14 March 2011


THE NATURE OF SCIENCE. Quinn O'Neill has written an informative and relevant article which should prove useful to those who have no advanced training in the sciences, as well as to those who have. Taking a step back to review fundamentals, O'Neill points out that ....

"Many people view science as a body of rigid, unchangeable facts and it's hard to blame them. After all, most of us learned science as if this were the case. We were given text books and lectured to as if to say, 'here's what we know, it's all true, just memorize it'. Of course, much of the content of text books, at least at high school and undergraduate levels, is fairly basic and well-established, but learning it from a book or a lecture doesn't teach us much about the scientific process.

"So what is science then? Nova Education recently asked Dr. William McComas, a prominent researcher in science education, and he provided a very nice answer. Here are some of the key points:
  • Science produces, demands, and relies on empirical evidence.

  • Experiments are not the only route to knowledge.

  • Science uses both inductive reasoning and hypothetico-deductive reasoning.

  • Science makes observations and produces inferences.

  • There is no single stepwise scientific method by which all science is done.

  • Science has a creative component.

  • Observations, ideas, and conclusions in science are not entirely objective.

  • Historical, cultural and social influences impact the practice and direction of science.

  • Scientific knowledge is tentative, durable and self-correcting.

" .... Despite our heavy reliance on science, anti-science sentiment is widely prevalent. Evolutionary theory, for example, which is among our best supported scientific theories and accepted almost unanimously within the scientific community, is rejected by a considerable portion of Americans, Canadians, and Brits .... The media seems to love pointing out ways in which 'Darwin was wrong' as if this refutes all of evolutionary biology. On the contrary, our recognition of deficiencies in Darwin's views reflect progress in our understanding of evolution since his time.

"The self-correcting nature of science gives it an edge over other knowledge systems. The discovery that the Earth isn't at the center of the universe wasn't well received by the Catholic church .... Most people, regardless of religious ideology, now accept that the earth orbits the sun, but adherence to literal interpretations of the bible in the face of overwhelming contradictory evidence is not yet behind us.

" .... The process of questioning and critically examining our views and practices, testing them, and rejecting or revising them accordingly yields improvement. Changing our views in light of new information isn't a sign of weakness or cause for embarrassment -- it's why we have more advanced technologies than we had in the past, why we can cure diseases that were once incurable, why women can now vote, and why we no longer burn heretics. The process of critically examining and changing our views and positions should be celebrated. It lies at the heart of human progress."

It should be noted that by definition, any scientific hypothesis must be falsifiable -- that is, able to be disproven in future testing. Anything less is either superstition, tautology, or a con job. This is the core of what separates science from religion. Science relies on evidence, and is subject to revision. Religion relies on a leap of faith in the absence of evidence, and is generally too rigid in its tenets for reasonable revision to take place.

TIME. Even though the change to Daylight Savings Time has already happened, I want to share a very useful resource -- a link to official U.S. time, correctable by time zone and accurate down to the second, furnished by NIST.

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