What is science?

Ok, so as a precursor to my first actual science post I want to provide a brief overview of how science works. I hope that this will dispel a few myths and set the scene for things to come:

Many of us leave formal education with the belief that science exists within our society as a repository for facts, a black and white discipline housing the answers too all our questions. This assumption is however not entirely true. Science is of course a human endeavour and, as such, open and welcoming to a range of theories and opinions. Indeed, science could not progress were it not obliged to provide a vibrant environment within which great minds are encouraged put forward and test their own theories. However, in order to remain focussed and make progress in this sea of ideas a theory can only be accepted following extensive testing. Indeed, even then a theory only remains accepted until otherwise proven incorrect. This means that, contrary to popular belief, science is an adaptive process with no real black and white, only consensus and the drive to constantly question and test ideas, new and old.

This results in a major problem when discussing scientific ideas with a non-scientific audience; this being how we decide when a theory has gained sufficient experimental backing to be addressed within the public sphere. Undoubtedly there are a number of amazing and marketable theories flying around in the academic ether. However, I believe that it is unethical to sell any juvenile scientific theory as fact, especially when it contradicts current scientific consensus. This does not mean that new theories should be hidden from the public, only that they should be put forward within the context of other similar research. This will allow the public to make an informed decision as to whether or not they believe the theory to be credible.

Now before I’m battered down with comments defending the underdogs of science and pointing to the countless occasions when consensus has been forced to change. I fully acknowledge that a number of the most influential scientific discoveries were at first controversial, challenging the accepted dogma and eventually providing us with a better understanding of the world around us. However, as stated by Carl Sagan ‘extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence’. It is not enough to simply put forward a relatively believable hypothesis, this must also be thoroughly tested and should fit within the framework of knowledge within that specific area. However comfortably a puzzle piece may fit on one side, if it fails to fit on the other three, it is most likely in the wrong place!

Therefore all following scientific posts will be nestled within a framework of similar research findings to show how they findings fit within their field.

Rant over, science to follow!

Post by: Sarah Fox