Frequently Asked Questions About How Science Works - Understanding Science (2023)

The Understanding Science website compiles an expanded list of frequently asked questions for the site, and you can contribute. Do you have a question about how science works, what science is, or what it's like to be a scientist? send!

What is the scientific method?

The "scientific method" is traditionally presented in the first chapter of science textbooks as a simple, linear, five- or six-step procedure for conducting scientific inquiry. Although the scientific method captures the core logic of science (testing ideas against evidence), it misrepresents many other aspects of the true scientific process—the dynamic, nonlinear, and creative ways in which science is actually done. In fact, the Scientific Method more accurately describes how science is summarizedafter the fact- in textbooks and journal articles - than how scientific research is actually conducted. Teachers may require students to use the scientific method format to write down the results of their investigations (egQuestion, background information, hypothesis, study design, data analysis,AndDiploma), although the process the students went through in their investigations may have involved many iterations of questions, background research, data collection and data analysis, and although the students' "conclusions" will always be tentative. To learn more about how science really works and to see a more detailed representation of this process, visitThe real process of science.


Why do scientists often seem hesitant in their explanations?

Scientists often seem cautious about their explanations, aware that those explanations could change as new evidence or perspectives come to light. When scientists write about their ideas in journal articles, they are expected to carefully analyze the evidence for and against their ideas and to explicitly address alternative explanations for what they observe. Because they are trained to do so for their scholarly writing, scholars often do the same when discussing their ideas with the press or a wider audience. Unfortunately, this means they are sometimes misinterpreted as wishy-washy or unsure of their ideas. Worse still, ideas supported by masses of evidence are sometimes dismissed by the public or the press because scientists talk about those ideas in tentative terms. It is important that the public recognize that while preliminaryness is a fundamental characteristic of scientific knowledge, scientific ideas supported by evidence can be trusted. To learn more about makeshifts in science, visit our Description pagehow science builds knowledge. To learn more about how this provisionalism can be misinterpreted, visit a section of theScientific Toolbox.


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Why is peer review useful?

Peer review helps to ensure the quality of published scientific work: that the authors did not ignore any key ideas or evidence, that the study was designed fairly, that the authors evaluated their results objectively, etc. This means that even if you are using the If you are not familiar with the research presented in a particular peer-reviewed study, you can be confident that it meets certain standards of scientific quality. This also saves scientists time to keep up to date with advances in their fields by weeding out untrustworthy studies. Peer-reviewed work is not necessarily accurate or conclusive, but it does meet the standards of scholarship. To learn more, visitquestion science.


What is the difference between independent and dependent variables?

In an experiment, the independent variables are the factors that the experimenter manipulates. The dependent variable is the result of interest - the result that depends on the experimental design. Experiments are set up to learn more about how the independent variable affects or does not affect the dependent variable. For example, if you are testing a new drug to treat Alzheimer's disease, the independent variable might be whether or not the patient received the new drug, and the dependent variable might be how well participants do on memory tests. On the other hand, to study how the temperature, volume, and pressure of a gas are related, you could set up an experiment where you change the volume of a gas while keeping the temperature constant and see how that affects that of the gas's pressure. In this case, the independent variable is the volume of the gas and the dependent variable is the pressure of the gas. The temperature of the gas is a controlled variable. To learn more about experimental design, visitFair testing: A do-it-yourself guide.


What is a control group?

In scientific testing, a control group is a group of people or cases that is treated in the same way as the experimental group, but is not exposed to the experimental treatment or factor. The results of the experimental group and the control group can be compared. When the control group is treated very similarly to the experimental group, this increases our confidence that any difference in outcome is caused by the presence of the experimental treatment in the experimental group. For example, visit our detourFair examinations in the field of medicine.

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What is the difference between a positive and a negative control group?

A negative control group is a control group that is not exposed to any experimental treatment or any other treatment that is expected to have an effect. A positive control group is a control group that is not exposed to the experimental treatment but is exposed to another treatment known to produce the expected effect. These types of controls are particularly useful for validating the experimental procedure. For example, imagine you want to know if lettuce contains bacteria. You set up an experiment where you wipe lettuce leaves with a swab, wipe the swab on a bacterial growth plate, incubate the plate, and see what grows on the plate. As a negative control, you can simply wipe a sterile swab over the growth plate. You would not expect bacterial growth on this plate, and if you do, it is an indication that your swabs, plates, or incubator are contaminated with bacteria that could affect the results of the experiment. As a positive control, you can blot any bacterial colony present and wipe it on the growth plate. In this case youwouldExpect bacterial growth on the plate, and when it doesn't, this is an indication that something in your setup is preventing bacterial growth. Perhaps the growth plates contain an antibiotic or the incubator is set at too high a temperature. Failure of either the positive or negative control to produce the expected result indicates that the investigator should reconsider their experimental approach. To learn more about experimental design, visitFair testing: A do-it-yourself guide.


What is a correlation study and how is it different from an experimental study?

In a correlation study, a scientist looks for associations between variables (e.g., are people who eat lots of vegetables less likely to have a heart attack than others?) without manipulating any variables (e.g., without asking a group of people to eat more or less vegetables than usual). In a correlation study, researchers may be interested in any type of statistical association—a positive relationship between variables, a negative relationship between variables, or a more complex one. Correlation studies are used in many fields (e.g. ecology, epidemiology, astronomy, etc.), but the term is often associated with psychology. Correlational studies are often discussed in contrast to experimental studies. In experimental studies, researchers manipulate one variable (e.g. by asking one group of people to eat more vegetables and asking a second group of people to eat as usual) and study the effects of this change. When well designed, an experimental study can tell a researcher more about the cause of an association than a correlational study of the same system. Despite this difference, correlational studies still provide important evidence for testing ideas and often serve as inspiration for new hypotheses. Both types of study are very important in science and rely on the same logic to relate evidence to ideas. To learn more about the basic logic of scientific arguments, visitThe core of science.


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What is the difference between deductive and inductive reasoning?

Deductive reasoning involves logical extrapolation from a set of premises or hypotheses. You can think of it as a logical "if-then" reasoning. IF, for example, an asteroid hits Earth, and IF iridium is more abundant in asteroids than in the Earth's crust, and IF nothing further happens to the asteroid's iridium thereafter, THEN there will be an increase in iridium levels at the Earth's surface. The THEN statement is the logical consequence of the IF statements. Another case of deductive reasoning involves reasoning from a general premise or hypothesis about a particular case. Based on the idea that all living things are made up of cells, we could do that, for examplederivethat a jellyfish (a concrete example of a living being) has cells. Inductive reasoning, on the other hand, involves generalization based on many individual observations. For example, a scientist sampling rock strata from the Cretaceous-Tertiary (KT) boundary in many different locations around the world can always observe an increase in iridiuminducethat all KT interfaces have an iridium tip. The logical leap from many individual observations to an all-encompassing statement is not always justified. For example, it's possible that somewhere in the world there is a KT boundary layer without the iridium tip. However, many individual observations often strongly suggest a more general pattern. Deductive, inductive, and other types of reasoning are all useful in science. It's more important to understand the logic behind these different ways of reasoning than to worry about what they're called.


What is the difference between a theory and a hypothesis?

Scientific theories are broad explanations for a wide range of phenomena, while hypotheses are proposed explanations for a fairly narrow group of phenomena. The difference between the two is mainly in width. Theories have broader explanatory power than hypotheses and often integrate and generalize many hypotheses. To be accepted by the scientific community, both theories and hypotheses must be supported by many different lines of evidence. However, both theories and hypotheses can be changed or overturned when warranted by new evidence and perspective.


What is a null hypothesis?

A null hypothesis is usually a statement that claims there is no difference or association between variables. The null hypothesis is a tool that allows certain statistical tests to be used to find out whether another hypothesis of interest is likely to be true or not. For example, if you are testing the idea that sugar makes children hyperactive, your null hypothesis might be that there is no difference in the amount of time children who have previously been given a sugary drink and children who have been given a sugar substitute sit can still. After making your observations, you would then perform a statistical test to determine if there is a significant difference between the two groups of children in terms of the amount of time they sit still.

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What is Occam's Razor?

Occam's Razor is an idea with a long philosophical history. Today the term is often used to refer to the principle of parsimony - that when two explanations fit the observations equally well, a simpler explanation should be preferred to a more complicated and complex explanation. Put another way, Occam's razor suggests that, other things being equal, a simple explanation should be preferred to an explanation that requires more assumptions and sub-hypotheses. VisitCompeting Ideas: Other Considerationsto read more about thrift.


What does science say about spirits, ESP and astrology?

Rigorous and well-controlled scientific research1researched and found these issuesNOEvidence supporting their usual interpretations as natural phenomena (i.e. spirits as apparitions of the dead, ESP as the ability to read minds, and astrology as the influence of celestial bodies on human personalities and affairs) - although, of course, different people interpret these subjects in different ways. Science can only study such phenomena and explanations if they are viewed as part of the natural world. To learn more about the differences between science and astrology, visitAstrology: is it scientific?To learn more about the nature and types of questions and phenomena that science can study, visitwhat is naturalTo learn more about how science is approaching ESP, visitESP: What can science say?


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Has science had a negative impact on people or the world in general?

Knowledge generated by science has had many effects that most would classify as positive (e.g. enabling people to treat diseases or communicate instantly with people around the world); It also has some impacts that are often seen as negative (e.g. allowing people to build nuclear weapons or polluting the environment through industrial processes). However, it is important to remember that the process of science and scientific knowledge is different from the uses that people put that knowledge to. For example, we have learned a lot about deadly pathogens through the process of science. This knowledge could be used to design new drugs to protect humans from these pathogens (which most would consider a positive outcome), or it could be used to build biological weapons (which many would consider a negative outcome). And sometimes the same application of scientific knowledge can have both positive and negative effects. For example, research in the first half of the 20th century enabled chemists to create pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. Proponents argue that the spread of these technologies prevented widespread famine. However, others argue that these technologies have done more harm than good to global food security. Scientific knowledge in itself is neither good nor bad; However, people can use this knowledge in ways that have either positive or negative effects. In addition, different people may make different judgments about whether the overall impact of a particular scientific finding is positive or negative. To learn more about applying science, visitWhat has science done for you lately?



What are some good questions to ask about science? ›

20 Big Questions in Science
  • What is the universe made of? Astronomers still cannot account for 95% of the universe. ...
  • How did life begin? ...
  • Are we alone in the universe? ...
  • What makes us human? ...
  • What is consciousness? ...
  • Why do we dream? ...
  • Why is there stuff? ...
  • Are there other universes?

Why is it important to understand how science works? ›

Scientific knowledge allows us to develop new technologies, solve practical problems, and make informed decisions — both individually and collectively. Because its products are so useful, the process of science is intertwined with those applications: New scientific knowledge may lead to new applications.

How does science actually work? ›

In experimental disciplines, knowledge is gained by testing hypotheses and exploring different aspects of a system. As the understanding of the various interactions grows, predictions can be made with greater confidence. Systems can then be harnessed in reproducible, reliable ways.

Why is it important for non scientists to understand how science works? ›

Public understanding of science is also essential for the health of the scientific enterprise itself. Innovations of science are better understood and more likely to be accepted when the public understands the scientific process.

What are the 3 questions of science? ›

rex to investigate locomotion.
Three basic questions
  • What's there? ...
  • How does it work? ...
  • How did it come to be this way?

What is needed to understand science? ›

Understanding science requires that an individual integrate a complex structure of many types of knowledge, including the ideas of science, relationships between ideas, reasons for these relationships, ways to use the ideas to explain and predict other natural phenomena, and ways to apply them to many events.

What are the 3 main goals of science? ›

Goals of Science

Most scientists, but not all, are interested in three goals: understanding, prediction, and control. Of these three goals, two of them, understanding and prediction, are sought by all scientists. The third goal, control, is sought only by those scientists who can manipulate the phenomena they study.

How do scientists understand science? ›

Unlike art, philosophy, religion and other ways of knowing, science is based on empirical research. A scientist conducts this research to answer a question that she or he has about the natural world. Empirical research relies on systematic observation and experimentation, not on opinions and feelings.

Does science always use the scientific method? ›

The scientific method is used in all sciences—including chemistry, physics, geology, and psychology. The scientists in these fields ask different questions and perform different tests. However, they use the same core approach to find answers that are logical and supported by evidence.

How does science find truth? ›

There are no absolute truths in science; there are only approximate truths. Whether a statement, theory, or framework is true or not depends on quantitative factors and how closely you examine or measure the results.

How does science build on itself? ›

The process of science is iterative. Science circles back on itself so that useful ideas are built upon and used to learn even more about the natural world. This often means that successive investigations of a topic lead back to the same question, but at deeper and deeper levels.

How does science create new knowledge? ›

Knowledge Grows Through Exploration of the Limits of Existing Rules and Mutually Reinforcing Evidence. Scientists seek to discover rules about relationships or phenomena that exist in nature, and ultimately they seek to describe, explain, and predict.

Why is it important to understand what science is and its nature? ›

Why Learn About Nature of Science? Understanding of NOS is a critical component of scientific literacy. It enhances students' understandings of science concepts and enables them to make informed decisions about scientifically-based personal and societal issues.

What are the 7 questions you should ask about any scientific claim? ›

Can You Believe It? Seven Questions to Ask About Any Scientific Claim
  • What's the claim?
  • Who says?
  • What's the evidence?
  • How did they get the evidence?
  • Is there anything (or anyone) to back up this claim?
  • Could there be another explanation?
  • Who cares?
Dec 15, 2016

What is the most important scientific question? ›

"How do we know what we claim to know?" is quite easily the most important question in science. In fact, the scientific method is designed precisely to answer that question.

What are the top 10 science questions? ›

Top 12 Tricky Science Questions Answered
  • 12 Tricky Science Questions. Why is the sky blue? ...
  • Why Is the Sky Blue? ...
  • Why Does the Moon Appear in the Daytime? ...
  • How Much Does the Sky Weigh? ...
  • How Much Does the Earth Weigh? ...
  • How Do Airplanes Stay in the Air? ...
  • Why Is Water Wet? ...
  • What Makes a Rainbow?
Jul 28, 2022

What is a question that can be answered by science? ›

A testable question is a question that can be answered using scientific methods such as: Research. Field Study.

What are some questions science can answer? ›

What happens to us after we die? How did so much life appear on our planet when others seem devoid of any species at all? Who, if anyone, pulls the strings of our universe? Is it some all-powerful god in control or are there physical and mathematical principles driving the engine of our existence?

What are the 4 components of a good scientific question? ›

Elements of a Good Research Question
  • Specific: Not a “fishing expedition”
  • Measurable: Testable (statistically)
  • Attainable: Something that “you” can do.
  • Realistic:
  • Timely:
  • Important.
  • Meaningful whether the answer is “Yes” or “No.”

Why is it hard to understand science? ›

There are many reasons why science is a challenging subject. Due to its high cognitive and psychological demand, science requires students to understand other subjects, memorize complex and often abstract concepts, and develop high levels of motivation and resilience throughout their studies.

What is the easiest way to learn science answers? ›

  1. Read the whole answer only to understand.
  2. Don't think of memorizing in one go.
  3. Break the question in parts( as many u wish.. ...
  4. Now go through one part and learn it loudly.
  5. Now check whether u have learned by hiding the answer.
  6. If yes: repeat processes 4 and 5 till u complete the answer.

What is the meaning of scientific understanding? ›

My investigations lead to the following definition of scientific understanding: A scientist S has scientific understanding of an empirical phenomenon P in a context C if and only if i. S grasps relations that P stands in and articulates these relations in the form of new explanations of (aspects of) P, ii.

What are 5 reasons science is important? ›

5 Reasons Why Studying Science is So Important
  • Studying Science Inspires Curiosity and an Attitude of Discovery. ...
  • Studying Science Promotes the Understanding That Progress Has Been Happening for Centuries. ...
  • Studying Science Encourages the Integration of Subjects and Ideas. ...
  • Studying Science Encourages Truth Seeking.
May 21, 2015

What is the most important science to study? ›

Chemistry is often referred to as the central science because it joins together physics and mathematics, biology and medicine, and the earth and environmental sciences. Knowledge of the nature of chemicals and chemical processes therefore provides insights into a variety of physical and biological phenomena.

What are the 4 purposes of science? ›

Think of the scientific method as having four goals (description, prediction, explanation and control). It is important to remember that these goals are the same for anything that can be studied via the scientific method (a chemical compound, a biological organism, or in the case of psychology, behavior).

What are the two types of sciences? ›

Science can be grouped into two broad categories: natural science and social science.

How science makes our life easier? ›

Science informs public policy and personal decisions on energy, conservation, agriculture, health, transportation, communication, defense, economics, leisure, and exploration. It's almost impossible to overstate how many aspects of modern life are impacted by scientific knowledge.

What are limitations of science? ›

Science does have limitations—it does not decide values or morals, nor tell a person how to live their life or what to believe. Science has its ethical concerns as well, such as the morality of using animal test subjects, or altering the course of human evolution.

What are the limits of the scientific method? ›

Human error - e.g. mistakes can occur in recording observations or inaccurate use of measuring instrument. Deliberately falsifying results - i.e. scientific fraud. Bias - prior confidence in the hypothesis being true/false can affect accuracy of observation and interpretation of results.

Does science rely on facts or scientific methods? ›

Science is based on fact, not opinion or preferences. The process of science is designed to challenge ideas through research. One important aspect of the scientific process is that it focuses only on the natural world, according to the University of California, Berkeley.

What type of truth is science? ›


It is with regard to the empirical claims about the universe, events and properties of it that is the main concern of the theories about Truth. Perhaps the best that humans have been able to do with regard to getting at the truth concerning empirical claims is the development of a method for doing it.

Does science believe in facts? ›

In science, a fact is an observation that's been confirmed so many times that scientists can, for all intents and purposes, accept it as "true." But everything in science comes with a level of uncertainty, so nothing is ever scientifically "true" beyond a shadow of a doubt.

What is science basically based on? ›

Science is the pursuit and application of knowledge and understanding of the natural and social world following a systematic methodology based on evidence. Scientific methodology includes the following: Objective observation: Measurement and data (possibly although not necessarily using mathematics as a tool) Evidence.

How does science affect our lives? ›

It contributes to ensuring a longer and healthier life, monitors our health, provides medicine to cure our diseases, alleviates aches and pains, helps us to provide water for our basic needs – including our food, provides energy and makes life more fun, including sports, music, entertainment and the latest ...

Does science always progress? ›

Science makes progress when it develops concepts, typologies, frameworks of understanding, methods, techniques, or data that make it possible to uncover phenomena or test explanations of them. Thus, knowing where and how to look for discoveries and explanations is an important type of scientific progress.

What are the processes of science? ›

The six steps of the scientific method include: 1) asking a question about something you observe, 2) doing background research to learn what is already known about the topic, 3) constructing a hypothesis, 4) experimenting to test the hypothesis, 5) analyzing the data from the experiment and drawing conclusions, and 6) ...

How is science a body of knowledge? ›

Science can be thought of as both a body of knowledge (the things we have already discovered), and the process of acquiring new knowledge (through observation and experimentation—testing and hypothesising).

How is knowledge of science used in everyday life? ›

Science is involved in cooking, eating, breathing, driving, playing, etc. The fabric we wear, the brush and paste we use, the shampoo, the talcum powder, the oil we apply, everything is the consequence of advancement of science.

What can change scientific knowledge? ›

The accepted views of science knowledge can change over time. Changes can result from new science observations, but can also be affected by social, political or religious convictions. To develop a deeper understanding, students need to investigate the context of the time in which science ideas were developed.

Why does science always change? ›

They change in response to new evidence, new analyses and new arguments — the sorts of things we can publicly agree (or disagree) about, that we can evaluate together. And scientific conclusions are almost always based on induction, not deduction.

Why does it matter of science? ›

Science underpins our understanding of the management of the world's natural resources. Each year, scientific innovations reduce the cost of computing power, increase our access to information, and enable us to feed an expanding, and ever-more-demanding, human population.

What are the biggest open questions in science? ›

Science's Greatest Unanswered Questions Revealed
  • Are we alone in the universe? - ...
  • Will there ever be a cure for cancer? - ...
  • Does God exist? - ...
  • How big is space? -

What are some science quiz questions and answers? ›

Easy science trivia
  • Trivia question: The concept of gravity was discovered by which famous physicist? ...
  • Trivia question: How many colors are in the rainbow? ...
  • Trivia question: True or False? ...
  • Trivia question: What is the name of the tallest grass on earth? ...
  • Trivia question: Which is the most abundant element in the universe?
Feb 13, 2023

What are the 4 important parts of a scientific argument? ›

This section is organized around 4 elements of scientific argumentation that students need extra support with: 1) Evidence, 2) Reasoning, 3) Student Interaction, and 4) Competing Claims.

What are the 3 ways scientists answer questions? ›

It can be answered through experiment, observation, or other data collection by analyzing measurable data and evidence. And a testable question is one based on scientific ideas, not opinions, morals or other subjective things.

What are the two types of questions that can be asked in science? ›

Closed versus Opened-Ended Questions

Closed questions are those which can be answered by a simple “yes” or “no.” Open-ended questions require more than a simple one-word answer and so require more thought. Some suggest it needs one's complete knowledge to answer.

What problems can't science solve? ›

Love, hate, relationships, poetry, art, music, literature, and spirituality are all outside the realm of science. Any problems that arise in these areas cannot be completely solved by science.

What are 10 open-ended questions? ›

The list below offers some sample open-ended and behaviour-based interview questions.
  • Tell me about yourself.
  • How would you describe yourself?
  • How would your boss/co-workers and/or subordinates describe you?
  • What motivates you?
  • What do you see as your strengths?
  • What accomplishments are you particularly proud of?


1. Science Literacy and Popularization: Understanding How Science Works
(The Aspen Institute)
2. 15x4 - 15 minutes about How Science Works
(15x4 Talks - English)
(Dr. Stafford Valentine Redden)
4. How Do We Know Science Works?
(Matt Parker)
5. Science in Action: How Science Works | California Academy of Sciences
(California Academy of Sciences)
6. Science & Hinduism
(Digpal Singh)
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