How science really works

This is very, very cool: The University of California Museum of Paleontology (at Berkeley) runs a website called Understanding Science, which goes back to the basics and offers a clear, comprehensive look at the entire scientific enterprise: what science is (and isn’t), how it works (and doesn’t work), and why it’s important. It’s written very accessibly for the lay reader and, as well, provides resources for teachers at all levels, from kindergarten through college.

It’s well worth diving in and wandering around. Start with Understanding Science 101 (An Overview) and move on from there. Or read about how our usual linear understanding of the scientific method — hypothesis, experiment, conclusion — is actually too simple (click on the image above for a more detailed interactive flowchart of the actual, messier process). Or take one of many side-trips to see, for instance, what constitutes a fair scientific test, or how the claims of astrology and Intelligent Design fail to pass muster when measured against a science checklist. Or explore the many examples of what, exactly, science has done for you lately.

I highly recommend the section that debunks a long and wide-ranging list of misconceptions about science*, including: “science doesn’t involve creativity”; “scientific ideas are absolute and unchanging” (or, on the other hand, “they’re tentative and can’t be trusted”); “science is done by old, white men”; vocabulary mix-ups on terms like “theory” and “law”; and insidiously negative cultural attitudes like “science isn’t important in my life” and — the big one — “science is boring.”

And it’s also worth checking out the science toolkit, which provides tips on how to sort out all the media messages about science, evaluate supposed “controversies,” and understand the real science behind all the headlines and hype.

Given the current, frequently hostile climate towards science in the U.S. — with creationists still trying to force evolution out of the science classroom, and antiscience Republicans set to take over (and dismantle) key science committees in Congress — I think this site should be disseminated as widely as possible. As always, education, education, education is the key.

(via Richard Dawkins)

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*One caveat: I strongly disagree with the website’s mushy stance on the relationship between science, religion, and atheism, but I’ll reserve my objections for a separate post. That said, there’s a lot of good stuff there. Go. Learn. Enjoy.

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