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Why Science Matters

Why Science Matters

“Science is always a way to teach how something gets known, what is not known, to what extent things are known (for nothing is known absolutely), how to handle doubt and uncertainty, what the rules of evidence are, how to think about things so that judgments can be made, how to distinguish truth from fraud, from show…in learning science you learn to handle by trial and error, to develop a spirit of invention and of free inquiry which is of tremendous value far beyond science. One learns to ask oneself: “Is there a better way to do it?”

Feynman, RF A Life in Science, Engineering and Science, Caltech Magazine, p. 145.

Feynman: What is Science?

What is Science?

Richard Feynman, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1965, aptly summarized the scientific method in simple language during his seven lectures of the Messenger Lectures given at Cornell University in 1964. (See video and transcript below.)

In general, we look for a new law by the following process. First we guess it. (Don't laugh. That's the truth.) Then we compute the consequences of the guess to see what--if this is right, if this law that we guessed is right--to see what it would imply. And then we compare those computation results to nature--or we say compare to experiment or experience--compare it directly with observation to see if it works. 

If it disagrees with experiment, it's wrong.

In that simple statement is the key to science. It does not make any difference how beautiful your guess is. It does not make any difference how smart you are, who made the guess, or what his name is – if it disagrees with experiment, it is wrong. That's all there is to it.”

Feynmen's Messenger Lectures.  This video excerpt is from Lecture 7: Seeking New Laws > Chapter 6: How to Look for New Laws. (16:47-18:33) 

Feynman, Cornell 1964, “The Character of Physical Law”, Messenger Lectures, grabadas BBC 

Richard P. Feynman, Nobel Prize in Physics 1965

"Doing Science"

What does it mean to "do science"? What does it mean to "justify an answer with science?"

  • Define "science"
  • Define "evidence"

Others have defined "science" and "evidence" better and more thoroughly than I (see below), but I will make an effort. 

The foundation of "science" is the scientific method, which is a process whereby the world is studied or examined using tests, observations, and experiments. Ideas about the world (what it is and how it works) are compared to those tests, etc. and if these tests disprove the ideas, then they are rejected. So "science" involves phenomenon that are testable.

The process of testing and the findings of the tests, observations, and experiments are "evidence." And this "testing" is based upon the "real world," which is what we can know via our senses--sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell. It does NOT test based on beliefs and phenomena related to belief. Those questions fall outside of "science."

I believe that my family loves me and that I love them. My belief is not based on science. I *could* use the scientific method to test the ways the senses demonstrate "love"--what things do they do to show love, what do they say, what do I hear, etc. that elicit a specific response from another person. But one may believe in love despite physical "evidence." Beliefs and belief systems are examined via philosophy and other means.

Therefore, "justifying and answer with science" means to present an idea about "climate change" along with the the reasons (evidence) WHY it is thought that this idea is true. And those reasons cannot be "I just think so" but must provide the experiments and tests and their findings that support the idea. If you are like me and have not done research on climate change yourself, then you will find what experiments scientists have done on climate change and present those findings. 

About Wikipedia

Wikipedia is a "wiki" encyclopedia. A "wiki" is a software program that allows multiple people to collaborate by posting information and changing each other's postings.

The great thing about Wikipedia is that anyone can post to it. The bad thing about Wikipedia is that anyone can post to it. This is good because writers can share collective knowledge, correct errors, and improve the knowledge on the pages. This is bad because writers can share biased opinions and introduce errors, accidentally or spitefully.

In addition, content in Wikipedia can be changed at any time. This makes it unreliable as a reference source because others cannot reliably check on what YOU read in Wikipedia because it may have changed by the time they get there to read the entry.

Wikipedia is a decent start to your academic research and can give you good background information. But verify the information with other sources. Wikipedia does ask authors to post references at the end of articles so use those to find the original source. (But make sure that source is the original source and not just another secondary source.)

And unless your professor allows it, do not cite Wikipedia in your college assignments. Its changeable nature makes it an unreliable source.


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