Friday, July 18, 2008

What is science?

    Science is the process that takes us from confusion to understanding in a manner that’s precise, predictive, and reliable. –Brian Greene

My Dad, a furniture upholsterer, sparked my interest in science. I remember one time when I was a little kid visiting his shop, he sketched a big circle on a piece of fabric using chalk and a yardstick as a compass. Then he showed me how to calculate the area of a circle, he said “The area of a circle equals pi times the radius squared.” I was amazed, and remained interested in science--especially mathematics-- ever since.

Now, while I'm not a professional scientist paid for doing research, I am an amateur astronomer and math enthusiast (with a bachelor of science degree in math). At work, I'm part of a group assigned to communicate my company's activities for the Year of Science 2009.

All this got me thinking that I've never really answered the question, "What is science?"

Of course, you may be wondering what this has to do with the theme of this blog. In future posts, I intend to explore the profundity of the human/dog bond using scientific methods, so it'll be good to define science and describe what scientists do.

Scientists (professional or amateur) formulate problems, collect information from observations and experiments, draw conclusions based on analytical principles, and document their findings and methods used. The documents are important resources used by others to validate or debunk the findings, and advance peoples’ knowledge and understanding of the subject studied.

There are many skills required to perform the work of science, including:

  • Observing

  • Classifying

  • Measuring

  • Using numbers

  • Communicating

  • Inferring

  • Predicting

  • Collecting, recording, and interpreting data

  • Identifying and controlling variables

  • Documenting what is done and what is observed

  • Developing hypotheses

  • Experimenting

  • Making and using models--physical, mental, mathematical, and computer

These skills are used in science to expand our understanding of the universe.

The U.S. Department of Energy considers the following as being among the greatest questions of physics: What is dark matter? What is dark energy? Are there additional dimensions? How did the universe begin?

These skills are also used to find answers to questions about pressing human needs.

Can we extend the human life span? How can we increase food production? Is the earth's ecosystem self-correcting? Can we develop synthetic replacements for the body's organs? Can we direct evolution? What causes the human/dog bond?

In the future, advances in materials science will help engineers and architects build structures that can better withstand earthquakes, storms, tsunami, terrorist attacks. Innovative techniques in DNA testing and manipulation will enable dog breeders to design breeding programs that identify and control aggressive tendencies in dogs.

That's a little bit of what constitutes science.

Brian Greene said it best:

    Science is the greatest of all adventure stories, one that's been unfolding for thousands of years.

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