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Material hacked out without comment by someone with lots of edits but no user page or discussion page content:

There are many misconceptions about science that impede our country both in regard to public policy problems such as global warming and in regard to our declining competitive advantage on a global scale. Many people have become turned off to science because of over-confident pronouncements by people who claimed to be speaking as scientists or claimed to be reporting responsibly on what scientists have claimed to discover. Many people confused science with some of tools of science. They think of something being "scientific" if it involves measurements carried out to many decimal points, elaborate and expensive technologies, etc.

Science contrasts most strongly with the attitude that says, "Just believe it because I say so." Scientists sometimes appeal to authority, but if they are being responsible they will explicate: "That's the way Einstein (or whoever) had it figured out. I could be mistaken, but it's generally pretty hard to trip him up."

The key idea, the idea that most people miss, is that science can never tell when some "law" really reflects the way things work. One might start from the banks of the River Avon and examine swans for a lifetime without ever seeing one that was not white -- until taking a vacation from this task to visit Australia, where the swans are black. Science is always on tenter hooks, waiting for the results of the next test. But once reality contradicts our preconceptions we know we must come up with a new theory that takes account of the new information. So a scientific attitude is inherently one of humility. Science does not promise certainty, even though in cases that have been well researched and useed over and over again in medicine, industry, etc., it can claim a high degree of reliability within the limits of these accumulated experiences.

Beginning with elementary school, students need to be consistently guided to understand that science can eliminate mistaken ideas about how things work and that it can gradually refine experimental results. One of the most illuminating results of a good college physics lab is that experiments never quite go according to theory because of little things like the difficulty of making correct measurements, errant breezes that blow falling drops of water off target, rumbling trucks passing by outside that cause needles to jiggle and microphones to make unexpected noises. Correcting experimental errors, averaging results over many trials, etc. may all help get closer and closer to the results that theory predicts. But sometimes we get unexpected results that cannot be explained away, and a theory falls. (It is the rare physics student who is privileged to see the first instance of such an experiment.)

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This page was last modified 04:34, 20 July 2008 by dKosopedia user Patrick0Moran. Content is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.

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