The nature of science and its various disciplines

By Robert Hazen, Ph.D., George Mason University

Scientists use carefully controlled experiments to make exciting discoveries. (Image: Balabolka / Shutterstock)

Non-traditional definition of science

Over the centuries, the human mind had made amazing discoveries and afforded breathtaking insights into how nature worked. Science is a constant human endeavor to understand the natural world. It is a method of understanding the natural world through carefully controlled experiments and reproducible observations. It also depends on independently verifiable facts and theoretical considerations about physical phenomena. It then strives for a consensus based on these facts.

Learn more about the scientific method.

The unique technology

It is important to understand that science is a technique that is different from other approaches to knowledge, such as religion, art, political science, astrology, and psychological phenomenon. The other approaches are based on various aspects of human behavior that may not necessarily be based on evidence-based observations.

For example, religious belief replaces all observation in the natural world and depends on revelations or visions, sacred texts, and other sources. Since these contradicting pieces of evidence are not part of the physical world, they cannot be examined by science.

The basic characteristics of art and science also differ. While art is subjective and not based on absolute truths, science is objective and is based on empirical evidence.

No room for pseudoscience

Science does not promote pseudosciences like UFOs and is different from astrology. Although scientists do not deny the existence of UFOs, the lack of verifiable evidence makes their existence questionable.

Political and social sciences are based on verifiable facts, but science differs from these disciplines in interesting ways. The disciplines of social and political sciences are based on the rich and varied experiences of people.

Hence, there could be several reasonable interpretations of events. Science, on the other hand, seeks to build consensus based on empirical evidence and mathematical equations.

Learn more about celestial and earth mechanics.

Hierarchical division within scientific disciplines

The formal academic division into different disciplines is a convenient way to learn science. As a result of this division there is a hierarchy of scientific disciplines.

Physics occupies the uppermost place in the hierarchical disposition of scientific disciplines. This is because the laws of physics apply to both living and non-living things.

Vector drawing of physical and chemical equipment in a science laboratory.The disciplines of physics and chemistry are at the top of the hierarchy of scientific disciplines. (Image: zabavina / Shutterstock)

To understand other disciplines such as chemistry, geology, and biology, one must understand the basic principles of physics. Physics is a very diverse discipline that is classified as classical physics and modern physics.

Next up is chemistry, the scientific discipline that studies chemical structures and chemical reactions when mixed together. While modern chemistry is a very ancient field, chemists today use both experimental and practical science. As a result, chemical research and chemical engineering are closely related.

Earth sciences are the study of the earth’s geological, hydrological, and atmospheric features. Geosciences, a relatively younger discipline that emerged from the practice of mining, is now also concerned with the study and behavior of other planets. It has two main divisions: geology and geophysics. Geology is the study of rocks and their formation, while geophysics is the study of the earth’s dynamic physical processes such as earthquakes, climate and tides.

Biology is the largest and most diverse of all disciplines and the study of all living organisms. The diversity of the subject arises from the fact that there are many different ways to study living organisms. Botany, zoology, microbiology, and genetics are just a few common subdivisions of biology. There are a number of professional societies and hundreds of journals associated with this discipline.

This is a transcript from the video series The joy of science. Check it out now on The Great Courses Plus.

The importance of integrated science

Despite the traditional division into numerous courses for academic purposes, the various disciplines of science are integrated into our everyday lives.

The division of science into different disciplines began in the 19th century when science became a profession in the European higher education system. Initially, each university department had a single professor who was supported by lecturers and assistants. However, as the number of respected professors and academics increased, so did the number of departments.

Learn more about atoms and why they combine with each other.

Divisions and sub-divisions of science

As a result, science was randomly fragmented into different departments and subdivisions. It would be interesting to note that there were three different geoscientific departments and seven chemistry departments at Cambridge University in the 1970s.

A diagram showing physical and scientific theory, law, and mathematical formula equations.All scientific disciplines are integrated into everyday life. (Image: 1000s_pixels / Shutterstock)

A newspaper story about radioactive waste management can illustrate how different disciplines are integrated. At first glance, the problem appears to be an environmental problem. However, radioactive waste must also be safely buried under the rocks for thousands of years.

So it becomes a geological problem too. Radioactivity cannot be understood without physical knowledge, and nuclear waste is a chemical that is part of chemistry. Last but not least, it is also a biological problem as it is the living organisms that are adversely affected by such radioactive waste.

Thus, it is clear that knowledge of just one discipline is insufficient to understand the problem or find a solution, and traditional academic courses do not provide insight into the integrated approach to problem solving.

Frequent questions about the nature of science and its various disciplines

Q: What does the nature of science mean?

The Nature of science is an indispensable element of scientific competence, which contributes to the understanding of scientific concepts through carefully controlled experiments and reproducible observations.

Q: Explain the idea of ​​integrated science.

Integrated science can be defined as a collective approach to scientific study that integrates the fundamental disciplines of physics, biology, chemistry and earth sciences to find a holistic solution to a problem.

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