I worry about the bad press science regularly gets. It seems to me, from some of the crap that’s written and said, that many folk have no idea what science is. Please allow me to set the record straight.
Science is a tool kit; a method of enquiry. We ALL use it.
For example: imagine you decide to make a cuppa. You fill the kettle, switch it on, and nothing happens. What would you do next? You might pray for divine intervention or wonder why you had been so cursed. But I think both of these are unlikely. I’m guessing your actions would go something like:
1. Fiddle with the switch, to see if there was a dodgy connection.
2. Try plugging into a different socket, to see if the socket was the source of the problem.
3. Try plugging another (known to be working) appliance into the original socket, reason as #2.
4. Either swap the plug fuse or use another lead, to test for a blown fuse.
5. If still nothing, conclude that it’s probably a burnt out heating element.
6. Buy a new kettle.
The above process is science. Sure, the activities usually labeled so are often a lot more elaborate. Uncovering why a particular neuron fires is more challenging than kettle failure and the experiment design reflects that. But the logical process is essentially the same. We try to reduce the variables, measure the results of minimal variation, and then construct a theory of that could explain those results.
One word in the last sentence is key: “theory”. Science is about explaining how things could work. We put together explanations that fit the facts or data that we have. But nothing is ever “cast in stone”. SCIENCE IS NOT ABOUT PROOF. Just as the above example, burnt out element is not the only possible explanation that fits the facts. It could be a broken cable or a loose connection in the handle or any number of other things, all of which are testable, given the time, tools and electrical competence.
Folk like to use “scientific proof” but it is an oxymoron: there is no such thing. I wince whenever I hear it. And please don’t bother to tell me that (some) scientists use the phrase: I know. I can only say they should be ashamed of themselves.