[ASC-list] definition of science

Michael David Moylan mmoylan at unimelb.edu.au
Mon Dec 15 09:53:13 UTC 2008

Dear ASC
I had many more responses to my request for a definition of science than
I expected. As quite a few of them were off-list, I've put together a
Many of the definitions mentioned the things that scientists should
conduct or value:
- tests
- objectivity
- reproducibility
- experiments
- observations
- a systematic process
the outcomes of scientific study included:
- increased understanding
- discoveries
- falsifiable theories.
- knowledge
- the ability to make predictions
- facts
and the subject matter that scientists study can be 
- stuff
- things
- processes
- the universe and its contents
- the physical world
Other responses (particularly from philosophers of science) pointed out
that that these are aspirations or intentions of science, but that
science is "a heterogeneous blob". Some branches of the blob regard
things to be scientific even if they only include some of the aspects or
outcomes listed above and this is particularly the case when very big or
small objects or very complex systems are being studied. 
I think that this is not a futile exercise (as many people suggested)
because I'm sure that there are things that chemists, microbiologists,
zoologists, astrophysicists and climatologists do that make them all
I've put this together in a way that (I hope) avoids the idea that
science generates absolute truth or reality, is useful for students and
simple enough to go into a curriculum document. I think it will be valid
for most scientists...that work on this universe.
"science aims to systematically investigate, improve understanding and
make predictions about our universe and the things and processes in it".
I welcome your comments, and I'd like to thank all the people who
replied to my first email.
Mick Moylan
Chemistry Outreach Fellow
Victorian Institute for Chemical Sciences
School of Chemistry
University of Melbourne, VIC, 3010
p +61 (0)3 83446465 f +61 (0)3 93475180
e mmoylan at unimelb.edu.au
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