RE: definition of science

From: Alexanian, Moorad <>
Date: Tue Apr 26 2005 - 11:50:38 EDT

Let us not forget the experimental science component of historical sciences. There is no way a paleontologist can predict where a particular organism belongs without quantitative work indicating the dates of rocks. Of course, dating relies on the notion of time, which is clearly quantitative.


From: Don Winterstein []
Sent: Mon 4/25/2005 6:58 AM
To: asa; Alexanian, Moorad
Subject: Re: definition of science

Moorad wrote:
"It is the goal of scientists to "mathematisize" as much as possible their discipline following the successful examples in the physical sciences."
Math models may be appropriate if the subject matter is numerically quantifiable, but not all subject matter is. To force math models onto subject matter that doesn't lend itself to quantitative description would be pretentious (and foolish).
Science without math can often make precise and valuable predictions. An important example I've mentioned before: Paleontologists predict that fossils of an organism will never be found in rocks more ancient than that kind of organism. From time to time predictions of this sort have proved false, because it was not known at the time how ancient the given kind of organism was; but that's just how science progresses. This prediction may seem trivial, but in fact it can be useful for dating rocks.

        ----- Original Message -----
        From: Alexanian, Moorad <>
        To: Terry M. Gray <> ;
        Sent: Sunday, April 24, 2005 10:14 AM
        Subject: RE: definition of science

        Historical sciences are sciences since they use findings from experimental sciences to setup forensic-science-type scenarios.
        It is the goal of scientists to "mathematisize" as much as possible their disciple following the successful examples in the physical sciences. Of course, complex systems may not be amenable to such treatments. However, even weather prediction, a complex system is based on computer simulations.
        If science is defined as "simply systematized knowledge and systematic increase of that knowledge," then everything is science. I believe is best to define science via its subject matter.
        I am sure there are examples of "scientific predictions," say common descent, that some find objectionable and, even, unscientific. Such type of predictions is uncommon in the experimental, physical sciences.
        From: on behalf of Terry M. Gray
        Sent: Sun 4/24/2005 10:37 AM
        Subject: RE: definition of science
        Ultimate origins is not a scientific question. History of the
        universe (cosmology, earth history, evolution, etc.) is. Why not?
        Over and over again you seem to imply that it has to be mathematical
        in order to be scientific. That seems way too limiting and excludes a
        lot of chemistry, biology, biochemistry, etc. from being science
        since a vast part of those sciences involves "mere" observation and
        description (aka pejoratively as "stamp collecting").
        Some would even argue that science is simply systematized knowledge
        and systematic increase of that knowledge. Personally, I'm
        sympathetic with that leaning. So we can distinguish between natural
        science, social science, military science, agricultural science,
        economic science, even literary science and theological science, but
        they are all "scientific". Any disciplined approach to a discipline
        (funny how those words work like that) has scientific aspects to it.
        Also, what's the problem with "prediction"? We're not talking about
        prophesying here. Isn't prediction in the sense we're talking about
        just hypothesis testing? We develop an hypothesis (or explanation)
        that suggests something that hasn't yet been observed (that
        suggestion is the prediction). Then we do an experiment or go make a
        new field observation to see if it's there or not. If it's not, we
        adjust our hypothesis to incorporate the new observations. This is
        just old-fashioned Baconian science.
>Is the question of origins a scientific question? What role does
>mathematics play in your definition? In addition, can we limit
>science to explanations and forget about predictions?
>From: on behalf of Keith Miller
>Sent: Sat 4/23/2005 10:10 PM
>Subject: Re: definition of science
>Robert Schneider wrote:
>> Keith,
>> Having enjoyed Michael's ironic elimination of geology and
>> evolutionary biology from "true science," I should like you to follow
>> up with an elaboration of your definition of science, below. Since
>> you are a geologist yourself, how do you integrate the historical
>> sciences into your definition of "science"?
>> Bob Schneider
>My definition is below:
>"Science is the human endeavor to understand how the physical universe
>works by constructing testable cause-and-effect natural explanations of
>events and processes based on observations of the physical world."
>This describes geological science as well as chemistry. As I have
>argued several times on this forum and elsewhere, hypotheses in the
>historical sciences are fully testable. What I do as a geologist is
>continual hypothesis testing. Every new observation is a test of
>expectations based on previous observations and theoretical
>understanding. Hypothesis are accepted, modified or rejected based on
>new observations (equivalent to new experimental trials).
>Keith B. Miller
>Research Assistant Professor
>Dept of Geology, Kansas State University
>Manhattan, KS 66506-3201
        Terry M. Gray, Ph.D., Computer Support Scientist
        Chemistry Department, Colorado State University
        Fort Collins, Colorado 80523
        phone: 970-491-7003 fax: 970-491-1801
Received on Tue Apr 26 11:54:36 2005

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Tue Apr 26 2005 - 11:54:37 EDT