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An exponentially increasing volume of information is one of the characteristics of the contemporary world. One of the downsides of such an influx is a growing amount of misinformation resulting from ignorance, misinterpretation of data, and deliberate manipulation. While it is possible to address the problem by applying a scientific approach, this is rarely done, mostly due to the unpopularity of the concept of science in the popular perception. The following paper argues that the concept of science is both relevant and useful in practical terms by analyzing popular misconceptions and identifying key characteristics attributable to the topic.
Definition of Science
In order to analyze the concept of science, it is necessary to first consider its definition. While there is no single agreed-upon definition of science, several similarities can be identified. Most commonly, science is referred to as a certain body of knowledge that is organized and systematized to simplify its use whenever the necessity arises. Often (but not always) the definitions also specify the application of specific principles to the process of gaining new facts and systematizing the existing body of knowledge. Finally, some definitions clarify the nature of knowledge by suggesting that science explores the fundamental principles of existence.
These definitions also emphasize the involvement of the scientific method in the process, and this deserves a separate mention. As can be seen from the definitions, in most cases, science is treated as a database of knowledge. In some cases, it is seen as a process of expanding this database whereas only some clarify its nature and the purpose of engaging in scientific inquiry. Importantly, such an approach creates a distorted perception, leading to misconceptions about the concept of science.
One of the most widespread misconceptions is the perception of science as a rigid, immutable collection of rules and principles that inherently resists modification. The two most apparent takeaways in this instance are a reliance on historical data as the definitive authority and the alleged inability (or reluctance) of science to accept new findings and modify the worldview as a result. Both arguments are actively employed by the proponents of various scientific practices and the researchers of paranormal phenomena. The best example for this scenario can be taken from the domain of alternative medicine.
Many advocates of natural medications maintain that science does not approve the use of their remedy of choice because the healing properties involved lie beyond the scope of current scientific knowledge, and they readily point to “authority” as used to suppress any evidence in their favor. Another example is a similar argument used by believers in the paranormal who argue that “traditional science” is unable to accept fringe theories as the consequences would disrupt the established order.
While the latter assertion is certainly true, the remainder of the argument could not be further from the true concept of science. Essentially, these misconceptions treat science as a stagnating system of arbitrarily assigned authorities who are invested in the preservation of the status quo of prevailing knowledge. According to this perspective, all changes are unwelcome, and stability is the main goal of science.
This viewpoint brings up the second major misconception, which treats science as “close-minded” or unable to consider alternative explanations and hypotheses that disrupt the existing order. From this stance, science is often considered inferior to other, more “open-minded” approaches. This argument is commonly found among researchers of phenomena that allegedly cannot be explained in the light of currently available knowledge; they argue that accepting an alternative explanation would resolve the problem and provide useful data, but this outcome does not occur due to the active resistance of conservative scientists.
For instance, it is commonplace to find an online discussion of alien visitation or telepathy wherein one of the sides points to the lack of testable evidence, only to have the other side make accusations about the inability to be open-minded enough to consider something beyond the usual.
At this juncture, it is important to point out that the allegations under consideration are not entirely unsubstantiated. Science is conducted by people, and the human factor inevitably introduces an element of unreliability. It is natural for humans to lean in the direction of a preferred conclusion. To account for this flaw, people develop systems that minimize uncertainty and maximize reliability. Counterintuitively, the most perfected of those that are currently available are treated as an unfortunate barrier to ultimate knowledge.
Essential Components of Science
In order to attain the core of the concept of science, it would be reasonable to identify its principal components. The first is the ability to approach the subject critically and without preconceived notions. Essentially, this is the quality of open-mindedness that science is often accused of lacking. The reason for such a discrepancy is the human factor mentioned earlier. All individuals tend to prefer answers that correlate with their existing beliefs and values, dismissing those that conflict with their already established notions.
In other words, an open-minded process requires its proponents to abandon all wrong assumptions, including those that may be less favorable, convenient, and exciting. To ensure this kind of integrity, science offers a range of strategies and tools that eliminate both conscious and subconscious misconduct. It should also be evident that such open-mindedness is expected to exclude emotion and intuition and rely only on evidence in the process of making inquiries.
The second component involves a falsifiable hypothesis. This component is best illustrated with an example known as the sharpshooter fallacy. If an individual decides to test his or her shooting skills, the most intuitive approach is to shoot at targets and observe the result. In an alternative scenario, it is also possible to hit an object and then claim that this was the intended target or, in a more glaring example, hit a wall with a projectile and paint a circle around the impact point, claiming that the bullet has hit the exact spot identified as a target by a shooter although unknown to the audience.
Certainly, in this case, there remains the possibility that this might be an accurate representation of happenings. However, the allegation cannot be proven unless the targets are set before the shooting takes place. A less apparent but far more common example would be the approach used by investigators of paranormal phenomena such as ghosts. Commonly, the researchers collect data without formulating their goals (shooting the wall) and, after selecting the findings that seem the most convincing—and discarding those that do not, announce their success (drawing a circle around the mark). Thus, their inquiry becomes unfalsifiable and cannot be disproven using the scientific method.
Science as a Fundamental Approach
As can be seen from the information presented, the fundamental goal of science is to initiate and sustain the ongoing quest for knowledge. Since the process is known to be prone to errors, the scientific method acknowledges factors that compromise the relevance of any inquiry and constantly updates the instruments that allow researchers to avoid biases and arrive at valid conclusions. It is important to note that while it may seem that these instruments are only relevant in the academic arena, they can actually be applied in a variety of real-life scenarios. The easiest example of such use is the application of critical thinking skills to problems encountered on a daily basis. In addition to an apparent usefulness in a professional domain, a critical approach may be applicable in a variety of situations.
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For example, maintaining a critical mindset toward news presented in the media can be helpful in avoiding misinformation and differentiating between speculation, assumptions, responsible reporting, misinterpreted information, and deliberate fraud. By the same token, individual well-being in highly developed societies depends to some extent on the ability to recognize fraudulent claims in communication. Simply put, when clearly understood and appropriately applied, the scientific approach is useful in practical terms both for the individual who uses it and society in general. In addition, contrary to popular belief, science does promote open-mindedness since it allows focusing on significant information and accounts for possible biases that may undermine the value of results.
The concept of science is grossly misinterpreted in the popular perception, possibly due to the lack of an understanding of its fundamentals. It is also apparent that despite a widespread opposite belief, the essential components of science align well with the idea of open-mindedness. Thus, once misconceptions are identified and addressed, it is possible to anticipate a rise in the credibility of the concept and its increasing adoption in a real-life setting.