Concept of Science (by Eugenie Scott)

Activity 1.1 Watch the following video dealing with the concept of science and other basic concepts of the academic writing process.

Could you achieve any conclusion? Do you think that we speak about Science and are referring exclusively to disciplines such as biology or medicine? Could History of art or Literature be considered as well as a science?


21 thoughts on “Concept of Science (by Eugenie Scott)

  1. Juan Carlos Araujo Portugal March 29, 2013 — 5:35 pm

    Science tries to help us understand the world around us by means of theories. If they are proved to be wrong, they are replaced by new ones. These theories are based on facts, which are always there, but their interpretation may change over the time in the light of different experiments and tests. In this sense, I think that history of art or literature cannot be considered sciences in the same way, as they cannot be tested. You can only speculate about the purpose, sources, materials, etc. the artist or author used, had in mind, etc. But unless they are still alive, you cannot confirm whether you are right.

  2. My main conclusion from the video is that essentially science is a way of testing theories that we have. New theories are come up with constantly, but these theories are tested through scientific methods, and if they are not proven they are discarded and replaced by new ones which in turn are tested. This is a continuing cycle.
    I think that generally, in society, we do speak about science exclusively to talk about scientific fields such as biology, chemistry and medicine, however, I think that the video is trying to convey a much wider use of this term. Therefore if we take into account what is said by Eugenie Scott, I believe that to some extent History of art or literature can be considered a science, because we do have theories about different aspects of these subjects and as students or members of society, it is our task to prove, back up or disprove our theories, by using any information, facts and hypotheses that are available to us.

  3. Andrés Rodríguez Belmar April 14, 2013 — 10:18 pm

    Brief summary of video contents:
    • Science: a way of understanding of the natural world by testing explanations against the natural world.
    • Fact: confirmed observations. By themselves, facts don’t explain anything.
    • Hypothesis: testable statement. Help build theories
    • Theory: explanations, most important. Theories explain laws also.
    • Laws: Descriptive generalizations. They can be broken -> exceptions.
    My comment:
    I’m familiar with this type of introduction to science and the scientific method. I studied Telecommunications Engineering at UPC, Economics at UNED and Political Science at UNED and UOC. Several subjects in all these studies had an introductory chapter on science and the scientific method applied to each of the disciplines. I would say that with some of those sciences the problem arises regarding the type of facts and the possibility to test explanations against the natural world. In Political Science or even in Economics it is not always feasible to do an experiment in order to test a hypothesis. Therefore, sometimes we find more theories than laws in those sciences. Or maybe just a set of observations that perhaps in the future will help other scientists to develop theories and laws. But the method is a scientific deductive method, and the final aim of those disciplines is to build scientific knowledge.

    1. Wow… I see that you don’t have any problem at all to understand the concept of “Science”.

  4. Although I find the interview in general very weak and the interviewee’s responses too simple, I think she manages to make clear that the general conception of the term “science” does not match with what science really is.
    As for the question of whether humanities can be considered science o not, my answer requires another distinction: scientific method vs. non-scientific method. In any field, there are phenomena that can be analyzed scientifically, just as any “natural” phenomenon can be approached from a non-scientific point of view.
    Science, in turn, is both the use of such method and the knowledge obtained from it.

    1. Thanks for commenting the point of the method. Try to think about this when reading EST texts.

  5. Cristina Da Silva Nicolau April 23, 2013 — 1:43 pm

    Activity 2.1 Watch the following video dealing with the concept of science and other basic concepts of the academic writing process:
    A) Could you achieve any conclusion?
    I think that the most important information here is the distinction between science and other disciplines. The speaker explains that terms that are “use[d] in science are used very specifically (…) as terms of art but they have very different meanings on the street”, and as an example, she states that a ‘fact’ is a confirmed observation, a “hypothesis is a testable statement (…) that helps us to build theories (…) that are the most important thing in science” to get ‘explanations’ of a phenomenon “that become[s] a law”, a descriptive generalization. She also explains that general disciplines put facts on top of laws, then hypothesis and finally theories, and that science does the reverse: it puts on top theories, then laws, hypothesis and finally facts.
    B) Do you think that we speak about science?
    The speaker starts with a general definition of science as “a way of understanding the natural world by testing the explanations against the natural world” and explains that the methods of science are “the best way of knowing that we human beings have come up with for understanding the natural world”, so yes, the video deals with science.
    C) Do you think that we refer exclusively to disciplines such as biology or medicine?
    The speaker says that “the methods of science are (…) the methods of any kind of critical thinking, you would probably use them in history or (…) some other areas where testing of ideas is very important”, so she does not refer exclusively to scientific disciplines.
    D) Could History of art or Literature be considered as a science?
    If we take the speaker’s definition of science as “a way of understanding the natural world” I would say yes. History of art and Literature describe some areas of the natural world and permit to observe facts and make hypothesis, as well as establish theories or articulate laws.

  6. Eugenie Scott’s definition of science leaves no room for doubts. Basically science involves a good understanding of the natural world, where everything happens for a reason. I believe that her concept of science can only be applied to those disciplines traditionally considered scientific, such as mathematics, biology, medicine, physics, chemistry,etc.
    Although the disciplines that belong to the global group of humanities, use as well some kind of methodology in their process of development, it cannot be compared to the methods used in scientific specialities, therefore, I do not think that we could call Literature or history of Art, science. When dealing with humanities we are not trying to test and prove anything against the natural world to try to produce an explanation, as we are when dealing with biology, for example.
    In science it is all about closure and getting to the end of things. In humanities, questions are left open for everyone to find their personal answer.

    1. I don’t understand this sentence:

      “In science it is all about closure and getting to the end of things”

      1. What I mean is that scientists tried to reach conclusions with not much room for doubt. The theories that Scott mentions have to be grounded on proven facts. The scientist that completes a whole process in any investigation line aims at producing truthful statements. In Humanities, the works resulting in any discipline are always subjective, and their interpretation will change with the receiver of the information.

  7. Tomás Costal Criado March 16, 2014 — 6:17 pm

    The OED, in its Shorter Edition, defines ‘science’ (4a) as: ‘The kind of organized knowledge or intellectual activity of which the various branches of learning are examples. Now usu. spec., the intellectual and practical activity encompassing those branches of study that apply objective scientific method to the phenomena of the physical universe (the natural sciences), and the knowledge so gained; scientific doctrine or investigation; the collective understanding of scientists’.
    From the previous definition we may conclude that there are certain branches of knowledge that fit the definition better than others. In fact, the natural sciences are explicitly mentioned, which, in turn, renders them in some way more ‘scientific’ than, for instance, literature or history.
    Eugenie Scott states that as long as ideas are ‘tested’, the knowledge obtained will be scientific. Thus, the ‘scientific’ character of one’s research very much depends on the possibility of falsifying the knowledge obtained thereof. If something is presented as irrefutable, then it will never be scientific. Scott provides her own definition of ‘science’ as: ‘a way of understanding the natural world by testing explanations against the natural world’. Once again, there are certain branches of knowledge which would be left aside, as their testing against the natural world may indeed be complex -we only have to think about pure philosophy or experimental writing, to give just two extreme examples.

  8. Paul López de Munain March 31, 2014 — 9:36 pm

    Eugene Scott is only referring to the natural world, but in my opinion, though the disciplines we refer to as “humanities” are more subjective and not as tangible as the ones related to this natural world, to a great extent, the methodological stance of the former may perfectly be applicable to the latter. It goes without saying that each discipline has its own specificity, but there are two concepts regarding scientific method that are essential to the study of any “humanity” such as History or Literature. These are “critical thinking” and “testing”. I’ve always been suspicious of any fact, theory or law that is presented as an unquestionable truth in itself.
    there’s a concept that she mentions which is crucial that is that of “critical thinking”

  9. Science is a way of gaining knowledge,it is a back-up for all the questions made about the natural world, for explaining these phenomena.Science provides a testing process for understanding the natural world, that needs to be fulfil in order to be considered feasible.I believe we could also speak of Science in History or Art as methods of Science are also methods of any kind of critical thinking.

  10. Having watched the video, I would say that History of Art is not a type of science because it does not aim to understand the natural world (which is the main focus of science). History of Art it is based on facts, on past events. However, some methods are used in both kind of disciplines: for instance, the inductive and deductive method which is also used in linguistics. In linguistics, empirical study of “real life” language is performed with the help of corpora and tools such as “wordsmith”. Scientific questions are answered by making observations and doing experiments.. kind regards, RalfBcn

  11. Scott is clear on her definition. “science is a way of understanding the natural world by testing explanations against the natural world”. So, what is science? We should have in mind two facts:
    1. Nature is opposite to art because art has been created by man (according to Seneca, “all art is but imitation of nature”). We cannot create an animal, a plant or the forces of magnetism, but we can create a piece of literature. Literature would not be science, however. linguistics (the study of those abilities that enble us to use language) are in nature and are not controlled by human volition (you can control what you say, but not the laws that govern phonation).
    2. If science must be tested, how can we test a painting or a novel? The results would always be subjective. However, linguistics can be tested, so they are part of science.

  12. Raúl Esteban May 9, 2014 — 4:13 pm

    I think the Word “Science” has several definitions. One of them corresponds with sciences like biology or medicine, but other one refers to the general knowledge about a certain topic. Therefore History of Art and Literature would be considered as sciences.

    Besides, I believe that these areas can be considered like this because it is possible to formulate all kinds of theories about works like paintings, poems, and so on, but theories opener than the rest of fields because it is not about demonstrating scientific facts, but different forms of interpreting art.

    A) The main idea is that Science is a way of understanding the natural World by testing the explanations against the natural World, no matter what area it refers, the considered as purely scientific or the humanities ones. We may say as well that the scientific terms can be very ambiguous because they have different meanings in the street.

    B) Yes, I think so, because the speaker begins explaining what it is and affirming that the scientific method is the best way of knowing as well as of understanding the natural world.

    C) I do not think so. The speaker says that it is possible to use the scientific methods in areas like History or Literature.

    D) I answered it before. It is possible to formulate all kinds of theories about works like paintings and poems, because these fields describe areas of the natural world as well.

  13. Having watched the video, my conclusion is that the lecturer has not doubts about what is science about, and to what extent the concept and the scientific method can be used to understand the natural world. Of course, this natural world can comprehend any disciplines, such as biology, medicine, or even, history or literature, as far as they all are disciplines that apply to a critical thinking to evolve.
    She also explains to us the specificity of the terminology in the field of science, where words like Fact, Law, Hypothesis and Theory, have got a different meaning and priority order to the one accepted by the general public. For instance, laws in science are just “descriptive generalizations”, and can be broken; while in real life ,for the general public, laws are mandatory rules and its breaking-off is a reason to be prosecuted.

  14. According to the general definition of science, science is a group of knowledges. These can be related to any kind of disciplines: biology, mathematics, medicine, history, art. These disciplines help us understand the natural world. They explain how our world has been configurated from different perspectives. For example, biology explains the living beings evolution while History explains how the events perpetuated by human have affected the world. So, every discipline gives an explanation why our world is as it is.

  15. The humanities may partially resemble scientific thinking in that we can make hypothesis, test them, establish laws and find good evidence for theories. However, it seems to me that the “facts” are a problem. The speaker dismisses them as a dime a dozen in science, but how many hard and cold facts can you find in the humanities where everything is subject to interpretation?

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