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Why Science?

Philosopher-scientist Herbert Spencer once defined science as "organized knowledge." But your current shopping list is an example of organized knowledge, and it's not science. So what is science, really? An interviewer recently asked me just that, and I gave her some kind of answer. Thinking more about it since then, here's what I wish I had said:

Science is the design or conduct of reproducible experiments to test how nature works, or the creation of theories that can themselves be tested by such experiments. Science is also the orderly observation of events that cannot yet be manipulated, and, ultimately, the testing of many different such observations as the basis for theories to explain the events.

This makes science the one human activity that seeks knowledge in an organized way. It's not the knowledge that's organized, it's the seeking. Science doesn't guess, doesn't hope, doesn't wish, doesn't trust, doesn't believe.

Science seeks.

It's the search that makes science so powerful and so exciting. Science does add to our store of knowledge, but some of the knowledge it adds turns out to hurt more than it helps. Science does lead to new products, some of which prove not to be so good, either. It's the seeking that makes science what it is.

Seeking is a uniquely humble human experience. It doesn't say I know, it says I need to find out. It doesn't declare one thing better than another, it merely describes each thing as it finds it. It doesn't tell anyone how to do anything, it merely discovers how nature does things.

Humble, nonjudgmental, nondirective. What other human enterprise has this cluster of attributes, this quiet dignity? And the best that there is of this enterprise goes on at universities, where much of the research is basic science, a simple search for truth. UniSci is pleased to have American universities as its "beat," and the research they perform as the material it covers.

We hope we cover it well. We also hope that our coverage will enhance the respect that society has for the scientific method and the scientific bent of mind, and its willingness to support them, particularly at the level of basic research.

Science is mankind's organized search for truth. That in itself answers the question,
Why Science? - Don Radler, Editor

 

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