[ASC-list] What is and isn't science?

Mick Moylan mmoylan at unimelb.edu.au
Thu Apr 15 04:58:38 UTC 2010

Hi Jesse & ASC

I asked the ASC-list a similar question in 2008 and had an enthusiastic
flood of responses ­ including (now that I look back at them) one from you.
I¹m going to send you the replies I received off-list (I found them quite
interesting), and I can make these available to anyone else who¹d like to
see them.

Below is the summary I posted to the list at the time...

                       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 scientists
>> 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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On 15/04/2010 00:56, "Prismatic Sciences" <jesse at prismaticsciences.com>

> When some people¹s world view or vested interest is challenged by a scientific
> concept they seek to undermine it with a play on words that sways many of the
> less scientifically literate swinging voters. ŒIt¹s only a theory, isn¹t it?¹
> places climate change science and  evolution on a par with idle speculation
> and pseudoscience.
> One of the things ASC can contribute to ongoing debates about the validity and
> role of scientific information is to develop various ways of explaining what
> science is and what it isn¹t to suit different audiences and uses.
> If you have any good answers or references to ŒWhat is science?¹ and ŒWhat
> isn¹t science?¹  please send them to me. I know there are some good papers
> that address this topic but wouldn¹t it also be good to have a one-liner or
> two  ready to destroy a doubter¹s argument? OK, it may  need to be a short
> paragraph with additional cleverly worded information if needed; remember
> we¹re seeking a range of styles of answers for different purposes. No research
> papers please, unless they would make effective interview material on the
> Colbert Report.
> We¹ll have a group of people collate and assess the replies and put the best
> ones on our website. Then we will seek to promote them far and wide. I¹m not
> promising prizes for the best contributions (not yet anyway) nor can I
> guarantee your name in lights but there may be some sort of acknowledgement
> available. 
> There is no deadline for this as it will be a work in progress for some time.
> But I ask you to get the ball rolling now by sending me any goodies you have
> to hand. 
> I feel this could become an email-athon (is there such a thing?). ³Our science
> assessors are on-line to take your contributions now.²
> Have a scientifically wonderful day.
> Regards,
> Jesse Shore
> President, Australian Science Communicators, 2010
> http://www.asc.asn.au/
> Jesse Shore PhD
> Science Communicator
> P:   (02) 9810 2328
> M:   0415 841 276
> E:    jesse at prismaticsciences.com <mailto:jesse at prismaticsciences.com>
> W:  www.prismaticsciences.com <http://www.prismaticsciences.com/>
> _______________________________________________
> ASC-list mailing list
> list at asc.asn.au
> http://www.asc.asn.au/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=97&Itemid=115

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