About this site
Confused about that press release you just read? Unconvinced by the sciencey-looking website you just visited? Sceptical about the interview you just heard on the radio? It claims to be scientific, but is it good science?
Science has high status in our community. Many of those who want to rip us off for their own ends try to adopt an image that appears to be scientific. Others, for instance some journalists and bloggers, uncritically accept and reproduce information from pseudoscientific sources because they don’t have the time, inclination or resources to check on their bona fides.
This website can help you decide what’s really science. It aims to produce a list of indicators of good science (Hallmarks of Science) and a list of indicators of bad science (Science Red Flags). I hope to design it in such a way that you can quickly check which of the red flags or hallmarks applies to any statement or article you are dealing with. If the red flags predominate, beware: what you are dealing with is not science.
My name is Graham Coghill and for me this project is a learning experience. It’s mainly a way of getting my head around ways of improving scientific literacy in the community. I hope the discussions I have with readers, through their comments, will have mutual benefits for all of us.
For the record, I have fairly ancient B.Sc. and B. Ed. qualifications from the University of Queensland. My field is Chemistry. I have never worked professionally as a scientist, nor published any scientific papers, but I have, I hope, helped a lot of students become scientifically literate. I have a long term interest in spreading rationality through the processes of science.
A disclosure: Most of the book titles on this website are linked to The Book Depository, UK. If you click on one of these links and then put in an order, I get a small commission – the only funding I am ever likely to get. I hope this does not offend.
Science is, I believe, nothing but trained and organised common sense, differing from the latter only as a veteran may differ from a raw recruit.
T H Huxley, British biologist, ‘On the Educational Value of the Natural History Sciences’, (1854)
Science is not just a collection of laws, a catalogue of unrelated facts. It is a creation of the human mind, with its freely invented ideas and concepts. Physical theories try to form a picture of reality and to establish its connection with the wide world of sense impressions. Thus the only justification for our mental structures is whether and in what way our theories form such a link.
Albert Einstein and Leopold Infeld, physicists, The Evolution of Physics, (1938)
Science makes people reach selflessly for truth and objectivity; it teaches people to accept reality, with wonder and admiration, not to mention the deep awe and joy that the natural order of things brings to the true scientist.
Lise Meitner, Austrian physicist, Lecture, Austrian UNESCO Commission, (1953)
The real purpose of the scientific method is to make sure nature hasn’t misled you into thinking you know something you actually don’t know.
Robert Pirsig, American philosopher, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974)
Science is best defined as a careful, disciplined, logical search for knowledge about any and all aspects of the universe, obtained by examination of the best available evidence and always subject to correction and improvement upon discovery of better evidence. What’s left is magic. And it doesn’t work.
James Randi, The Mask of Nostradamus: The Prophecies of the World’s Most Famous Seer (1993)
The remarkable successes of the natural sciences are due, not to a uniquely rational scientific method, but to the vast range of “helps” to inquiry devised by generations of scientists to overcome natural human limitations.
Susan Haack, British philosopher, Defending Science – within reason (2007)
Science is science because the knowledge we acquire comes from experimentation and observation, not guesswork, belief and hearsay.
The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.
Neil deGrasse Tyson, American astrophysicist, Real Time with Bill Maher (2011)
Science gives us a systematic way of incorporating what we know and don’t know into a consistent logical framework. It doesn’t say we know all the answers, but it does tell us the likelihood of particular outcomes and how well we can trust our predictions.
Lisa Randall, American physicist, America can’t afford to lose its grip on science, (2011)
And this is what sets science apart from everything else. It isn’t simply another point of view – it reveals a reality that would be impossible to imagine, even for the possessor of the most tortured and surreal imagination. Science is the investigation of the real, and if the real seems surreal then so be it.
Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw, British physicists, The Quantum Universe, (2011)
Before we had a method for examining reality, the truth was a slippery fish, which is why your ancestors were so dumb. So dumb, in fact, that for a very long time people got smarter in a slow, meandering, and unreliable sort of way until human beings finally invented and adopted a tool with which to dig their way out of the giant hole of stupid into which they kept falling. … I’m talking about the scientific method.
David McRaney, American journalist and author, You Are Now Less Dumb, (2013)
Essentially, science consists of the following three-part process:
- Think of every possible way the world could be. Label each way an “hypothesis.”
- Look at how the world actually is. Call what you see “data” (or “evidence”).
- Where possible, choose the hypothesis that provides the best fit to the data.
The steps are not necessarily in chronological order; sometimes the data come first, sometimes it’s the hypotheses.
Sean Carroll, American physicist, What Is Science? (2013)
There is ignorance,
There is pain,
There is fear.
There is knowledge,
There is skill,
There is wisdom.
There is wonder,
There is delight,
There is sadness.
There is kindness,
There is compassion,
There is love.
There is yearning,
Reality © Graham Coghill
This page reviewed and updated: 2013/09/18