Using the ‘science’ word

Most people love to use the words “science” and “scientific” when advocating their own views. And wouldn’t ya know it? Almost every time they use those words, oddly enough, their views just happen to align with “science.” Clearly, people recognize science as an authority in our culture and seek to posture as if that authority sides with them.

But when you ask people to define what they mean when they use that word, you’ll find that the word comes with all sorts of meanings.

Consider what PZ Myers writes on his blog:

I am particularly appalled that Larry’s comments contain that hoary old chestnut, “science can’t explain love,” with the bizarre claim that “No scientist that is also a decent human being subjects all her/his beliefs to scientific scrutiny.” I think otherwise. There is a naive notion implicit in that statement that scientific scrutiny is somehow different from critical, rational examination. I’d argue the other way: no decent human being should live an unexamined life.

Pay attention to the part I have highlighted. Is Myers equating scientific scrutiny with a critical, rational examination? It looks that way to me. And if so, he is wrong.

Remember folks, just because all crows are black does not mean anything that is black is a crow. In the same sense, just because scientific scrutiny entails a critical, rational examination does not mean any critical, rational examination is science. If we insisted that science = a critical, rational examination, then only scientists are capable of critical, rational examination (since only scientists do science) or we are all scientists. And both of those positions are ridiculous.

The fact is that we can and do engage in critical, rational examination outside of science. It’s called critical thinking. So if you mean critical thinking, write or say ‘critical thinking.’ Admittedly, it doesn’t have the cultural and rhetorical weight as the word ‘science,’ but it would be more accurate and less likely to create needless confusion.

“No decent human being should live an unexamined life.” If Myers thinks he has examined his life with science, then where are his hypotheses? The experiments? The measurements? The data? The models? The peer-reviewed publications? These are not superfluous elements of science, that can he jettisoned so someone can practice a private science. These are essential elements of science. And unless Myers can produce his hypotheses, experiments, and data about his life, for scrutiny by the scientific community, his self-examination may surely be valuable and worthy, but it is neither science nor scientific scrutiny.

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One response to “Using the ‘science’ word

  1. PZ:

    There is a naive notion implicit in that statement that scientific scrutiny is somehow different from critical, rational examination.

    Do you think it is somehow different, Mike?

    And no not only scientists can do science- unless you classify all those doing science as scientists.

    But then what is doing science?

    The 2004 Encyclopedia Britannica says science is “any system of knowledge that is concerned with the physical world and its phenomena and that entails unbiased observations and systematic experimentation. In general, a science involves a pursuit of knowledge covering general truths or the operations of fundamental laws.”

    “A healthy science is a science that seeks the truth.” Paul Nelson, Ph. D., philosophy of biology.

    Linus Pauling, winner of 2 Nobel prizes wrote, “Science is the search for the truth.”

    “But science can only be created by those who are thoroughly imbued with the aspiration toward truth and understanding.” Albert Einstein

    The truth need not be an absolute truth. Truth in the sense that Drs. Pauling, Einstein & Nelson are speaking is the reality in which we find ourselves. We exist. Science is to help us understand that existence and how it came to be.

    As I like to say- science is our search for the truth, i.e. the reality, to our existence via our never-ending quest for knowledge.

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