1a. Introduction

Samantha Fowler; Rebecca Roush; and James Wise

Learning Objectives

After carefully reading this chapter, completing the exercises within it, and answering the questions at the end, you should be able to:

  • Describe the components of the scientific method and how to apply it
  • Explain how data are collected, interpreted, and presented.
  • Understand the difference between an observation and an interpretation, and quantitative and qualitative observations
  • Explain how science denial operates
  • Describe how figures and maps are interpreted

What exactly is science? What does the study of earth science share with other scientific disciplines? Science (from the Latin scientia, meaning “knowledge”) can be defined as knowledge about the natural world. But science is not just a collection of facts and theories, it is also a process used to gain that knowledge.

Science is a very specific way of learning, or knowing, about the world. The history of the past 500 years demonstrates that science is a very powerful way of knowing about the world; it is largely responsible for the technological revolutions that have taken place during this time. There are however, areas of knowledge and human experience that the methods of science cannot be applied to. These include such things as answering purely moral questions, aesthetic questions, or what can be generally categorized as spiritual questions. Science cannot investigate these areas because they are outside the realm of material phenomena, the phenomena of matter and energy, and cannot be observed and measured.

The scientific method is a method of research with defined steps that include experiments and careful observation. The steps of the scientific method will be examined in detail later, but one of the most important aspects of this method is the testing of hypotheses. A hypothesis is a suggested explanation for an event, which can be tested. Hypotheses, or tentative explanations, are generally produced within the context of a scientific theory. A scientific theory is a generally accepted, thoroughly tested and confirmed explanation for a set of observations or phenomena. Scientific theory is the foundation of scientific knowledge. In addition, in many scientific disciplines (less so in biology) there are scientific laws, often expressed in mathematical formulas, which describe how elements of nature will behave under certain specific conditions. There is not an evolution of hypotheses through theories to laws as if they represented some increase in certainty about the world. Hypotheses are the day-to-day material that scientists work with and they are developed within the context of theories. Laws are concise descriptions of parts of the world that are amenable to formulaic or mathematical description.


Licenses and Attributions

Concepts in Biology by Samantha Fowler, Rebecca Roush, James Wise. License: CC-BY
Adaptation: Remixing




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1a. Introduction Copyright © 2021 by Samantha Fowler; Rebecca Roush; and James Wise is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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