Whew! ScienceBlogs is back up. Mostly. There’s been some kinks, but so far things are mostly working. No LaTeX yet, but I’m agitating for it vigorously. Especially for the comments. The ability to work with equations is something that no self-respecting science blog should be without. I’m hopeful that the process will be simplified soon, and that you can write your own equations as well.
While things are still getting squared away internally, let’s tackle a simple question. What is science?
It’s a question that has come up several times when the various ScienceBloggers chat in our internal discussion forum, mainly with regard to the difference between science and pseudoscience. In one recent instance, I waded right in with my own opinion, which is that science is simply what you do when you test your ideas with experiment.
This would not do, said some people. What do you mean by test? What about sciences where repeatable experiment isn’t really possible, such as climatology, cosmology, or population ecology? What about theoretical ideas that aren’t yet testable, like string theory? What, if any, is the ontological status of falsifiability in all of this? Must the tests be numerical? Is it even possible to define science in an airtight way?
We went back and forth on those and other questions. Progress was limited, not least of the reasons why is that I’m only modestly familiar with the philosophy of science. I’m also strongly of the “shut up and calculate” persuasion and can’t escape thinking the whole thing is a waste of time. Still, it’s an interesting way to waste time. After bantering back and forth here’s what I concluded at least for myself. I don’t know if I convinced anyone else.
Science is the testing of ideas.
That’s all. Every technicality I can think of is avoided so long as the person doing the science is honest. Create fair and objective tests, try not to fool yourself or anyone else, don’t be wedded to your hypothesis, basic things like that. Be dishonest and I doubt there’s a definition in the world that some sufficiently clever pseudoscientist can’t wriggle out of. Test your ideas and be honest about it. That’s about it.