What is science? More specifically, what makes something science? How is science distinguished from non-science or pseudoscience?
These questions have been the source of debate for many centuries, even millennia. Two thousand years ago, natural philosophers disputed the very nature of matter. Was matter continuous, infinite, and divisible as claimed by Plato, Aristotle, and their contemporaries? Or was matter discontinuous, finite, and indivisible, so that a certain smallest, most fundamental unit could be attained, as claimed by Leucippus, Democritus, and few others. Over 2000 years ago, Leucippus coined a term for this fundamental and smallest unit of matter – atomos, yet these ideas were largely ignored for millennia.
Ancient natural philosophers probed the nature of matter with questions like, “What is a plant”? “What is water?” “What is wind”? These deep questions were pondered through the mind, and through conversation. Absent in the philosophers quest to understand the fundamental nature of matter were hypotheses, testing, observations, and model-building. In other words, these great philosophers neglected experiment. It is experimentation that distinguishes science from other realms of study. It was not until John Dalton’s Atomic Theory that a revolutionary shift in our understanding of the components that constitute matter occurred, and Dalton’s observations were rooted in experimentation.
The idea of the scientific method requires that claims are:
- falsifiable (refutable – able to be disproved) and
These are often the criteria used to help distinguish science from pseudoscience. The falsifiable nature of science dictates that the claim must be able to be disproved. We also note that science is a process of discovery, and part of that process of discovery requires the recognition of patterns (repeatability). Note that in science, evidence may strongly suggest that a claim is true, but it does not explicitly prove it.
An example of a falsifiable claim is that the moon is made out of cheese. As silly as the claim is, we could gather a sample of the moon and – if it is not cheese – we have disproved the claim. Thus, the claim is scientific because it may be disproved through collection of evidence (data). Furthermore, the moon could be sampled repeatedly and we would still arrive at the same conclusion – the moon is not made out of cheese. A non-scientific claim cannot be disproved regardless of the evidence collected. For example, if I claim that a cubic meter of cheese exists on the moon, I have made a non-falsifiable claim because the claim cannot be readily refuted. It would be nearly impossible to sample every cubic meter of the moon, and thus the claim is not scientific.
Please construct a well-thought out response that addresses each of the following questions.
- What makes one statement or claim science? Along these lines, how do you distinguish a scientific claim from a non-scientific claim, or pseudoscience?
- Construct a claim that you consider scientific and indicate how the claim meets the criteria for science – that it is falsifiable and repeatable. Challenge your peers to either agree or disagree with the scientific nature of your claim.
- Science is a process of discovery, and part of that process of discovery requires the recognition of patterns. We are surrounded by patterns. How does the regularity of nature promote advancement of scientific knowledge?
- Be sure to state any references you used along with proper citations.