What is Science?
Science is a body of knowledge about the natural world, formed by a process of continuous inquiry, and encompassing the people engaged in the scientific enterprise. The type of knowledge, the processes of inquiry, and the individuals in science all contribute in various ways to form a unique system called science. These factors differentiate science from other ways of knowing, such as philosophy, art, and history, which also contribute to the collective knowledge base of humans.
In the scientific subject areas, knowledge is organized within various schemes, such as the theory of evolution, atomic theory, or cell theory. The key to whether a body of knowledge should be included under the heading of science is its basis on empirical observation. If our awareness of a phenomenon is determined by use of such scientific processes as observation, measurement, experimentation, and other experimental procedures, then it is scientific knowledge. This statement is true whether the information is about an atom, flower, or child’s response to stimuli.
The product of the process of inquiry is scientific knowledge. Unfortunately, it is the product—knowledge—not the process, that has characterized science teaching. Science is more than knowledge, however. Science is a human enterprise involving creativity, computational skills and strategies, curiosity, courage, and persistence, devised by individuals to discover the nature of the universe. This human investigative aspect of science is dynamic, because it evolves through the actions of persons as they penetrate the unknown. In their investigations, scientists behave differently than those in other human endeavors. For example, they formulate questions, hypothesize, design experiments, interpret data, synthesize theories, and obey rules of objectivity. These behaviors, typical of scientists at work, are called the processes of inquiry. They are the conditions that truly characterize science in its research role. To think of science as merely a body of organized knowledge is to conceive of it as being static. This understanding ignores the human excitement of men and women following the guidelines of scientific methodology in exploring the frontiers of knowledge. Science as a human activity is dynamic. It is what scientists do when they behave in the tradition of scientific investigation.
When scientists question, explore, and experiment, they demonstrate the inquiring nature of science. Unfortunately, a student can learn science as a body of knowledge without understanding it as a process and without knowing the human qualities involved in scientific inquiry. The recorded knowledge of science is the history produced by men and women using scientific processes. Teachers have traditionally emphasized this product of science but have often failed to give students an understanding of the means of answering scientific questions, which is one of science education’s most valuable outcomes.
© ______ 2008, Allyn & Bacon, an imprint of Pearson Education Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The reproduction, duplication, or distribution of this material by any means including but not limited to email and blogs is strictly prohibited without the explicit permission of the publisher.
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