It seems like an obvious question, but perhaps one that we need to address head on when teaching science - what, exactly, is science?
Philosophers and scientists have debated the question through history, often violently disagreeing with each other. We’ve arrived at our own consensus view over at the howscience wiki:
Science is a never-ending and unique process of producing tested, evidence-based explanations for the full range of natural phenomena that we observe to occur around us.
Scientific theories have explanatory and predictive powers. They are are thoroughly and rigorously tested by comparing their predictions to the outcomes of observations (often via experiments). In this way they are shown to be ‘not false at this point in time’, but may well be honed (or even subsumed by more encompassing theories) in the light of future observations. As such, scientifically obtained knowledge should be considered far more valid than any ‘mere guess’ or opinion (or any untestable pseudo-scientific ideas), but should never be regarded as anything like “ultimate truth”. A “scientific fact” is a “conclusion confirmed to such an extent that it would be reasonable to offer provisional agreement”.
Science is a rational approach to acquiring knowledge; its conclusions are based on logic and evidence.
Science requires imagination and creativity to invent hypotheses and then skill, patience and ingenuity to design and carry out the observational/experimental tests of them. This is often a collaborative process and often a process that takes many years. Scientific knowledge is recorded, shared and reproduced via the publication of peer-reviewed “papers” in scientific journals and via the internet.
There are two practical outcomes of the scientific process: A very large set of observational statements that summarise what we could call ‘discovered facts’ about the Universe, e.g. “antibiotics kill bacteria”, “the Sun appears in the same place in the sky every 365.25 days”, …
A set of (tested) explanatory models (scientific theories) that explain a wide range of these statements. The predictions of these models may include that some of the observational statements will only be true for a limited time.
The practical value of the outcomes of science is that the models enable us to make predictions and hence create new technologies, materials, products and methods, thereby allowing us to exercise some control over our environment.
The philosophical value of the outcomes of science is that the models help us to consider our existence in the wider context of the Universe.
Please add your own comments here or over at the howscience wiki.