Science Isn’t Real

I saw this sign in my neighborhood today, and while I like the sentiment, it bothered me.

If you like this sign, go here:

“Science is Real”.

I, too, love the They Might Be Giants song. But I also hate it.

As someone who grew up in a science-y household (my dad is a physicist), I get the idea behind it. But it frames the argument wrong. It implicitly says that “Science” is something that can be fake or real — it creates a comparison to something like religion, where belief that it is real is an essential component of what it is.

Science isn’t real, because “science” isn’t a thing. There’s a lot to the “scientific process”, but let’s talk about it simply.

  • Come up with an idea.
  • Create an experiment to try to test that idea.
  • If the experiment’s results back up your idea, great.
  • If not, also great. <- this is the hard part, really.
  • Show it to other people and see if they an duplicate your experiment & get the same results.
  • Keep going.

The body of knowledge that is “science” isn’t a thing. It’s a series of conclusions that people came to by following a process that is basically nothing more than “Look at the world, make a guess, try to prove it by looking at data.”

The flip side of the argument is that “science isn’t real”, which is absurd. It’s impossible to not “look at the world, see something, make a guess about how something works, and try to prove it.” That’s how everyone does almost everything. Look at any infant learning about how the world works. Boom. Science. (Well, the beginnings of it, at least.)

Science is about whether you believe that observation of the world is a good way to learn about it. There’s a lot to that, and it requires structure, review, and rigor, because the world is complex and messy, and it’s often counterintuitive and imperfect. It’s not about how you feel, or what you think should be right or not. It’s about looking at the world and taking it at face value, and that if you see something you don’t understand, or seems wrong, working to understand it.

That’s it. Saying that “Science Is Real” undercuts its significance, because the process of observation & understanding that is the foundation of science can’t not be real.

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