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What is Science?
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I blogged before about how I'm not really sure that the label "scientific" for a hypothesis or theory has much use. I used to think science was more strictly defined and qualitatively different from other disciplines. Now I'm much more amenable to the idea that science is just concentrated common sense applied to the natural world.

I saw someone in a discussion forum mention the book Defending Science and how it apparently discusses how the methods science use to try to get at truth are not necessarily unique to science. For example, historians are interested in finding out what really happened in human societies to the closest approximation. To do so, they develop theories, gather evidence, publish results, and subject themselves to peer review and revision. There is in fact a bleed over in sciences that are actually historical, such as geology, paleontology, or physical anthropology.

An evolutionary biologist interested in how and when trilobites emerged, and how and why they became extinct, is unable to run nice, neat experiments in a laboratory with a control and experimental group in order to find a statistically-significant result. Instead, they formulate theories that best fit the evidence. Is it still science? Of course it is.

The thing is, what scientists do is just a rigorous formalism of common sense: They formulate provisional beliefs on the basis of what evidence they have, then they try to gather more evidence that either leads to affirming, rejecting, or revising those beliefs. Double-blind studies with control groups and stringent peer criticism are simply ways of trying to reduce subjective bias and expose any conflicts between the evidence and the theory.

So there really isn't anything qualitatively unique about what science does. People think of a white-haired guy with a lab coat pouring bubbling liquid from beaker to beaker, but experimentation is only one way of gather evidence, and methodologies are always expanding (e.g., my own arena of computational modeling).

Just as with the question of whether or not a hypothesis or theory is "scientific," I'm not particularly concerned with whether or not a particular field or discipline is labeled a "science." As long as they're interested in try to determine the truth, and they do so by formulating theories based upon sound evidence, I'm not going to get hung up on that particular semantic distinction.

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