts". The general public
uses the word theory to refer to ideas that have no firm proof or support; in contrast, scientists usually use this word
to refer only to ideas that have repeatedly withstood testing. Thus, when scientists refer to the theories of biological evolution, electromagnetism, and relativity, they are referring to
ideas that have survived considerable experimental testing. But there are exceptions, such as string theory, which seems to be a promising model but as yet has no empirical evidence to give it
precedence over competing models.
An especially fruitful theory that has withstood the test of time and has an overwhelming quantity of evidence supporting it
is considered to be "proven" in the scientific sense – but unlike a mathematical proof, a scientific theory is always open to falsification if new evidence is presented. Many theories are now considered proven, including universally
accepted ones such as heliocentric theory and controversial
ones such as evolution. As scientists do not claim absolute knowledge, even the
most basic and fundamental theories may turn out to be imperfect if new data and observations are inconsistent with them.
Newton's law of gravitation is a famous example of a law which was found not to hold in experiments involving
motion at speeds close to the speed of light or in close proximity to strong gravitational fields. Outside those conditions,
Newton's Laws remain an excellent model of motion and gravity. Because general relativity accounts for all of the phenomena that Newton's Laws do, and more, general relativity
is now regarded as a better theory.
Philosophy of science
Main article: Philosophy of science
Science's effectiveness has made it a subject of much philosophical
speculation. The philosophy of science seeks to understand the nature and justification of scientific knowledge, and its ethical
implications. It has proved remarkably difficult to provide an account of the scientific method that can serve to distinguish science from non-science.
Mathematics and the scientific method
Mathematics is essential to science. The most 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, typically 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.
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 either case, the fact that mathematics is such a useful tool in describing the universe is a central
issue in the philosophy of mathematics.
See: Eugene Wigner The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics.
Richard Feynman said "Mathematics is not real, but it feels
real. Where is this place?", while Bertrand Russell's favourite
definition of mathematics was "the subject in which we never know what we are talking about nor whether what we are saying is
Goals of science
Despite popular impressions of science, it is not the goal of science to answer all questions, only those that pertain to
physical reality (measurable empirical experience). Also, science cannot possibly address all possible questions, so the choice
of which questions to answer becomes important. Science does not and can not produce absolute and unquestionable truth. Rather,
science consistently tests the currently best hypothesis about some aspect of the physical world, and when necessary revises or
replaces it in light of new observations or data.
Science does not make any statements about how nature actually "is"; science can only make conclusions about our
observations of nature. The developments of quantum mechanics in the early 20th century showed that observations are not
independent of interactions, and the implications of wave-particle duality have challenged the traditional notion of
"objectivity" in science.
Science is not a source of subjective value judgements, though it can certainly speak to matters of ethics and public policy
by pointing to the likely consequences of actions. However, science can't tell us which of those consequences to desire or which
is 'best'. What one projects from the currently most reasonable 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.
Locations of science
Science is practiced in university and other scientific institutes as
well as in the field; as such it is a solid vocation in academia, but has also been
practiced by amateurs, who typically engage in the observational part of science.
Some workers in corporate research laboratories also practice the methods of
science and eventually become renowned enough in their fields to also work in academia. Conversely, some academics become
well-known enough to consult to industry by applying their findings in some technology.
Fields of science
Computer and information sciences
The word science comes from the Latin word, scientia, which means
Until the Enlightenment, the word "science" (or its Latin
cognate) meant any systematic or exact, recorded knowledge. "Science" therefore had the same sort of very broad meaning that
"philosophy" had at that time.
There was a distinction between, for example, "natural science" and "moral science," which later included what we now call
philosophy, and this mirrored a distinction between "natural philosophy" and "moral philosophy." More recently, "science" has
come to be restricted to what used to be called "natural science" or
"natural philosophy." Natural science can be further broken down into physical science and biological science.
Social science is often included in the field of science as well.
Fields of study are often distinguished in terms of "hard sciences" and "soft sciences," and these terms (at times considered
derogatory) are often synonymous with the terms natural and social science (respectively). Physics, chemistry, biology and geology are all forms of "hard sciences". Studies of
anthropology, history, psychology, and sociology are sometimes
called "soft sciences." Proponents of this division use the arguments that the "soft sciences" do not use the scientific method, admit anecdotal evidence, or are not mathematical, all adding up to a "lack of rigor" in their methods. Opponents of the division in the sciences counter that the "social sciences" often make
systematic statistical studies in strictly controlled environments, or that these conditions are not adhered to by the natural
sciences either (for example, behavioral biology relies upon fieldwork in uncontrolled
environments, astronomy cannot design experiments, only observe limited
conditions). Opponents of the division also point out that each of the current "hard sciences" suffered a similar "lack of rigor"
in its own infancy.
The term "science" is sometimes pressed into service for new and interdisciplinary fields that make use of scientific methods at least in part, and which in any case
aspire to be systematic and careful explorations of their subjects, including computer science, library and information science, and environmental science. Mathematics and computer science reside under "Q" in the Library of Congress classification,
along with all else we now call science.