The Nature of Science
What is science? When you hear that word you may imagine men and women in lab coats peering into microscopes or a biologist tramping through the Amazon searching for a new species. In reality, something doesn’t need to take place in a far off place or specialized lab in order for it to be science.
Science is a process that we use to learn more about the natural world. It involves asking questions, conducting experiments and research, and drawing conclusions based on our results. Science is also the body of knowledge that has been built up over the years based on past experiments and research.
To perform science, we follow a process called the scientific method: First, we ask a question about something in the natural world. For example, we may wonder if watering tomato plants more often will make them grow faster.
Next, we do research to learn more about our question and come up with a hypothesis. A hypothesis is an educated guess at how something in the natural world works. For example, “If I water a tomato plant more often, it will grow faster”.
The next step is to come up with a procedure to test our hypothesis. To test the tomato plant hypothesis, we could set up two sets of tomato plants, water half of them once a week and the other half twice a week, and measure their growth each week.
Once we’ve gathered and analyzed the growth numbers from both sets of tomato plants, we will know whether the results of our experiment support or don’t support our hypothesis and we can draw a conclusion. In our tomato plant example, if the tomato plants we watered twice a week grow more than the ones we watered once a week, our hypothesis would be supported.
Supporting a hypothesis doesn’t mean it is necessarily true, it just means that this experiment didn’t prove it wrong. At this point, good scientists will often come up with more experiments to further test their hypothesis.
The scientific method is a vital part of how we perform science. It ensures that all scientists are following the same basic steps and rules in their experiments. The scientific method also helps prevent bias, or allowing our outside feelings or perceptions to influence the results of experiments.
Without following the steps of the scientific method, we are in danger of producing “pseudoscience” or fake science. In true science, we develop a hypothesis and then do tests to see if we can prove it wrong. People that produce pseudoscience start with a hypothesis and then go looking only for evidence that supports it. This leads to biased, unproven results and can often be used to mislead people.
Real science is deeply important to human society, because it allows us to investigate and build accurate knowledge about the natural world. Knowledge gained through science is used to vastly improve human lives; science helps us to create new technology, new medicines, and to solve big problems. Objects you use every day like phones, cars, and refrigerators would not have been able to exist without the contributions of science.
Jarmoluk, Michal. (photographer). (2017). Laboratory Analysis Chemistry [photography]. Retrieved from https://pixabay.com/photos/laboratory-analysis-chemistry-2815641/wvwrgwr