What is not Science?

Published 11 Apr 2017

Science is a broad category which includes discoveries and experiments based on hypotheses and predictions. Thus there is knowledge and academic disciplines which cannot be interpreted as science. Most of them are based on scientific knowledge and principles but has nothing to do with science.

In science, prediction once made, its confirmation depends often on events over which the scientist can exercise no vestige of control. The real world having been constituted a “something,” the principle of intelligibility asserts man’s capacity, perhaps even his obligation to understand that something. Non-science does not make predictions and do not test hypotheses. It does not multiplies and diversifies the range of possibilities humanly attainable, among which researchers choose those they will make realities (Wolfram, 2002).

It is possible to distinguish between basic science, applied science and technology. The presence or absence of constraint is a distinction far more important than that now doubtfully drawn between pure and applied science.

Basic science is based on development of scientific theories. The research does not take into account scientific applications of the theories and practical usage. Applied science is a sphere of research that investigates application of knowledge and practical application of scientific theories. One might attempt to distinguish as applied science the endeavor to prepare nitrogen mustard with superior properties as a chemotherapeutic agent and as basic science some general study of cell metabolism. In both cases constraint to a rigid program set down at the outset sharply reduces the chances that scientifically important results will be obtained (Wolfram, 2002).

When the nonscientist supports science most often his interest is not in science as such, but only in science as contributor to the cosmology or technology in which he does take an active interest. Support given out of concern for technology appears quite early: the Ptolemys had quite practical reasons for supporting the Alexandrian Museum. As the modern era opened, experimental science gained a foothold in the universities as the affiliate of already established technologic and cosmologic concerns; i.e., as a subject studied by students of medicine and divinity, respectively. Beyond providing an abundance of materials and devices, serviceable to science as experimental tools, the technology opened the way to new conceptual tools (Wolfram, 2002). On a new wealth of industrial experience was founded a new and (in the issue) powerful group of mechanistic concepts and analogies, as alternative to the limited and limiting group of animistic concepts and analogies used in ancient science. Emphasis on science immediately applicable to the problems of technology necessarily diverts support, and men, from the kind of science that, following to their unexpected ends lines of research having little or no apparent relevance to current technologic problems and practice, leads ultimately to complete reconstruction of the technologic horizon (Strogatz, 2003).

In the classroom, basic science is theories and knowledge, terms and concepts studies by students. Applied science means practical application of knowledge in laboratory. Technology means devices and mechanisms used for practical application of theories and their outcomes.

The acceptable evidence and scientific explanations are based on testing and improvements, evaluation and replication. Scientists work with theoretical postulates which are not necessarily self-evident, and so gain power to work with a far greater range of possibilities than before. Believing in scientific progress, scientists are confident that, if never “self-evident”, postulates will some day be explained, though then only in terms of still more fundamental postulates themselves unexplained (Basic versus Applied Science 2007). Acceptable evidence deals primarily with what is experienced by all mankind; science encompasses, in addition, what is experienced, in the laboratory, by but a few (Wolfram, 2002). This distinction seems unimportant: the special experience of scientists is potentially available to all willing to enter the laboratory. The fundamental distinction between the data acceptable to science and those acceptable to research arises from what has repeatedly been stressed: the involvement of judgment in our use of the three criteria for the selection of subject matter shared by common sense and science. As it begins science judges the acceptability of subject matter much as common sense does (Strogatz, 2003). As science develops, as its view of the world becomes more highly elaborated, it makes these judgments differently (Basic versus Applied Science 2007).

The main methods involved in science are observations, prediction, control, falsifiability, causal explanation. Science does simplify the observations to be made that the possibility of observational error is minimized. Observation is reduced to reading the position of a needle that moves across a graduated scale until it points to “the result.” Knowing the relations of common sense to be imperfect, we usually permit the survival even of relations that yield frequent unaccountable failures in prediction. Science giving purposive explanations in answering “Why” questions yields to a science giving casual explanations in answering “How” questions; and this may, in its turn, yield ground to a science furnishing only functional relations (Wolfram, 2002).

In sum, the main difference between the non-science disciplines and science is instruments and methods used for analysis and knowledge retrieval. The main characteristic of science is new knowledge creation, discovers and new application of existing knowledge while other academic disciplines use these ready-made knowledge for their purposes. The use of instruments enormously facilitates the application in science of the concurrence criterion of “fact” acknowledged by both science and common sense.


  • Basic versus Applied Science (2007).
  • Strogatz, S. (2003). Sync: The Emerging Science of Spontaneous Order. Hyperion.
  • Wolfram, S. (2002). A New Kind of Science. Wolfram Media.
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