Vox Day asks a question: what is my definition of science? It’s a bit weird coming from him — he is not usually that lucid or civil — but OK, I’ll take it seriously.
Unfortunately, “science” is one of those hugely polymorphic terms that carries a tremendous amount of baggage, and any one definition is going to be inadequate. This is one of those subjects where a smart philosopher (Janet? John?) could go on at amazing length, and even then, everyone will argue with their summaries. I’ll just charge in, though, and give a couple of shorter definitions off the top of my head.
This first one isn’t entirely satisfactory to me, since there’s too much implication that science is a thing that can be examined and treated as an at least briefly static object, but it probably accords better with most people’s naive concept of science.
#1: Science is a changing and growing collection of knowledge, characterized by transparency (all methods are documented, and the lineage of ideas can be traced) and testability (prior work can be repeated or its results evaluated). It is an edifice of information that contains all of the details of its construction.
When I teach introductory biology, a substantial part of it addresses this definition: there are conventions of the scientific literature that a new student must learn in order to be able to efficiently extract information and follow the chain of evidence, and also in order to some day be able to add to it. To the novice, science can appear to be a huge database, and what they have to figure out is how to tap into it.
If you’ve been in science for a while, you know there’s another pragmatic definition:
#2: Science is what scientists do. We have institutions that train people and employ them in the business of generating new knowledge — contributing to that edifice in definition #1 — and we have procedures like the bestowal of degrees and ranks that certify one’s membership in the hallowed ranks of science.
This is science as a social construct, a tradition, a meat grinder, a tool that shapes people into useful configurations for churning out new data and ideas. It isn’t pretty (any grad students or post-docs or struggling faculty out there? Yeah, you know it’s ugly) but it’s part of the reality of science.
There is also an ideal of science that we try to live up to, and which is the other significant component of our introductory biology courses here — it’s what we aspire to in good science.
#3: Science is a process. It is a method for exploring the natural world by making observations, drawing inferences, and testing those inferences with further experimentation and observation. It isn’t so much the data generated as it is a way of thinking critically about the universe and our own interpretations of it.
A more philosophically inclined writer could then go on at length about induction and reductionism and materialism and the scientific methods and so forth; they’d all be part of that definition if made more thorough. I suspect the commenters here will cheerfully expand on everything and tell me where I’m wrong — and that’s part of it, too. Science is a matter of throwing out ideas and refining them in the crucible of reality.