On Clarifying Science

Did you know …. 

Science is not an opinion.

Science is not democratic.

Science is not an ideology.

Science is not a theology.

Science is not a belief system.

Science is not a theory.

Science is not a political view.

Science is not a trend.

But ….

Science is a human endeavor.

Science is a way of knowing.

Science is impersonal.

Science is limited to the human perspective.

Science is a methodology.

Science involves verifying.

Science finds patterns and connections.

Science is a search for explanations of what we observe in nature.

Think about it – Disagreement around scientific topics is common in our lives. Whether it be evolution, climate change, vaccines deforestation, energy resources, or environmental standards (to name a few), a sizable number of people reject aspects of science for a variety of reasons – especially political, theological, and/or other ideological views … all reasons that are not science.

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42 thoughts on “On Clarifying Science

  1. Well, to be fair, science is very much theory. And whenever a new one comes along that upsets the current thinking, it is fought tooth and nail until it becomes accepted.
    Or is debunked.

    Even the absolute of the speed of light is theory. Some new technology may come along tomorrow that disproves it – or strengthens it.

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    • H.E.,
      I appreciate your use of “dark” because of a personal story. This happened to me in 1986 or 1987. I recall meeting with my mother’s oncologist during her final journey with cancer. He said that we know so much, but so little. Given everything that we know about cancer today, we are still in the Dark Ages on our quest. … and to me, that says a lot … and your words echo that thought very well!!!

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    • Bulldog,
      Verification within the scientific community is a very important part of science. There are numerous stories where someone proclaims a new finding, then poof … it’s gone because the finding couldn’t be verified.

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  2. ‘Science is impersonal.”? The Greek word for science is ‘epistimi’, and actually means deep knowledge. The Hippocrates Oath western doctors take, begins with the phrase ‘First and foremost convince the patient of the healing” That phrase alone is: a. very personal [not to mention that each individual is unique -we are not statistical numbers] b. can’t be ‘scientifically’ proven / calculated! Imho scientists should open up their viewpoints. For example, Oppenheimer should have …known. Biiiig conversation this about science.
    Happy Thursday, Frank! 🙂

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    • Marina,
      Great point about medicine and the Hippocratic Oath, which (to me) helps support my view. My point is that science and its processes are impersonal – the application of scientific knowledge is personal many times over … and the medical community is a great example of that. The quest for a cancer cure may be rooted in many personal stories and for the good of humankind in the future, but the actual process is impersonal. Hopefully I’m making some sense.

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      • Perfect sense, my friend and I agree with what you are saying. I just feel that many times doctors forget that first bit and go ahead saying phrases like: “your disease is incurable” or “meditation is for psychologically ill people”, science is not [supposed to be] all about calculations and proof…

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  3. The Scientist engages in a lifetime of discoveries, dead-ends, patterns, probabilities and what ifs but maybe, just maybe the lucky one has the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of a breakthrough that is a change-maker for mankind. WOW, and for my Scientist nephew it’s his hope and desire to achieve this one day . . . and for a personal friend (whose health has made him an experiment) his team of scientists are having these discoveries on micro-levels of which we all hope will be ultimate change-makers for mankind.

    Great post.

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    • Mary,
      Many thanks for a bit of the personal stories around you. Best of luck to them!!! Love the descriptors you used at the beginning … and to go along with your points, each scientist/researcher today is working on one important domino that could ultimately be in a long line of dominoes leading to success.

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  4. Glad you posted on science, Frank. The video clip portrays many of my most-admired writers on the subject, although I must say I don’t like the sing-song treatment of their words – makes it harder to understand.

    I was first introduced to the concept of science in the 8th grade. There was a section of text on it that included words like “theory” and “hypothesis”. My teacher did a poor job of explaining and I struggled to regurgitate the words without understanding, frustrated. I guess that’s why I remember it. When later I understood, I was actually angry about this poor introduction because it is so important.

    Something not made clear in the clip is that the very heart of science is measurement. Things measured are those like speed, hardness, duration, weight, frequency, temperature, brightness, strength, size, age and statistical variation. When enough measurement data are accumulated, they can then be analyzed and become the basis of hypotheses and then theories. The process is a continuum that approaches certainty as more data are collected and experiments replicated by other scientists. Unlike in the 8th grade, it now seems as simple to me as common sense. I’m not sure my teacher understood it himself, and that’s a sad commentary on education, isn’t it?

    From my observations, and that includes some of the comments on this post, the greatest misunderstanding of the concept of science derives from the word “theory”. For many people, that implies uncertainty and makes it easy to dismiss. An obvious example is “the theory of evolution”. People don’t doubt, anymore, the heliocentric theory that the Earth circles the sun, but despite enormous data they doubt evolution. As you wisely said, the proper handling of science involves both an open mind and skepticism, but when the data are overwhelming and the great majority of scientists agree on something, we ought to accept the “theory” of it. The sun will come up in the east tomorrow. Unless it’s cloudy. Or unless you’re standing on the North Pole. Or unless a giant asteroid . . . Theory.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jim,
      Good point about the importance of data/measurement. To go along with that, many misunderstand that data can also come from the field (not just a lab).

      In terms of science education, you are preaching to the choir at this end. Don’t get me wrong, I spent many years leading a science classroom …. thus know much about how and how not to. You’ll appreciate this one. I told one of the state’s science gurus that “too much elementary science education is nothing more than organized recess” … to which she choked on her sandwich …. then responded, I agree, but I’ve never heard it put that way before. (that was probably 20 years ago). Meanwhile, hopefully I can locate a past post where I emphasized theory. (well, I think there’s one)

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  5. “The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.” ― Neil deGrasse Tyson.

    GREAT POST TODAY! One of your all-time best!

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    • Tim,
      Many thanks … and that’s a good quote from Neil deGrasse Tyson. Below is something I wrote in a past post …

      One can have a misunderstanding about science, but that does not mean science is wrong.

      One can ignore science, but that does not mean science is wrong.

      One can disagree with science, but that does not mean science is wrong.

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  6. Excellent!!!!
    Science surrounded us here for so long when NASA was in full bloom.
    Life among science is so different – so joyous – so full – so open-ended. If only that could be recreated for all our school kids, maybe answers and some sort of balance would emerge.
    Great post – wonderful comments – and replies

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    • Mouse,
      Glad you enjoyed this post. In terms of your desires for the life sciences, there are a couple of problems …. 1) modern genetics is much of the new frontier … 2) teachers are concentrating on preparing students for the state test.

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      • Thanks for the giggles. Genetics bring hope for cures, but as you say, the devil’s in the details (those controversies will keep things spinning for a bit). Neighborhood conversations were certainly different when most were the science geeks.
        Data collection run amuck (and funded by taxpayers) Soft science “researchers”- who-have -ever-been-in-the-classroom are thrilled while we kids lose year after year of real learning. (But now that Feds say teacher pay must be linked to student test scores to get edu money…) Sigh. both of us can probably go on forever on this topic. But it’s Friday ( and sunny) go out and play and have a great weekend

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      • Science made me my breakfast. Science liquified dinosaurs so that I could drive to work. Science created a flat screen of great blog writings to read. Science invented the jock strap, and now I have three kids! Science wrote a book or two. Science invented the world of green eggs and Who’s. Science dug the soil and flew the skies, until it was ready to go to the moon. Science cured my rash! Science let Derek Jeter hit a game-winning single in his last ever game at Yankee Stadium! Science magnifies my sight and takes care of my sniffles, it gives me hope and it gives me wrinkles. Science is the oxidation of my very body but the reason I have it, science is the exploration of what it means to have a soul and will fully adopt that concept if it is ever proven. Science is the cornerstone of religion… oh wait. Okay. Right.

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  7. Frank, while I appreciate your elegant defense of science and share in your views for the most part, I also have to consider the countless pages of rabid and emotional online comments from the scientistic community responding to publications from people like Eben Alexander and his personal NDE or others who challenge their view of reality. Of course, scientists are human too and so are their reactions, but they don’t always make a good case for the non-emotional examination of the data when it doesn’t square with their preconceptions of scientific reality. I think a good case against the statements that “Science is not a belief system (or ideology)” when examining the expressed statements of various members of the scientific community when their views are challenged.

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