What is Science? and Maybe Science Literacy is What we Need.

Many intelligent people have played around with defining science - some of them more seriously than others. Browse a few definitions.

I am sure that you can recognize many ideas within these definitions that you would include in a personal definition of science and maybe some that you would not consider.

But, you say what is the real definition or the best definition. Well, from that list my favorite is:

A carpenter, a schoolteacher, and scientist were traveling by train through Scotland when they saw a black sheep through the window of the train.
"Aha," said the carpenter with a smile, "I see that Scottish sheep are black."
"Hmm," said the school teacher, "You mean that some Scottish sheep are black."
"No," said the scientist glumly, "All we know is that there is at least one sheep in Scotland, and that at least one side of that one sheep is black."

Awe come on you say, that can't be it. Maybe not, but it really gets to the heart of science - Observation. Everything we know, when doing science must be observable and not only observable, but repeatedly observable for verification. So if you want to get philosophical about science, the place to begin is to philosophize about what is observation, is it real, is it imagined, what makes better observations, and is every person's imagined observation exist only in their mind.... and so on...

Enough philosophy get to a definition...

Alas, there is not one. There are many things that science is and there are many things that science is not; the most important that it is not, is anything that isn't based on verifiable observation. Philosophy based on beliefs and assumptions, religion based on faith, intuition based on our gut feelings, arguments built on assumptions that we are unwilling to change... Any conclusions made from these are not scientific. That doesn't devalue those decisions or put greater value on decisions that are scientific. It is human nature that decides what to value and what process or processes to use to decide what to believe or not. When we choose to verify based upon observation above all else, then science is the discipline that has been created and refined for that kind of inquiry.

So, what implications does this have for a professional science educator?

Fortunately or unfortunately it requires more study. A simple definition of science can be useful to point us in an appropriate direction, but unless that definition includes long lists of what science can do, how to do it, what it has created, and when to use it, then it isn't very helpful for professional educators.

So if we dig deeper, we will find a need to explore - science literacy.

Dr. Robert Sweetland's Notes ©