ERIC Number: ED501349
Record Type: Non-Journal
Publication Date: 2004
Error and the Nature of Science
American Institute of Biological Sciences
Understanding the nature of science, especially how scientists err, is an essential tool for: (1) assessing the reliability and scope of scientific claims; (2) perceiving the scope of these claims; and (3) making personal and public decisions. What features of the nature of the science are most important to know? Recent consensus highlights the following: (1) Scientists think critically about claims. Empirical evidence is their ultimate standard; (2) Scientists use a variety of methods: hypothesis, for instance, as well as analogy and induction. Some collect observations; others creatively recognize patterns in data. Imagination, logical reasoning, chance, and interdisciplinary thinking can all be important; (3) Observation is sometimes enhanced by quantitative measurement, by comparison--especially with controls that isolate the effect of individual variables or help distinguish correlation from causation--and by graphical representation and statistical analysis summarizing patterns in the data and the chances for error; (4) Data does not speak for itself. Rather, scientists interpret findings, and sometimes those interpretations are biased by theoretical or cultural perspectives; (5) Scientific claims vary in their level of certainty. No method guarantees answers or absolute certainty, yet multiple lines of evidence help reinforce many claims. Even important problems may remain unresolved. In some cases, scientists may justifiably disagree; (6) Science is a human enterprise. Some scientists are motivated by curiosity or a passion to solve problems, others by profit or ambition. Some collaborate; others compete: (7) Knowledge develops historically. Sometimes concepts change dramatically; (8) Science resolves only problems of fact, not values. Nonetheless, the practice of science and its results have moral dimensions; and (9) Science generally aims to map and explain the world. Technology differs in that it aims to adapt that understanding of the world.
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Publication Type: Reports - Evaluative
Education Level: N/A
Authoring Institution: American Inst. of Biological Sciences, Washington, DC.