Many pursuits and studies are called (a) science. But, are they? Is it determined by what you believe? Is your answer to that question predictable?
Astrology? Once upon a time many believed ! (many still do???)
Xenobiology ? Many universities offer studies in this science...do you believe?
What is pseudoscience ? (Read the articles..from Abracadabra to Zombies. © Copyright 1994-2009 Robert T. Carroll )
Natural Sciences, Physical Sciences, Social Sciences
(Hint: The Physical Sciences link is great)
So, what makes a science a science?
Excerpts from a superb article in the St. Petersburg Times, Sept 12, 2010 by Jim Manzi from City Journal.
...Unlike physics or biology, the social sciences have not demonstrated the capacity to produce a substantial body of useful, non-obvious, and reliable predictive rules about what they study—that is, human social behavior, including for example the impact of (public, civic, commercial, institutional, or) government programs.
The missing ingredient is controlled experimentation, which is what allows science positively to settle certain kinds of debates. How do we know that our physical theories concerning the wing (of an airplane and flight) are true? ...In the end, not because of equations on blackboards or compelling speeches by famous physicists but because...the airplanes stay up.
Social scientists may make claims as fascinating and counter intuitive as the proposition that a heavy piece of machinery can fly, but these claims are frequently untested by experiment, which means that debates .... will never be settled.
Over many decades, social science has groped toward the goal of applying the experimental method to evaluate its theories for social improvement. Recent developments have made this much more practical, and the experimental revolution is finally reaching social science. The most fundamental lesson that emerges from such experimentation to date is that our scientific ignorance of the human condition remains profound. Despite confidently asserted empirical analysis, persuasive rhetoric, and claims to expertise, very few social-program interventions can be shown in controlled experiments to create real improvement in outcomes of interest.
(People make for really poor experiments .. they are just so unpredictable!)
To understand the role of experiments in this context, we should go back to the beginning of scientific experimentation. In one of the most famous (though probably apocryphal - not really happen exactly like the story says) stories in the history of science, Galileo dropped unequally weighted balls from the Leaning Tower of Pisa and observed that they reached the ground at the same time.
About 2,000 years earlier, Aristotle had argued that heavier objects should fall more rapidly than lighter objects. Aristotle is universally recognized as one of the greatest geniuses in recorded history, and he backed up his argument with seemingly airtight reasoning.
Almost all of us intuitively feel, moreover, that a 1,000-pound ball of plutonium should fall faster than a one-ounce marble. And in everyday life, lighter objects often do fall more slowly than heavy ones because of differences in air resistance and other factors. Aristotle’s theory, then, combined authority, logic, intuition, and empirical evidence. But when tested in a reasonably well-controlled experiment, the balls dropped at the same rate. To the modern scientific mind, this is definitive. The experimental method has proved Aristotle’s theory false—case closed.
However, 3000 years ago he predicted some science "stuff" with mastery !!!
Of course, Aristotle, like other proto-scientific thinkers, relied extensively on empirical observation. The essential distinction between such observation and an experiment is control. That is, an experiment is the (always imperfect) attempt to demonstrate a cause-and-effect relationship by holding all potential causes of an outcome constant, consciously changing only the potential cause of interest, and then observing whether the outcome changes. Scientists may try to discern patterns in observational data in order to develop theories. But central to the scientific method is the stricture that such theories should ideally be tested through controlled experiments before they are accepted as reliable. Even in scientific fields in which experiments are infeasible, our knowledge of causal relationships is underwritten by traditional controlled experiments. Astrophysics, for example, relies in part on physical laws verified through terrestrial and near-Earth experiments.
Thanks to scientists like Galileo and methodologists like Francis Bacon, the experimental method became widespread in physics and chemistry.
(He also figured out why Wint-O-Green Life Savers make sparks in your mouth .. a few hundred years before they were actually invented)
Later, the experimental method invaded the realm of medicine. Though comparisons designed to determine the effect of medical therapies have appeared around the globe many times over thousands of years, James Lind is conventionally credited with executing the first clinical trial in the modern sense of the term. In 1747, he divided 12 scurvy-stricken crew members on the British ship Salisbury into six treatment groups of two sailors each.
He treated each group with a different therapy, tried to hold all other potential causes of change to their condition as constant as possible, and observed that the two patients treated with citrus juice showed by far the greatest improvement.
Not all science is BOTH valid and reliable ....
Three things to consider..
What is your definition of science?
How can you detemine if an activity or study is scientific?
How can you assure reliability and validity in an experiment?
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