Rules of Science
Date: Spring 2012
What are the hard-and-fast rules of science? Are there any? How does science avoid becoming fiction?
Since the question posed refers to some generic 'science', I would offer these few thoughts....
Science (to me) involves careful, precise observation of some natural or man-made phenomenon, accurately and objectively capturing the observation, honestly and objectively sharing of the captured data, fair and objective analysis of the captured data, and fair, honest, and objective efforts to test and thereby replicate the data in the interest of adding the gathered information to the ever-growing body of gathered, analyzed, tested and replicated knowledge we accept as the nearest thing to "fact" we know. Collection of the observed components of the phenomenon with integrity can help us to make predictions of future similar and dissimilar events
Anything not faithful to these efforts ultimately becomes "fiction".
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This request focuses on the comparitive terminology of science vs pseudoscience. "Science " as a generalized subject focuses on a form of the scientific method which derives factual information througn careful observations through experimentation that can be repeated with the same conclusions. Scientific thoeries are based upion this model.
Pseudoscience is "fiction" in comparison to science and often derived from emotional, assumed, inadequate or misinformation. The pseudoscience conclusions can not be verified and do not succeed with testing if an experimental proof is attenpted.
Science is fundamentally about making and explaining observations.
Science is based on integrity of process. The data and results are out
of our control (physics is in charge of those). How experiments and
observations and explanations are performed is the subject of constant
innovation. But the philosophy of science is enduring: predict,
observe, explain, repeat.
Hope this helps,
One of the most important rules of science is that a theory must be supported by physical evidence. Science attempts to explain the physical world through a hypothesis that explains a phenomenon verified by evidence. Generally, the scientist starts with a hypothesis, or an expected way that a phenomenon works. The hypothesis can be a best guess as an explanation. This hypothesis must have predictive power so that it can be tested against the physical world. If the predictions of the hypothesis match what is observed, it can be considered a “theory.” Generally, theories are repeatedly verified by scientists before they can be considered valid.
Consider what this principal means and how it can separate science from guessing. Again, nothing is wrong with a guess if you do not remain satisfied until it is backed up with evidence. For example, Alchemy provides a framework for Chemistry that can be confused with science. People made the error that a working hypothesis on how matter combines is sufficient. In Alchemy, the working hypothesis is that the “elements” of matter are substances with the property of earth, air, fire and water. It works as a working hypothesis to start with, but researchers stopped at finding physical evidence for what it predicts. Combine these “elements” and you should be able to create any other matter. If you set out a set of experiments that tests this hypothesis, you should be able to confirm whether or not it is true. In some instances, you might be led to believe it is true: combine “fire” and “ice” and you liberate the “water” element within the ice (or some other such prediction). Unfortunately, alchemists spent many years working under this hypothesis of matter with little to show for it. Had they applied this scientific rule (back it up with evidence!) they might have abandoned alchemy years earlier than they did.
One of the critical elements that you should get from this approach to science is that anyone should be able to test and verify a theory. Anyone, that is, with the right equipment and knowledge—you need to be able to measure your physical evidence and have the knowledge to know what to expect. Why I emphasize this aspect is that, if you pursue the area in which you are interested, you can play a part in creating science, disputing science, and verifying what is taught to you in schools. Do you want to verify Newton’s theory of motion? Set up experiments, measure, and see if they correspond to the predictions. Why this aspect is important is that many people mistake “theory” for “just something that one crazy scientist imagined.” A proper theory is not. Many people can (and should) be participating in confirming or debunking a theory. So can you. For example, while Einstein’s Theory of Relativity is considered valid, it is not unusual to read about experiments even now that are being set up to test it. Instruments become better, so we need to verify to the limits that we can. Indeed, an experimenter would be thrilled to find a flaw that no one before has observed. When such a flaw is discovered, it opens up exciting opportunities for new discovery and new theories. These areas are where people like you can participate.
Thanks for your questions! I had never really thought about any rules even though I do adhere to a few that I have learned. Your questions have led me to commit them to paper. Several come to mind:
One would be: Follow the energy. It seems to matter little if the experiment we are observing is overtly energy related or a very subtle manifestation of it… it will always be there. Energy and matter are relationally the same and thus, both are finite within an observable confine(s). All processes are energy transformations in one way or another. When we make an observation and we think it is so cool that we decide to investigate how and why it works… we must always be thinking about how the energy flows and what it is doing.
Another: Relate the philosophy to the experiment. We are usually looking at a small part of the huge Universe puzzle and figuring out where this tiny piece fits. An individual set of experiments may gain or firmly set a particular notion to an experimental study. However, the meaning, the relationship, the contribution of the overall experimental study to the rest of the Universe does indeed have a fit. How it fits may not be entirely clear for the present time… that is why we are doing these experiments.
Science very easily avoids fiction because they are polarized within the same time reference. By that I mean that today, March 21, 2012, paternity DNA results obtained in 30 minutes(this occurs in many episodes of crime scene television entertainment) is fiction. Who knows what will be the case on March 21, 2062? It is quite true that what was once fiction may turn into reality. At about 1952, speaking through a television phone on your wrist was considered fiction. Here in 2012, that is science.
Just thoughts. Hope this helps!
Peter E. Hughes, Ph.D.
What do you mean by “hard and fast”? There are rules that are supported by large amounts of experimental data – for example, the conservation laws of energy, linear momentum, angular momentum, and Einstein’s laws of special relativity. However, if you mean: Rules that are NEVER subject to change, modification, or alteration, you are entering the domain of religion and/or faith, not science. In fact, one of the propositions of a science is that its tenants MUST BE deniable, that is, there are no “hard and fast” rules not subject to any change, modification, or alteration. If there is any rule that is “hard and fast” that is it.
Science avoids becoming (science) fiction by requiring this law of deniability.
The text book definition of the scientific method is defective.
I far prefer Henry H. Bauer’s position in “Scientific literacy and the myth of the scientific method”
To wit, science is that which is done to rationally and voluntary convince the most people about what is going on in nature.
The answer to your questions flows from the Bauer …….view.
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Update: June 2012