.what is science

on science

.what is science

Science is definitely not a thing to be had. Quite the opposite, it’s not even the body of knowledge we have but the discipline we use to obtain that knowledge. A scientist is someone who practices that discipline, not someone who claims something in the media. And the same way engineering is vital to build reliable bridges, science is vital to obtain reliable knowledge.

The scientific method is a simple recipe for honest results. Not necessarily good or absolute results but honest and without fundamental errors. A scientific experience starts with an hypothesis, something that might be true or not and we want to verify. An hypothesis might be, all physical objects fall to the ground. Next, an experiment to verify the hypothesis needs to be imagined. This is the most difficult part of the process as all external effects must be taken into account, even the ones we don’t know or understand. The experiment is where most scientific errors come from and that’s part of the process. In the example, our hypothesis is rather hard to test, we can’t have all the physical objects and even if we could testing them all would take infinite time. We draw on our existing knowledge and take a large sample of objects with diverse physical properties. That’s noted on the experiment and as caveat of the conclusion. Other scientists will think of other objects and will try other versions of the experiment to disprove it. But this is our experiment and we let all our objects fall and observe the results. We probably build a release apparatus so our handling doesn’t influence the results. We let them fall in a chamber without wind or other external perturbations. At the end we look at our results table and indeed, all objects fell reliably to the ground. Our hypothesis seems valid so it turns into a thesis. Sadly, because we didn’t test all objects, we can’t thesis all physical objects fall to the ground but a rather weakened version such as experimental results support falling to the ground is a common property of all physical objects.

At this point a “science reporter” publishes an article in a science themed magazine titled “New results show things fall” and mainstream media picks up that up and runs the headline “science says ground sucks up everything”.

But we don’t have established science yet, we have a thesis from a researcher. The discipline of science requires the results to be replicated and confirmed independently and other researchers to form the same thesis for agreement to be reached. Mainstream media usually confuses replication with a political process where multiple groups converge on a result they all can agree on. It is anything but, either the original results are sound and are replicated and they become established or other researchers arrive at different results and we all learn something. When other groups in other parts of the world replicate the results the thesis becomes more established. After all, it doesn’t say my things fall on my laboratory, it needs to be replicated multiple times in different places with multiple thing as it might be a just local phenomena and might not be true for some places or things.

By this time the headlines are long forgotten, things falling to the ground is old news, This is however when “new science” is established, not when the tabloids picked one lone experiment. However as most thesis aren’t confirmed mainstream media shows the world “strange new science” and then latter on “contradicting and wrong science” which certainly sells more advertising than “process works - thesis unconfirmed”.

(c) Carlos Morgado 2019,2020