Science is a varied and dynamic issue and term, within it there is a sense of many definitions and variations on a theme of mans' unique ability to reason in a manner that is at least limitedly influenced by emotion. The term "science" means many things to many people and different things to nearly everyone, with the general undercurrent that "science" is a respectable inquiry-based process of human discovery.
The history of science is relatively infinite, beginning with the very first human question about how things, the world, the universe and society works yet what we think of as Science today is directly associated with the development of naturalism and its emphasis on observational standards for the discovery of the truths about nature and life. From the naturalist movement came the development of a "scientific method" which is defined variously but generally means a developed and accepted set of inquiries that together through a staged process determine answers to valuable questions about life. From the naturalist movement humanity has inherited a basic idea that most if not all questions can be answered by inquiry derived in part from the scientific method.
The scientific method is one of the most powerful of all the approaches yet devised for obtaining answers to questions. It has been used successfully to answer such questions as these: What is the function of blood in the human body? What is the cause of tuberculosis? How can polio be prevented? How can messages be sent over great distances? How can objects be placed in orbit around the Earth? How can atomic energy be controlled so as to serve man's purposes?
The scientific method is defined and applied variously by different disciplines, given the needed emphasis of any given inquiry, but it is also a relatively well defiend genral concept that includes a stepped process of investigation. The general stages of scientific inquiry include:
The problem is formulated. A clear-cut problem or question related to the felt need is identified and carefully stated.
Hypotheses are formulated. Possible solutions to the problem or suggested explanations are formulated. They may be based on hunches, guesses, a theory, or on other sources of ideas for possible solutions.
Data are collected. Information is collected that is related to the hypotheses formulated in the previous phase.
Conclusions are drawn. The data are analyzed in relation to the hypotheses in order to draw conclusions about the best solution, technique, or explanation.
The conclusions are analyzed. The solution is evaluated in the light of expectations about future needs.
These 6 steps then create the basis for the scientific method of inquiry and each and every hypothesis is investigated in this manner to create cumulative ideas regarding the scientific theory or law, depending on the area of inquiry and the discipline in question. Again within science there is terminology which is variously defined but can still be generally understood by anyone with interest in it. Two concepts used in the previous statement are included in this statement, scientific theory and scientific law.
The relationship between scientific laws and scientific theories is complex in that the terms tend to create a relatively confusing set of understandings between discipline specific scientists and the general population. In many ways the two terms mean almost the same thing, and neither is better or worse than the other on any sort of hierarchy. In general scientific theory is a determination or complex set of determinations developed through scientific method and reasoning that has tested one or many hypothesis via the scientific method and then is thought of as accepted at the time it is developed.
Where a scientific law is an empirical generalization based upon again tested hypothesis and data and relatively accepted by the discipline specific scientific community. Both scientific theory and law, by the very nature of science are not considered the end of any given understanding as both are tested via further hypothesis and can be added to or proven wrong or divergent at any given time if there is enough evidence to do so. (Matson NP)
Some scientists will tell you that the difference between them is that a law describes what nature does under certain conditions, and will predict what will happen as long as those conditions are met. A theory explains how nature works. Others delineate law and theory based on mathematics -- Laws are often times mathematically defined (once again, a description of how nature behaves) whereas theories are often non-mathematical. Looking at things this was helps to explain, in part, why physics and chemistry have lots of "laws" whereas biology has few laws (and more theories). In biology, it is very difficult to describe all the complexities of life with "simple" (relatively speaking!) mathematical terms. (Matson NP)
Scientific laws and theories are equally important but as has been stated in the previous message there is no hierarchy of the two and each is not considered an end to an inquiry, as each like all other aspects of science is up for investigation from any different angle as the cumulative nature of science offers evidence or data that supports a detraction from either a scientific theory or a scientific law.
Another line of interest in terminology associated with science is the difference between deductive and inductive reasoning, which again are not developed or placed on a hierarchy but are simply differing ways of inquiry that are often dependant upon the data that currently exists on any given point of scientific knowledge and can also be determined by the preference of the particular branch of science or preference of the researcher conducting inquiry.
In general Deductive reasoning in works from the top-down beginning with the more general claims of a hypothesis or question and then moves toward the more specific issues and/or questions of a theory. While inductive reasoning is the opposite, working from the bottom up, starting from very specific observations and/or measures and moving toward more general conclusions and/or theories. (Trochim 346, 348) Each is a valid and useful form of reasoning and researchers often seek to understand an inquiry from both angles, though again the type of inquiry depends on the available data that the line of inquiry begins with.
Several other terms that often confuse those interested in science or in understanding how it is defined and developed are variables, controls and correlation. Variables are relatively simple to define and come in two general areas of use; dependant and independent. A independent variable is the aspect of inquiry in a scientific research endeavor that the researcher manipulates, for example the intervention that is being tested is often the independent variable.
A dependant variable is what is affected by the independent variable but is not manipulated by the researcher, it is in other words the outcome of the research, and often that which is analyzed. An example of the dependant variable would be the results of an exit survey, where the intervention of learning process is the independent variable and the data derived from an exit survey is the affect of the independent variable. A control on the other hand is a test comparison where in most cases the same exit survey or test is taken but without the benefit of the independent variable intervention.
A control might be a group that has no intervention but is later used as a comparison between different teaching methods or intervention methods. In a drug study for instance the control group is the group that is given a placebo drug and then tested in all the same ways that the group given the active drug is tested. The dependant variable in the process being the outcome data, or lab or symptom reports given by both groups, in other words it is an inevitable outcome regardless of intervention. Correlation is then the number or data that describes the relationship between variables if they do or do not show significant dependency on one another to determine the outcome.
High correlation is shown when say there is a significant statistical difference between the group given the independent variable (the drug) and the dependant variable the (the symptom or lab outcome) and the group given the placebo. Low correlation is said to be present when there is little statistically significant difference between the dependant variables in the two groups, in other words when the data for both the control and test groups are similar and no reason is given to believe that the independent variable intervention is no more or less effective than the placebo for the purpose it is being tested.
One thought that comes to mind when the question of biology topics that are misunderstood as a result of correlation assumptions instead of underlying probable causes is the recent immunization,…