Science is merely the collection of tools that lead to our most reliable knowledge.
Different tools work in different situations but they all require taking careful, methodical measurements. Quality tools work when wielded properly by people who know how to use them while sincerely trying to learn.
An underpinning of science is the realization that knowledge comes in degrees of certainty and that one’s OWN findings must be questioned and tested.
The “Scientific Method” describes how to use the tools of science most effectively. It values quality evidence. There are not different versions of science, there is only one–the one that works! It is self-correcting and tries to falsify claims. It asks “is that really true?” and “how can we be more sure?” especially when claims are hard to believe. It relegates untestable claims to speculation.
If a claim is made that evidence doesn’t support, or the claim is not tested, then it cannot be included in what we think of as reliable knowledge. Even if it seems like it SHOULD work, if it can’t be tested, it’s speculation. String theory is like that–the math is elegant but, until it can be tested, it’s still speculation. A proper “theory” has a particular meaning in science–a well tested group of explanations that can describe how something behaves. It predicts. But the word gets tossed around improperly all the time. Like String Theory: it really should be called “String Hypothesis.”
Here are some important elements of Science:
- The most careful measurements possible are made.
- It makes predictions that work.
- Transparency. Other people must be able to know how to test someone’s claim or witness it in action.
- It tries to disprove (falsify) a claim to see if other explanations may be taking place. This is part of “controlling” for other possibilities.
- Conclusions respect understanding of the hierarchy of evidence quality.
- Rigorous application of methods with controls where appropriate.
- Minimizing bias.
- Following the best methodologies for a line of study.
- Adjusting and retesting modified hypothesis.
- Trying to see how an understanding could be wrong. This one of the most important elements of real science, asking “how could I be wrong?”
The of these that are followed, the more like science it is is and the more reliable will be the knowledge.
Here are ways to recognize non-science based claims.
- The claim has NOT been properly tested by people who respect the tenets of quality evidence and effective scientific process.
- The claim does NOT make sense with how the universe works *OR* is NOT strong enough to change our understanding. Increasingly, VERY fewer discoveries change that understanding. Claims that change any basic well-established understanding require that much more corroboration. This is the proverbial “big claims require big evidence.”
- The people making the claim have a reputation for quality research and not making outlandish claims. This is huge: they admit to having a degree of certainty and will adjust their view if contrary evidence comes along.
- Claims are based on stories, not data.
- Claims are made ONLY by a group of people. If people of another country, or religion, ethnic group, or whatever make a claim that’s unique to their group, and it can’t be tested by other groups, or others get different results, the claim is extraordinarily weak.
Using the above understanding of how science works and doesn’t work can help us know when to adjust understanding. Be observant and it’s pretty easy to identify when something is of low certainty.