Science (from the Latin scientia, 'knowledge'), in the broadest sense, refers to any systematic knowledge or practice.[1] In a more restricted sense, science refers to a system of acquiring knowledge based on the scientific method, as well as to the organized body of knowledge gained through such research.[2][3] This article focuses on the more restricted use of the word.

Fields of science are commonly classified along two major lines:

  • Natural sciences, which study natural phenomena (including biological life), and
  • Social sciences, which study human behavior and societies.

These groupings are empirical sciences, which means the knowledge must be based on observable phenomena and capable of being experimented for its validity by other researchers working under the same conditions.[4]

Mathematics, which is sometimes classified within a third group of science called formal science, has both similarities and differences with the natural and social sciences.[3] It is similar to empirical sciences in that it involves an objective, careful and systematic study of an area of knowledge; it is different because of its method of verifying its knowledge, using a priori rather than empirical methods.[5] Formal science, which also includes statistics and logic, is vital to the empirical sciences. Major advances in formal science have often led to major advances in the physical and biological sciences. The formal sciences are essential in the formation of hypotheses, theories, and laws,[6] both in discovering and describing how things work (natural sciences) and how people think and act (social sciences).

Science as discussed in this article is sometimes termed experimental science to differentiate it from applied science, which is the application of scientific research to specific human needs, though the two are often interconnected.



The word science comes through the Old French, and is derived from the Latin word scientia for knowledge, which in turn comes from scio, "I know". The Proto-Indo-European (PIE) root that yields scio is *skei-, and it means "cut, separate, or discern". Other words from the same root include Sanskrit chyati, "he cuts off", Greek schizo, "I split" (hence English schism, schizophrenia), Latin scindo, "I split" (hence English rescind).[7] From the Middle Ages to the Enlightenment, science or scientia meant any systematic recorded knowledge.[8] Science therefore had the same sort of very broad meaning that philosophy had at that time. In other languages, including French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian, the word corresponding to science also carries this meaning.

From classical times until the advent of the modern era, "philosophy" was roughly divided into natural philosophy and moral philosophy. In the 1800s, the term natural philosophy gradually gave way to the term natural science. Natural science was gradually specialized to its current domain, which typically includes the physical sciences and biological sciences. The social sciences, inheriting portions of the realm of moral philosophy, are currently also included under the auspices of science to the extent that these disciplines use empirical methods. As currently understood, moral philosophy still retains the study of ethics, regarded as a branch of philosophy.

Today, the primary meaning of "science" is generally limited to empirical science involving use of the scientific method.[9] Examples of the broader use include political science and computer science, which are named according to an older and more general use of the word "science".


Scientific method

The Bohr model of the atom, like many ideas in the history of science, was at first prompted by and later partially disproved by experiment.
The Bohr model of the atom, like many ideas in the history of science, was at first prompted by and later partially disproved by experiment.

The scientific method seeks to explain the events of nature in a reproducible way, and to use these reproductions to make useful predictions. It is done through observation of natural phenomena, and/or through experimentation that tries to simulate natural events under controlled conditions. It provides an objective process to find solutions to problems in a number of scientific and technological fields. Often scientists have a preference for one outcome over another, and scientists are conscientious that it is important that this preference does not bias their interpretation. A strict following of the scientific method attempts to minimize the influence of a scientist's bias on the outcome of an experiment. This can be achieved by correct experimental design, and a thorough peer review of the experimental results as well as conclusions of a study. In summary Science=Logic+Observation

Scientists use models to refer to a description or depiction of something, specifically one which can be used to make predictions that can be tested by experiment or observation. A hypothesis is a contention that has been neither well supported nor yet ruled out by experiment. A theory, in the context of science, is a logically self-consistent model or framework for describing the behavior of certain natural phenomena. A theory typically describes the behavior of much broader sets of phenomena than a hypothesis—commonly, a large number of hypotheses may be logically bound together by a single theory. A physical law or law of nature is a scientific generalization based on a sufficiently large number of empirical observations that it is taken as fully verified.

Scientists never claim absolute knowledge of nature or the behavior of the subject of the field of study. Unlike a mathematical proof, a scientific theory is empirical, and is always open to falsification, if new evidence is presented. Even the most basic and fundamental theories may turn out to be imperfect if new observations are inconsistent with them. Critical to this process is making every relevant aspect of research publicly available, which permits peer review of published results, and also allows ongoing review and repeating of experiments and observations by multiple researchers operating independently of one another. Only by fulfilling these expectations can it be determined how reliable the experimental results are for potential use by others.

Isaac Newton's Newtonian law of gravitation is a famous example of an established law that was later found not to be universal—it does not hold in experiments involving motion at speeds close to the speed of light or in close proximity of strong gravitational fields. Outside these conditions, Newton's Laws remain an excellent model of motion and gravity. Since general relativity accounts for all the same phenomena that Newton's Laws do and more, general relativity is now regarded as a more comprehensive theory.

Karl Popper denied the existence of evidence[10] and of scientific method.[11] Popper holds that there is only one universal method, the negative method of trial and error. It covers not only all products of the human mind, including science, mathematics, philosophy, art and so on, but also the evolution of life.[12]


Philosophy of science

The philosophy of science seeks to understand the nature and justification of scientific knowledge and its ethical implications. It has proven difficult to provide a definitive account of the scientific method that can decisively serve to distinguish science from non-science. Thus there are legitimate arguments about exactly where the borders are. There is nonetheless a set of core precepts that have broad consensus among published philosophers of science and within the scientific community at large. (see: Problem of demarcation)

Science is reasoned-based analysis of sensation upon our awareness. As such, the scientific method cannot deduce anything about the realm of reality that is beyond what is observable by existing or theoretical means. When a manifestation of our reality previously considered supernatural is understood in the terms of causes and consequences, it acquires a scientific explanation.

Resting on reason and logic, along with other guidelines such as parsimony, scientific theories are formulated and repeatedly tested by analyzing how the collected evidence compares to the theory. Some of the findings of science can be very counter-intuitive. Atomic theory, for example, implies that a granite boulder which appears a heavy, hard, solid, grey object is actually a combination of subatomic particles with none of these properties, moving very rapidly in space where the mass is concentrated in a very small fraction of the total volume. Many of humanity's preconceived notions about the workings of the universe have been challenged by new scientific discoveries. Quantum mechanics, particularly, examines phenomena that seem to defy our most basic postulates about causality and fundamental understanding of the world around us. Science is the branch of knowledge dealing with people and the understanding we have of our environment and how it works.

There are different schools of thought in the philosophy of scientific method. Methodological naturalism maintains that scientific investigation must adhere to empirical study and independent verification as a process for properly developing and evaluating natural explanations for observable phenomena. Methodological naturalism, therefore, rejects supernatural explanations, arguments from authority and biased observational studies. Critical rationalism instead holds that unbiased observation is not possible and a demarcation between natural and supernatural explanations is arbitrary; it instead proposes falsifiability as the landmark of empirical theories and falsification as the universal empirical method. Critical rationalism argues for the ability of science to increase the scope of testable knowledge, but at the same time against its authority, by emphasizing its inherent fallibility. It proposes that science should be content with the rational elimination of errors in its theories, not in seeking for their verification (such as claiming certain or probable proof or disproof; both the proposal and falsification of a theory are only of methodological, conjectural, and tentative character in critical rationalism). Instrumentalism rejects the concept of truth and emphasizes merely the utility of theories as instruments for explaining and predicting phenomena.


Mathematics and the scientific method

Velocity-distribution data of a gas of rubidium atoms, confirming the discovery of a new phase of matter, the Bose–Einstein condensate.
Velocity-distribution data of a gas of rubidium atoms, confirming the discovery of a new phase of matter, the Bose–Einstein condensate.

Mathematics is essential to many sciences. One important function of mathematics in science is the role it plays in the expression of scientific models. Observing and collecting measurements, as well as hypothesizing and predicting, often require mathematical models and extensive use of mathematics. Mathematical branches most often used in science include calculus and statistics, although virtually every branch of mathematics has applications, even "pure" areas such as number theory and topology. Mathematics is fundamental to the understanding of the natural sciences and the social sciences, all of which rely heavily on statistics. Statistical methods, comprised of accepted mathematical formulas for summarizing data, allow scientists to assess the level of reliability and the range of variation in experimental results.

Whether mathematics itself is properly classified as science has been a matter of some debate. Some thinkers see mathematicians as scientists, regarding physical experiments as inessential or mathematical proofs as equivalent to experiments. Others do not see mathematics as a science, since it does not require experimental test of its theories and hypotheses. In practice, mathematical theorems and formulas are obtained by logical derivations which presume axiomatic systems, rather than a combination of empirical observation and method of reasoning that has come to be known as scientific method. In general, mathematics is classified as formal science, while natural and social sciences are classified as empirical sciences.


Scientific literature

An enormous range of scientific literature is published. Scientific journals communicate and document the results of research carried out in universities and various other research institutions.

Most scientific journals cover a single scientific field and publish the research within that field; the research is normally expressed in the form of a scientific paper. Science has become so pervasive in modern societies that it is generally considered necessary to communicate the achievements, news, and ambitions of scientists to a wider populace.

Science magazines such as New Scientist and Scientific American cater to the needs of a much wider readership and provide a non-technical summary of popular areas of research, including notable discoveries and advances in certain fields of research. Science books engage the interest of many more people.

Tangentially, science fiction, primarily fantastic in nature, engages the public imagination and transmits the ideas, if not the methods, of science.


Fields of science

Science is broadly subdivided into the categories of natural sciences and the social sciences. There are also related disciplines that are grouped into interdisciplinary and applied sciences, such as engineering and health science. Within these categories are specialized scientific fields that can include elements of other scientific disciplines but often possess their own terminology and body of expertise.[13]

The status of social sciences as an empirical science has been a matter of debate since the 20th century, see Positivism dispute.[14] Discussion and debate abound in this topic with some fields like the social and behavioural sciences accused by critics of being unscientific. In fact, many groups of people from academicians like Nobel Prize physicist Percy W. Bridgman,[15] or Dick Richardson, Ph.D.—Professor of Integrative Biology at the University of Texas at Austin,[16] to politicians like U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison and other co-sponsors,[17] oppose giving their support or agreeing with the use of the label "science" in some fields of study and knowledge they consider non-scientific, ambiguous, or scientifically irrelevant compared with other fields.


Scientific institutions

Louis XIV visiting the Académie des sciences in 1671.
Louis XIV visiting the Académie des sciences in 1671.

Learned societies for the communication and promotion of scientific thought and experimentation have existed since the Renaissance period.[18] The oldest surviving institution is the Accademia dei Lincei in Italy.[19] National Academy of Sciences are distinguished institutions that exist in a number of countries, beginning with the British Royal Society in 1660[20] and the French Académie des Sciences in 1666.[21]

International scientific organizations, such as the International Council for Science, have since been formed to promote cooperation between the scientific communities of different nations. More recently, influential government agencies have been created to support scientific research, including the National Science Foundation in the U.S.

Other prominent organizations include:

  • In Australia, CSIRO
  • In France, Centre national de la recherche scientifique
  • In Germany, Max Planck Society and Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft
  • In Spain, CSIC
  • In Russia, Russian Academy of Sciences


See also


  • Fringe science
  • Junk science
  • Pathological science
  • Pseudoscience
  • Relationship between religion and science
  • Creation-evolution controversy
  • Scientific misconduct
  • Scientific skepticism (cf. Pseudoskepticism)
  • History of science and technology
  • Historiography of science
  • Protoscience
  • Scientific constants named after people
  • Scientific laws named after people
  • Scientific phenomena named after people
  • Scientific revolution
  • Scientific units named after people
  • Philosophy of science
  • Rhetoric of science
  • Scientific method
  • Antiscience
  • History of science (how the various fields of science came to be)
  • Scientist (lists of people active in each of these fields)
  • Engineering (natural science applied)
  • Fields of science
  • Knowledge (goal of science)
  • List of inventors
  • List of publications in science
  • Mathematics (complements science, and is its main tool)
  • Military funding of science
  • Perfection
  • Philosophy (foundation of inquiry)
    • Philosophy of science (foundation of science)
      • Karl Popper
  • Politics (social science applied)
  • Scientific computing
  • Scientific data archiving
  • Scientific enterprise
  • Scientific materialism
  • Technology (result of science)
  • Science and technology



  1. ^ Merriam Webster definition of science, Retrieved September 12, 2007 "2 a : a department of systematized knowledge as an object of study <the science of theology> b : something (as a sport or technique) that may be studied or learned like systematized knowledge <have it down to a science>"
  2. ^ "science" defined by various dictionaries at ""
  3. ^ a b (Popper 1959, p. 3)
  4. ^ (Popper 1959, p. 20)
  5. ^ (Popper 1959, pp. 10–11)
  6. ^ (Popper 1959, pp. 79–82)
  7. ^ Etymology of "science" at Etymology Online. See also details of the PIE root at American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 4th edition, 2000..
  8. ^ MacMorris, Neville (1989). The Natures of Science. New York: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, pp. 31–33. ISBN 0838633218. 
  9. ^ See, e.g. [1]. The first usage, which is fairly representative of standard dictionaries today, describes science as: "a. The observation, identification, description, experimental investigation, and theoretical explanation of phenomena. b. Such activities restricted to a class of natural phenomena. c. Such activities applied to an object of inquiry or study." From the American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2003
  10. ^ Logik der Forschung, new appendix *XIX (not yet available in the English edition Logic of scientific discovery)
  11. ^ Karl Popper: On the non-existence of scientific method. Realism and the Aim of Science (1983)
  12. ^ Karl Popper: Objective Knowledge (1972)
  13. ^ See: Editorial Staff (March 7, 2007). Scientific Method: Relationships among Scientific Paradigms. Seed magazine. Retrieved on 2007-09-12.
  14. ^ Critical examination of various positions on this issue can be found in Karl R. Popper's The Poverty of Historicism.
  15. ^ Siepmann, J. P. (1999). "What is Science? (Editorial)". Journal of Theoretics 3. Retrieved on 2007-07-23. 
  16. ^ Richardson, R. H. (Dick) (January 28, 2001). Economics is NOT Natural Science! (It is technology of Social Science.). The University of Texas at Austin. Retrieved on 2007-07-23.
  17. ^ Staff (May 19, 2006). Behavioral and Social Science Are Under Attack in the Senate. American Sociological Association. Retrieved on 2007-07-23.
  18. ^ Parrott, Jim (August 9, 2007). Chronicle for Societies Founded from 1323 to 1599. Scholarly Societies Project. Retrieved on 2007-09-11.
  19. ^ Benvenuto nel sito dell'Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei (Italian). Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei (2006). Retrieved on 2007-09-11.
  20. ^ Brief history of the Society. The Royal Society. Retrieved on 2007-09-11.
  21. ^ Meynell, G.G.. The French Academy of Sciences, 1666-91: A reassessment of the French Académie royale des sciences under Colbert (1666-83) and Louvois (1683-91). Topics in Scientific & Medical History. Retrieved on 2007-09-11.



  • Feyerabend, Paul K. 2005. Science, history of the philosophy of. Oxford Companion to Philosophy. Oxford.
  • Papineau, David. 2005. Science, problems of the philosophy of. Oxford Companion to Philosophy. Oxford.
  • Popper, Karl [1959] (2002). The Logic of Scientific Discovery, 2nd English edition, New York, NY: Routledge Classics, 3. ISBN 0-415-27844-9. OCLC 59377149. 
  • Richard P. Feynman. "The Pleasure of Finding Things Out"


Further reading

  • A Book List of Popularized Natural and Behavioral Sciences
  • Baxter, Charles "Myth versus science in educational systems"PDF (66.4 KiB)
  • "Classification of the Sciences". Dictionary of the History of Ideas.
  • Cole, K. C., Things your teacher never told you about science: Nine shocking revelations Newsday, Long Island, New York, March 23, 1986, pg 21+
  • Feynman, Richard "Cargo Cult Science"
  • Krige, John, and Dominique Pestre, eds., Science in the Twentieth Century, Routledge 2003, ISBN 0-415-28606-9
  • MacComas, William F. "The principal elements of the nature of science: Dispelling the myths"PDF (189 KiB) Rossier School of Education, University of Southern California. Direct Instruction News. Spring 2002 24–30.
  • "Nature of Science" University of California Museum of Paleontology
  • Obler, Paul C.; Estrin, Herman A. (1962). The New Scientist: Essays on the Methods and Values of Modern Science. Anchor Books, Doubleday. 


External links


  • Science


  • "GSCE Science textbook".
  • National Center for Biotechnology Information Bookshelf


  • Current Events. New Scientist Magazine, Reed Business Information, Ltd.
  • ScienceDaily
  • Discover Magazine


  • United States Science Initiative. Selected science information provided by U.S. Government agencies, including research and development results.
  • Science Resources

Fun science:

  • ScienceMadeSimple Resources
  • Who was the greatest Scientist ever?
  • Live Science Experiments and Easy Science Experiments for Kids
  • Null Hypothesis, the Journal of Unlikely Science Fun, interesting, wacky science
  • This Week in Science Radio show that gives a hip and irreverent take on current science news.