Questioning the very definition of science? You’re not alone, and we’re here to help
The national discourse these days might have you questioning the very definition of the word “science.”
That being said, it is important to understand the process of science and how it is fluid through time, ever-changing with the discovery of new information that potentially alters our consensus of what is known.
At Headwaters Science Institute, we’re aiming to bring greater understanding to the conversation around what science is and how it affects the course of our lives.
So, what is science?
To create a foundational understanding, science is the process of observation and experimentation to uncover insights about the natural world. When you Google “science” there are two definitions, 1. science is a systematic process of observation and experimentation, and 2. A body of knowledge pertaining to a subject. It is important to acknowledge that science is not either/or one of these definitions.
Generally, however, people typically associate the term science with this second definition.
Biology, for example, is defined as the body of knowledge about living organisms. But biology is really the process of generating these insights about living organisms and their vital processes. This is then communicated as a body of knowledge. It’s the combination of both definitions.
Science is not a collection of “facts”
Much of society has been taught that there is “science” and the “scientific method,” but in reality, they are intertwined. I fell victim to this when attending public school growing up. Our teachers taught science in a way that disconnected the process in which the body of knowledge is generated from reading the conclusions of the process, i.e. the textbook.
To me, it gave the perception that science is just a collection of facts that I can read in a textbook and then move on. But in reality, science is ever-changing, full of constant debate over what has been discovered in the past and exploring the fringes of what we currently understand about the natural world.
If you are in high school reading a biology textbook, the information you are reading is not the extent of what we know today and may not reflect the most up-to-date scientific consensus. Scientists are constantly developing new methodologies, challenging previous findings, and questioning authority to progress the field as a whole.
This can at times mean declaring studies to be invalid or insignificant. This isn’t always because the experimentation was done poorly or results being irreproducible, but because as time progresses, new methods can supply a more informed conclusion to determine a study invalid.
Science is a life-long journey of learning
A perfect example of this, is the Biological Species Concept.
Simply put, it determines a species to be a group of organisms that are able to interbreed and produce viable offspring. This concept is still taught in schools across the country, but it is not supported anymore by contemporary biologists. In fact, this is still a widely debated topic as defining what a species is impacts how we conduct the field of taxonomy and study evolution.
Science is a life-long journey of learning, observation, and experimentation to close the gap of what is known and unknown about the world around us. It helps us make informed decisions, which are driven by data rather than our behavior or biases. Hopefully, as you continue to follow Headwaters Science Institute, you will obtain a new understanding, perspective, and appreciation of science.