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Science (from Latin scientia - knowledge) refers to the system of acquiring knowledge – based on empiricism, experimentation, and methodological naturalism. The term science also refers to the organized body of knowledge humans have gained by such research.
Most scientists maintain that scientific investigation must adhere to the scientific method, a process for evaluating empirical knowledge under the working assumption of methodological materialism, which explains observable events in nature as a result of natural causes, rejecting supernatural notions. Less formally, the word science often describes any systematic field of study or the knowledge gained from it. Particular specialized studies that make use of empirical methods are often referred to as sciences as well. This article concentrates on the more specific definition.
Fields of science are commonly classified along two major lines:
- Natural sciences, the study of the natural phenomena including biology;
- Social sciences, the systematic study of human behaviour and society.
Mathematics has both similarities and differences compared to other fields of science, and is sometimes included within a third, separate classification, called formal science. Mathematics is similar to other sciences because it is a rigorous, structured study, (of topics such as quantity, structure, space, and change). It is different because of its method of arriving at its results. Mathematics as a whole is vital to the sciences — indeed major advances in mathematics have often led to major advances in other sciences. Certain aspects of mathematics are indispensable for the formation of hypotheses, theories and laws in discovering and describing how things work (natural sciences) and how people think and act (social sciences).
Until the "Age of 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. It should be noted that in some languages, the word corresponding to "science" still carries this meaning.
Centuries ago there was a distinction between "natural philosophy" (a term originally coined by Aristotle and put into use during the period from about 1600-1800 CE), and "moral philosophy" (at that time referring to the studies of human behavior and interaction). In the 1800's "natural philosophy" gradually gave way to the term "natural science." "Natural science" was gradually narrowed down to its current use, which typically includes physical sciences and biological sciences. The social sciences, originally "moral philosophy," are today typically included in under the auspices of science as well, to the extent that these disciplines also use empirical methods. "Moral philosophy" today refers specifically to the branch of philosophy called "ethics."
The terms model, hypothesis, theory, and law have different, more specific meanings in science than in colloquial speech. Scientists use model to refer to a description 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 ruled out by experiment yet. A theory, in the context of science, is a logically self-consistent model or framework for describing the behavior of a certain natural phenomena. 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.
The scientific method 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 it is important that this preference does not bias their interpretation. 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 thorough peer review of experimental design as well as conclusions of a study.
Scientists never claim absolute knowledge. Unlike a mathematical proof, a proven scientific theory 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.
Newton's 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 better 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. For example, God may choose to be hidden from this reality, hence making discussion over God's existence non-scientific.
Resting on reason and logic, such as the principle of Occam's Razor, which states a principle of parsimony, scientific theories are formulated and the most promising theory is selected after analysing the collected evidence. 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.
Mathematics and the scientific method
Mathematics is essential to many sciences. 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, 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 most prevalent in physics, but less so in chemistry, biology, and some social sciences.
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, although some theorems can be disproved by contradiction through finding exceptions. (More specifically, 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 either case, the fact that mathematics is such a useful tool in describing the universe is a central issue in the philosophy of mathematics. Template:See
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 right."
Goals of science
The underlying goal or purpose of science to society and individuals is to produce useful models of reality. It has been said that it is virtually impossible to make inferences from human senses which actually describe what βis.β On the other hand, people 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. For example, Newton's theories of physics allow us to predict various physical interactions, from the collision of one moving billiard ball with another, to trajectories of space shuttles and satellites. Relativity can be used to calculate the effects of our sun's gravity on a mass light-years away. The social sciences allow us to predict (with limited accuracy for now) things like economic turbulence and also to better understand human behavior and to produce useful models of society and to work more empirically with government policies. Chemistry and biology together have transformed our ability to use and predict chemical and biological reactions and scenarios. In modern times though, these segregated scientific disciplines (notably the latter two) are more often being used together in conjunction to produce more complete models and tools. One goal of science is to explain and utilize multiple known phenomenon with one theory or set of theories.
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 provides a reasonable theory to explain it.
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. 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. Of course, value judgements are intrinsic to science itself. For example, scientists value relative truth and knowledge.
In short, science produces useful models which allow us to make often 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 that allows us to contend more effectively with our surroundings and to better adapt and evolve as a social whole as well as independently.
Individualism is a tacit assumption underlying most empiricist accounts of science which treat science as if it were purely a matter of a single individual confronting nature, testing and predicting hypotheses. In fact, science is always a collective activity conducted by a scientific community. This can be demonstrated many ways, perhaps the most fundamental and trivial of which is that scientific results must be communicated with language. Thus the values of scientific communities permeate the science they produce.
Where science is practiced
Science is practiced in universities and other scientific institutes as well as in the field; as such it is a solid vocation in academia, but is also practiced by amateurs, who typically engage in the observational part of science.
Workers in corporate research laboratories also practice science, although their results are often deemed trade secrets and not published in public journals. Corporate and university scientists often cooperate, with the university scientists focusing on basic research and the corporate scientists applying their findings to a specific technology of interest to the company. Although generally this method of co-operation has benefited both the advancement of science and the corporations, it has also in some cases lead to ethical problems, when the results arrived at in the course of research have had a negative aspect for the financing corporation. A classical example is the history of health research related to smoking.
Individuals involved in the field of science education argue that the process of science is performed by all individuals as they learn about their world.
The methods of science are also practiced in many places to achieve specific goals. For example:
- Quality control in manufacturing facilities (for example, a microbiologist in a cheese factory ensures that cultures contain the proper species of bacteria)
- Obtaining and processing crime scene evidence (forensics)
- Monitoring compliance with environmental laws
- Performing medical tests to help physicians evaluate the health of their patients
- Investigating the causes of a disaster (such as a bridge collapse or airline crash)
Science and social concerns
A basic understanding of science and technology has become indispensable for anyone living in a city or town, because technology - a product of science - has become an important part of peoples' lives. Science education aims at increasing common knowledge about science and widening social awareness. The process of learning science begins early in life for many people; school students start learning about science as soon as they acquire basic language skills, and science is always an essential part of curriculum. Science education is also a very vibrant field of study and research. Learning science requires learning its language, which often differs from colloquial language. For example, the terminology of the physical sciences is rich in mathematical jargon, and that of biological studies is rich in Latin names. The language used to communicate science is rich in words pertaining to concepts, phenomena, and processes, which are initally alien to children.
Due to the growing economic value of technology and industrial research, the economy of any modern country depends on its state of science and technology. The governments of most developed and developing countries therefore designate a significant part of their annual budget to science and technology research and communication and often have a science policy and there are some large-scale science projects - often termed as big science. The practice of science by scientists has undergone remarkable changes in the past few centuries. Most scientific research is currently funded by government or corporate bodies. These relatively recent economic factors appear to increase the incentive for some to engage in fraud in reporting results of scientific research , often termed scientific misconduct. Occasional instances of verified scientific misconduct, however, are by no means solely modern occurences. (see also: Junk science)
Science has become so pervasive in modern societies that it is generally perceived a necessity to communicate the achievements, news, and dreams of scientists to a wider populace. This need is fulfilled by an enormous range of scientific literature. While scientific journals communicate and document the results of research carried out in universities and various other institutions, and new discoveries in various fields of science, science magazines cater to the needs of a wider readership. Besides these, 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 reputed journals and newsmagazines have their own websites. Also, a growing number of people are being attracted towards the vocation of science popularization and science journalism.
Fields of science
- Atomic, Molecular, and Optical physics
- Computational physics
- Condensed matter physics
- Fluid dynamics
- Materials physics
- Mathematical physics
- Nuclear physics
- Particle physics (or High Energy Physics)
- Plasma physics
- Polymer physics
- Solid State
- Vehicle dynamics
- Analytical chemistry
- Computational chemistry
- Inorganic chemistry
- Materials science
- Organic chemistry
- Cell biology
- Developmental biology
- Evolution (Evolutionary biology)
- Evolutionary developmental biology
- Freshwater Biology
- Genetics (Population genetics, Genomics, Proteomics)
- Marine biology
- Molecular Biology
- Phycology (Algology)
- Physical anthropology
- Physical therapy
- Population dynamics
- Structural biology
- Political Science
- Behavior analysis
- Cognitive psychology
- Clinical psychology
- Developmental psychology
- Educational psychology
- Experimental psychology
- Forensic psychology
- Health psychology
- Humanistic psychology
- Industrial and organizational psychology
- Personality psychology
- Psychology of religion
- Sensation and perception psychology
- Social psychology
Interdisciplinary and applied sciences
- Cognitive sciences
- Computer and information sciences
- Health Science
- Military science
- Planetary science
- Organization and practice of science: International Council of Science (ICSU).
- For an understanding of how these fields came to be: History of science.
- See also scientists for catalogs of people active in each of these fields.
External articles and references
- "GSCE science textbook". Wikibooks.org
- National Center for Biotechnology Information Bookshelf
- Science & Engineering books for free download
News and articles
- Hypography - Science for everyone
- The Science Site a New Zealand-based zine with realtime news feeds (very popular site, with the world's first Squidcam).
- Daily Science News (German)
- Strange Science and Technology News (Alternative and under-reported video and audio streams with an analysis-ready news network with Online Analytical Processing and embedded Extract, Transform, and Load Data Mining capabilities.)
- Science-advisor, Online Review of Scientific Articles (Writings of short comments on scientific articles, reviews and letters with a scientific litterature search engine.)
- Popperian Science Henning von Weber
- Most scientific papers are probably wrong - Kurt Kleiner - New Scientist - August 2005
- How NOT to produce Scientific Graphs and Figures - For Science students - Markus Weichselbaum, July 1997
- "Current Events". New Scientist Magazine, Reed Business Information Ltd.
- "United States Science Initiative". Authoritative selected science information provided by U.S. Government agencies, including research and development results.
- "NEWTON BBS Ask A Scientist". The purpose is to provide a means to have questions answered that are not going to be easily found on the web or within common references.
- "Classification of the Sciences". Dictionary of the History of Ideas.
- Mendoza, Martha, "Allegations of Fake Scientific Research Hit New High; U.S. Fielded Record 274 Scientific Misconduct Complaints Last Year, 50 Percent More Than in 2003". ABC News (Associated Press), July 10, 2005. (source: spinwatch.org)
- Cole, K. C., "Things your teacher never told you about science (Nine shocking revelations!); Maybe you think that science is devoted to gathering and cataloging facts, and that scientists are a dull, deary lot who don't know how to have fun. Maybe you should think again.". Newsday, Long Island, New York, March 23, 1986, pg 21+
- Bauer, Henry H., "Ethics in Science". Chemistry Department, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, VA.