Of all the scientific terms or concepts that ought to be more widely known, in order to inspire and expand science-minded thinking in the general culture, perhaps none are more important than “science” itself.
Many people, even many scientists, harbour a narrow view of science, – as controlled, replicated experiments performed in a laboratory and consisting quintessentially of physics, chemistry, and molecular biology. The essence of science however, is best conveyed by is Latin etymology: scientia, meaning “knowledge.”
The scientific method is simply that body of practices best suited for obtaining reliable knowledge. The practices vary among fields: the controlled laboratory experiment is possible in molecular biology, physics and chemistry, but it is either impossible, immoral, or illegal in other fields customarily considered scientific, including all of the historical sciences: astronomy, epidemiology, evolutionary biology, most of the Earth sciences, and paleontology. If the scientific method can be defined as those practices best suited for obtaining knowledge in a particular field, then science itself is simply the body of knowledge obtained by those practices.
Science, that is, reliable methods for obtaining knowledge, is an essential part of psychology and the social sciences too, – especially economics, geography, history, and political science. Along with the road observation-based and statistical methods of the historical sciences, detailed techniques of such conventional sciences as chemistry and genetics are proving essential for tackling problems in the social sciences, Science, then, is the reliable acquisition of knowledge about anything, whether it be the vagaries of human nature, the role of great figures in history, or the origin of life itself.
It is in this spirit of scientia that Edge, on the occasion of its 20th anniversary, is pleased to present the Edge Annual Question for 2017
What scientific term or concept ought to be more widely known?